LIMO Baghdad An Iraqi refugee community sprouts up in Dallas-Fort Worth BY LAURA BURKE Two girls peer through the window of the American Islamic Center , in Dallas. N A RAINY JANUARY NIGHT, AMIRA MATSUDA SHUFFLES TO THE front door of her opulent home in Plano and invites me in for dinner. A wealthy and established woman in her mid50s, Matsuda spends every day driving around the DallasFort Worth area in her black Lexus SUV visiting Iraqi refugee families, sipping Arabic coffee and listening to their problems. In one of the country’s largest Iraqi refugee communities, it seems that she knows everyone, and everyone knows her. Officially, she’s director of the Iraqi American Association of North Texas. Unofficially, she has a full-time, unpaid job as roving ambassador and problem-solver for the Metroplex’s fledgling Little Baghdad. The United States has offered refuge to tens of thousands of Iraqis. And that’s about all the country, or the state of Texas, has offered. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, established Muslims are working hard to keep refugees from falling through the cracks. Their efforts are attracting growing numbers of Iraqis to the area. “I think there’s a lot more coming because they know we’re providing this assistance,” says Aisha Waheed, refugee coordinator at the American Islamic Center of Dallas. “There are very few cities that provide the continuous work that we do.” Matsuda, who heads the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation and helped form the Iraqi association in late 2008, is one of many pillars of this emerging community’s structure. The five-year-old foundation has doled out more than $60,000 since its inception. The association does not have outside funding; its members reach into their own pockets. “On a personal level,” Matsuda says, “we take [Iraqi refugees] shopping to cover their basic needs, pay some of their utility bills, rent, collect donated furniture from our community, and distribute it to those who need it.” Matsuda also provides legal advice, translations and help finding employment. “It’s not only the financial help” that matters, Matsuda says. “People [might] sleep without any food that night, but they want to hear someone’s voice checking in on THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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