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The Fourth of July is a time for family, fireworks, picnics, and pies.But it's also a time when many reflect on what it means to be an American.Here at Michigan Radio, we asked immigrants across Michigan what America means to them. Here are some of their stories.

A Togolese refugee flees home country, 'I left to save my life'

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

In 2004, Koffi Itito fled his home country of Togo, leaving behind his family and life as he knew it.

“I left to save my life,” Itito said.

While the West African nation is a republic on paper, the country has been under dictatorial rule since 1963.

“If you don’t follow the party, they treat you like an enemy,” Itito said.

Today, Itito works at the Freedom House in Detroit, a resource center for refugees. Itito helps those fleeing persecution get back on their feet -- much like those who helped him out nine years ago.

“When I landed in New York, I didn’t know where to go,” Itito said. “But at the airport, I met a black man. Fortunately, he was Togolese too.”

Itito says the Togolese man he met took him under his wing, and let Itito stay in his home.

“After a week, he told me, ‘Koffi, I cannot help you here, but I found a place in Michigan. I can help you go there.'"

"After I got here, it wasn't easy. The culture, the language, the way people live -- it's very different."

Itito landed in Detroit at midnight, not really sure where to begin next.

“After I got here, it wasn’t easy. The culture, the language, the way people live -- it’s very different,” he said.

“But with God’s help, I found a job,” Itito said. “I started managing my life, and bringing my family here.”

Last year, Itito became a citizen of the United States. Now with his job at the Freedom House, Itito gets the chance to guide other refugees, helping them get on their feet just like others have done for him.

“Working at Freedom House is a blessing for me,” he said. “I like helping people.”

Itito says he never takes for granted his ability to say what he thinks in this country without fear.

“America is a great country,” Itito said. “My future is here now. I always tell my wife that I think God is in this country.”

Listen to the full interview above.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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