Hassimi Traore – An Immigrant Story

Editor’s Note:  The following interview was done by Dr. Lauren Smith on behalf of Whitewater Unites Lives.

A Whitewater resident for 29 years, Hassimi Traore was born in Burkina Faso in the town of Dedougou and graduated high school from Bobo Diolasso, a privilege reserved for only the top 5% of students from his home town. Because he was at the very top of his class, Hassimi was chosen to receive support offered by a generous Canadian family. When he graduated from high school, he received a government scholarship to attend Burkina Faso’s Math and Science Institute, where he earned a baccalaureate and then master’s degree in math and chemistry.

Hassimi Traore

While earning his degrees, Hassimi also worked for the Peace Corps, where he made lasting friendships with African and American colleagues. These colleagues encouraged Hassimi to apply for graduate programs in the United States, and he was accepted to every program to which he applied. Because one African friend, a Peace Corps colleague, was attending graduate school in Iowa City, Iowa, Hassimi chose to attend the state university there. He used the money he’d earned working for the Peace Corps to buy his plane ticket. It was a long journey for a young man with limited resources. He arrived in New York City with only a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket. Part of that was spent on a gouging taxi cab ride, and most of the rest went to a bus ticket to Iowa City.

The challenges of life in Iowa City were multiple. It was cold, and his winter coat didn’t cover his forearms, so he cut off the tops of a pair of socks to keep his arms warm. His English was “really rough,” too, so he found two old televisions on the side of the road to help him learn. One had picture but no sound and the other had sound but no picture. He stacked the two televisions on top of each other. In Africa, he hadn’t experienced racism, either, and it was difficult for him when he realized that others couldn’t recognize his skills in math and science because of his race or when he was harassed by racists.

Mostly, he says, people in Iowa “were wonderful” to him, and despite challenges, Hassimi graduated with a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1995. He got a job teaching Chemistry at UW-Whitewater after that, where he has been teaching for 29 years. During this time, he has helped many students who face their own challenges. He has helped African students who have had difficulty transitioning to Wisconsin as well as students who struggle with difficult academic subjects. He has also family back home who need help with tuition or medical care, and he frequently provides financial assistance to them.

He has raised the money to buy and send home four different ambulances with the help of many community members.  He said he felt “I am home” after all of the contributions from so many who care.

“People talk about ‘illegal’ or ‘legal’ immigrants but I don’t use those terms.  To blame everything on immigrants is not fair.  Immigrants contribute so much to the economy and culture in our cities, states and country,” said Hassimi.

Hassimi recently earned his Master’s Degree in Peace Building from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and his goal after retiring is to help nonprofits foster peace.  Even in retirement, he will continue to care for his homes, both in Whitewater and abroad.

Share This
Posted in