Kriz’s Immigration Story – Hudiksvall, Sweden to Nashville, Tennessee


Kriz was born in the broader community of Hudiksvall, but her family lived in a small fishing village of only 200 households. She had a middle-class upbringing, with her mother at home caring for the family until she was seven. At that point, her mother became a “mail lady” at the post office. Her father worked in the sawmill. She was able to walk to her elementary school in her village, but from seventh grade onwards, Kriz took a bus to and from school. Kriz spent the summers of her childhood at her family’s lake house. Her father built a boat, and Kriz was seven when she first went out in it.

“I’m getting emotional now because he has Alzheimer’s, and his life is degenerating. He built that boat. It had a little engine on it, and he showed me how to start, stop and steer, and how to change the throttle. He started it for me and said, “off you go” and “off I went.” (audio below)

Her father was a keen archer and founder of their village’s archery club. The love of this sport rubbed off on Kriz, and for two years, Kriz held a Swedish national record.

Above: A handmade blown-glass bowl Kriz won at an archery competition

Country Music

Kriz’s dad also loved listening to country music. During family drives, he always played a mixed tape of Swedish traditional music, old-time rock n roll, and country music. He wanted Kriz to play an instrument, and he chose the accordion – which she didn’t care for. When she was 12, a new music teacher moved to the village, and seeing her dislike of the accordion, suggested Kriz try playing the guitar. Kriz started writing country music when she was 13 years old and figures that she has written over 300 songs to date [see her song binders below].

Audio: Kriz singing her signature song

“ I’ve been told that I have a Swedish accent when I speak but not when I sing.” (audio below)

Over the years, Kriz had several different jobs in Sweden: working in the sound department at a TV station and then on a farm. Before moving to the US, Kriz worked at a ski resort in the winter [see the photo below] and spent the rest of the year driving tractors and harvesting at both a sawmill and a peat moss field. Although she has yet to work as a truck driver – one job Kriz has always dreamed about doing.

“I guess it was a romanticized thing for me – the freedom of being on the roads listening to music.”

Growing up, she knew very little about the US, and never had any plans of visiting. All she knew was that it had a strong military, and it was massive.

“Exactly how big it is you don’t understand until you come here. If you travel from the northernmost point to the southernmost point in Sweden, it will take 10 to 12 hours – the same amount of time it takes to travel one state in the US.”

Finding Love

Kriz became an avid user of the website Myspace, regularly posting her music there. A man from Chattanooga, Tennessee, started frequently commenting on her music. In response, Kriz saw the potential for musical collaboration and sent him a recording of her singing along to one of his songs.

“I threw it out there: ‘Maybe we can do something together sometime?’ The conversation continued, and slowly but surely, we fell in love.” (audio below)

The phone bill was getting so expensive that it would be cheaper to buy airfare and meet in person than continue the long-distance relationship. This Tennessean proposed to her over the phone, but she said she wanted to meet him in person first. In 2008 she came to the US, he proposed, and Kriz said ‘yes.’

United States

Moving to the US was intimidating for Kriz, even though she could already speak English well.

“I was afraid I would do something wrong and stand out.”

The ubiquitous billboards lining the road were one of the first things that struck her about America, along with the incredible number of cars. The highway where she grew up had only two lanes, in comparison to the eight lanes in each direction she now experienced. Kriz could not believe people used drive-thru banks! 

“In Sweden you park your car and run errands on foot. Over here you drive-thru everything!”

It was a strange experience being unable to work legally when she first arrived on a K-1 fiancée visa. She used all this free time to learn about American culture by watching the Andy Griffith show. Kriz also started a diary of where and what she ate. The first entry on her list was McDonald’s, where she had a Mcgriddle, something she had never seen in Sweden. 

Kriz’s first job in the US was in a medical office answering phones, and next, she worked in a call center.


Kriz and her husband moved from Chattanooga to Nashville because he needed back surgery. After he had recovered, Kriz began working at a chocolate store in a mall where she makes candy, candy apples, and stocks the chocolates. Kriz enjoys the job, and her boss says she would be lost without Kriz.

The first word that comes to mind when Kriz thinks of Nashville is ‘vibrant”. 

“You can feel the music in the air. If you are creative, you can feel inspiration just flowing around. It’s definitely touristy, but it has everything – big city life to country life.”

Kriz regularly visits Percy Priest Lake, only ten miles outside of downtown Nashville. After growing up by the water, it’s where she feels most at home in Tennessee.

Missing Sweden

Kriz misses all the holidays in Sweden, which always seem to be longer and more often there. In Sweden, you don’t put out cookies for Santa at Christmas but instead, leave a bowl of rice pudding. One important holiday in Sweden is Midsommar (Midsummer). It is so dark for most of the year, so they celebrate light! Traditionally young girls pick seven different types of flowers and use these to dream about who they are going to marry. Today most people don’t believe in this custom, but in the past, people did. Superstition amongst the older generation in Sweden was quite common. Kriz’s grandmother was always blaming trolls for any misfortune.

“My grandmother seriously believed in trolls and little supernatural beings living out in the woods or under the cabin. If something was missing, she blamed ‘the little ones.’”

She also misses the Fika culture – the time you socialize over a cup of coffee or a cup of tea (soda or kool-aid for the children) and snack. ‘Having a Fika’ with a friend is part of everyday life in Sweden. Her family always kept cinnamon rolls in the freezer in case someone came over. In nearby Atlanta, there is a large Swedish community and an IKEA store. While Kriz used to enjoy the Swedish meatballs, becoming a vegetarian has made her miss Swedish food less.

Audio: Reading her favorite poem by Swedish poet Dan Andersson


It is hard having her parents still living in Sweden, especially with her father’s Alzheimer’s. Kriz is the only person in her family living in the United States. 

“They respect my choice, but they miss me, and I miss them.”

What makes it even harder lately is that her husband’s health hasn’t been good, so they no longer sing together. In the immediate future, Kriz will be releasing a small collection of poetry, while still hoping to write that “first million-dollar song.” 

Audio: A poem Kriz wrote for her granddaughter’s christening

*Update: Kriz’s father passed away this year. “God and circumstance would have it that I was there visiting, and he passed away peacefully. Even though I couldn’t stay to attend the funeral, the last verse of my dad’s favorite poem was read to him by his casket for me.” If you would like to listen to more of Kriz’s music, you can visit her Facebook Page


To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!

© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes are edited for clarity and brevity.

Moon’s Immigration Story – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Portland, Maine


Moon’s father had been a soldier in Sudan since the age of 12 and ended up in Ethiopia after escaping the Second Sudanese Civil War. He met Moon’s mother, Fetelwork, in 1984, while she worked at the camps as a translator for the UN. Fetelwork knew nothing about Sudanese people and felt scared when she found out that he liked her. He was persistent, bringing her tea and cookies and always asking her for help with his homework. Then he invited her over to his house. The first night she stayed there, she hid under the bed out of fear that he may eat her. In 1990 they married.

Life in Ethiopia was never easy for Fetelwork and her husband.

In Ethiopia you have to struggle for your life.”


Moon was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Growing up, her father called her “Cow Eyes,” saying that her eyes were way too big for her head.

“I remember herding sheep in the hills. I remember hearing hyenas laughing outside at night.”

Moon is the middle child in the family. According to her mother, Moon was more independent and mischievous than her other seven children. To have quiet when visiting Grandma, they would tie Moon by bedsheet to a table leg. Only then, Fetelwork recalls, could they drink coffee peacefully.

Moon’s parents’ common language is English, so Moon picked up a little bit before coming to the United States. According to Moon’s mother, the fact that Moon’s father is a Sudanese refugee helped their case for being formally resettled to the United States.


Moon, at four years of age, didn’t understand why her family was leaving the refugee camp. She had just planted this little watermelon plant, and they were ripping her away from it. She was excited to watch it grow, and now she couldn’t. (audio below)

In 1995 when her family arrived in Maine, Moon remembers how it may have been cold outside but the local community made her feel warm. It was a time when there was a massive influx of immigrants and refugees moving to the state. Maine’s population is 98% white, and in general, the white Mainers approached these newcomers with curiosity, not stigma. Still, it didn’t take long for Moon to experience racism.

“I remember when they called me ‘nigger’. I didn’t know what that word meant.” (audio below)


Understanding her family’s history has always been of great importance to Moon. Growing up, her father would always quiz her about their family tree, making sure she never forgot where her people came from. (audio below) 

Moon still feels most comfortable in her mom’s kitchen. The smell of incense and familiar foods, bring her peace.

“If my mom is making coffee, it means everything is okay.” 

In the Portland neighborhood, where Moon’s mother lives, she is famous for her popcorn. All the kids in the area come by regularly to taste this simple secret recipe she takes pride in. (audio below)


Moon works in youth advocacy and is passionate about empowering peoples’ voices that aren’t being heard. As a survivor of abuse herself, she wants to protect others from losing their innocence.

I feel like all of humanity is sick.” (audio below)


Moon found the stigma she faced in her own community, as a survivor of abuse, to be debilitating. This is why she became obsessed with getting strong physically and joined the national guard for four years – trying to show that women can be strong. Her father encouraged Moon to have a voice – always bringing her with him to important meetings with elders in their community.

“I think that women will be the ones that bring back healing. My father always told me to be better than the boys. A woman can stand in a man’s presence and be as strong as she wants to be and even surpass a man. (audio below)

Moon and her colleague Patricia (above) are trying to put together a new social enterprise organization focused on “kindness projects” to empower women. She hopes it will eventually lead her to help specifically with women in South Sudan.

Spoken Word

Moon likes to express herself in spoken word. When she was going through a period of depression, she found it lifted after she wrote her poem, Have you seen my Son? (audio below)

Moon feels like immigrants, in general, are misunderstood and vilified. She thinks it’s important to put faces and stories to who they are and for Americans to learn about what happened in these peoples’ homelands that caused them to move.

“I want to empower others like me to rise above all stigma placed against us. I want to show them that an African girl can speak on prestigious platforms and that conformity isn’t a transition plan we are willing to accept in this country. America was built on the foundation of being a new land of dreams and opportunity, and I should not feel ashamed for asking for the freedom and opportunity offered to everyone else. I love to tell my story, because past being an immigrant, I’m just a passionate human.” (audio below)


Moon feels like the warmth she felt upon arriving in Maine is thinning with the current administration.

“I often find it strange that the place I know most as ‘home’ isn’t a place that necessarily sees my presence as a positive addition.”

Still, Moon’s commitment to her community is unstoppable.


Moon’s family lost their whole suitcase when moving from Ethiopia to the United States.

“We literally landed here and had nothing.”

She knows what it is like to lose everything, and that’s why her goals and how she will measure her success is more focused on relationships than tangible things.

“I always say I would be happy living in a hut. I constantly make sure that my end goal is nothing materialistic.” (audio below)


To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!

© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Janice May & Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.