Meb Keflezighi won the recent New York City Marathon. Keflezighi and his family lived the Horatio Alger, up-by-the-bootstraps American dream liberal elites disparage. The WSJ's Weekend Interview explores his family's immigration to the United States and his experience as a marathoner.
Born in 1975, Mebrahtom (his full name means "let there be light") grew up in an Eritrean village with no electricity and no running water. Besides poverty, Meb's parents, Russom and Awetash, feared for their family's safety because of Russom's involvement with the Eritrean Liberation Movement and because of the ongoing war with Ethiopia. Meb's father decided to flee. "He walked all the way"—60 miles—to Sudan, Meb says. Russom eventually made his way to Milan, Italy, where he worked to raise the money to bring his family out of East Africa.(image from the WSJ article by Zina Saunders)
On Oct. 21, 1987, a date that rolls off Meb's tongue, the family immigrated to San Diego as refugees with the help of the Red Cross and the sponsorship of Meb's half-sister, Ruth. "Dad used to wake up at 4 a.m. so we could learn English," Meb says. "He worked as a taxi driver and worked in restaurants to be able to feed the family."
Meb adds, "You start on the bottom, work hard, and your dreams will come true—and that's what happened. We have a very successful family because my parents always emphasized using the opportunity you have to the maximum: 'There are a lot of people that don't have this opportunity, so make sure you use it.' That stuck in our head."
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