To This Immigrant Baltimore Mayoral Candidate, History is Repeating

As Baltimore’s homicide rate rises, with nine people killed over Memorial Day weekend, the city’s mayoral candidates are ramping up advocacy to turn this city around. To one former candidate, Baltimore is experiencing a violence she is all too familiar with from back home. 

Liri Fusha is an immigrant from Albania who came to the United States in 2008. She escaped political tensions within her family back home and was a nurse during the Kosovo War in 1998.

“I was lucky that I didn’t get shot,” Fusha told The Immigrant’s Bay, as she detailed her experiences in the war. For 48 hours, she was trapped in the temporary military hospital she worked at.

“The bullets were flying all over the operating room we were working in. It was very scary. Very, very scary.”

When she could finally leave, she saw a man shot in the thigh in front of her on the street. She said she tore a part of her blouse, and tied up his thigh. But it had hit an artery. “His blood was like a waterfall.”

Fusha sees a similarity between her experiences in the Kosovo War, an armed conflict between the Yugoslavic military and Kosovo Albanian rebels, and the Baltimore protests and riots of 2015.

“Slowly, slowly, slowly, the economy was shrinking every time, and it was really getting bad,” she said. “One day, we just blew up. Burned everything. Like Baltimore in 2015, they burned.”

Now, Fusha sees Baltimore’s rising crime and unrest as another warning sign. Baltimore’s homicides have been above 300 since 2015, and in 2019 saw its highest rate in history. Before suspending her campaign, she ran on a campaign to curb crime through government transparency and reducing corruption within the Baltimore police force.

As an immigrant candidate, however, she has faced some resistance, including an incident with a friend last Thursday.

“He said, ‘why are you running for mayor?’” said Fusha. She recalls being shocked, and replied “because I see things, they that are not right here in the United States, which are happening back in my country.”

“And he said, ‘why don’t you go back to your country?’”

Fusha stated she finds herself explaining again and again, that just because she finds problems with Baltimore and America, it doesn’t mean she dislikes being in the country. Additionally, she said, she is a U.S. citizen now. “This is my country.”

This is not the first of struggles and discrimination Fusha faced as an immigrant in the U.S. When she first visited the country, she did not know any English, and found that success in America was predicated on her command of the English language. 

Some mistake her accent. Once while playing poker, a player she beat told her to go back to Russia. 

“Everybody tells me I’m Russian. Everybody!” she exclaimed.

But to Fusha, America is her safe haven. Back in Albania, she was facing increased pressure for being a democrat, years after the fall of communism.

“My uncle, my dad’s brother, when I got back from the United States…they were telling me that somebody’s gonna kill you,” she said. In America, Fusha said she is able to exercise her beliefs freely, and not face persecution. 

Facing a lack of support, Fusha has now suspended her campaign and endorsed candidate Ricky Vaughn, who also suspended his campaign and endorsed top candidate Thiru Vignarajah. Vignarajah is the only other immigrant candidate in the race.