Mohamed with a fellow alum of Bowdoin College (different years), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Call him señor Mo. That’s what Mohamed Kilani’s third- to fifth-grade students in Falmouth, Maine, call him.
Mohamed is an Iraqi by birth, a Jordanian by virtue of war, and now in America by virtue of a selfless and brave mother.
Listen to this Arab refugee’s odyssey of finding home, and the many languages he speaks that have played a role. Among them: Spanish, which has a shared history with Arabic, and which señor Mo delights in teaching his young Maine students.
The indelible day of II XXVI MMIX
Steve and Mohamed take a break during the recording of their conversation at Bowdoin College. Check out the tattoo on Mohammed’s right arm.
Then take a close look at the tattoo on the inside of Mohamed’s right arm. In his conversation with Steve, Mohamed explains the meaning behind the Roman numerals. (See if you can translate them into—ahem—the Arabic version.)
For Mohamed, the date marks what he describes as “a canon event” in his life as a refugee and an immigrant, one that he movingly describes in this conversation with Steve.
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Listen on Apple Podcasts here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen; on Spotify; or wherever you tune in to your podcasts.
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Please share this episode where you socialize, or be a reviewer on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. You’ll be part of a blossoming bilingual America, where English unites us and our other languages strengthen us.
Thank you to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and Carmen Mattei Greenlee, the Humanities and Media Librarian, for providing Podcast Studio D, where Steve and Mohamed recorded this episode.
Additional thanks to Professor Margaret Boyle, who directs Bowdoin’s Latin America, Caribbean and Latinx program, as well as Multilingual Mainers, an initiative to support bilingualism in grade schools. Margaret connected Steve with Mohamed, who worked in the Multilingual Mainers program during his senior year at Bowdoin.
You can learn more about Multilingual Mainers on the Conversation Corps page of our website.
While his students call Mohamed señor Mo, the state of Maine calls him–and all new immigrants to the state–New Mainers. Chilly though the winters here may be, Maine extends a warm welcome to these new neighbors.
Upon their arrival in the state, Mohamed’s mother was helped by Maine’s Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, ILAP. The Catholic Charities of Maine provided translation services and clothes to the family when they first arrived.
The Salvation Army helped Mohamed’s mother set up a bank account, navigate the grocery store, and cook healthy meals through its Tools for Life workshops. The Salvation Army also provided school supplies for Mohamed and his brother each year. Mohamed’s high school study abroad experience in Valparaiso, Chile, was sponsored by CIEE, the Council on International Educational Exchange, a global organization with a local base in South Portland, Maine. His college study abroad in Spain was made possible by Bowdoin College financial aid and the Bowdoin Off-Campus Study program.
Mohamed’s Preservice Teacher of the Year award was supported by Educators Rising and the Maine Department of Education.
Mohamed’s Spanish teacher for all four years in high school, who encouraged him to study abroad and who inspired Mohamed to become a teacher himself, was Fernanda Darrow. Ms. Darrow was chair of the World Languages at Cheverus High School in Portland. She passed away in 2017.