Coming to America - My 16th Anniversary

A roadside coconut with my uncle - fresh off the plane.

Immigrant can sound like such a dirty word. Like an infestation of something.  Something invasive.  Immigrant.  
I rather like that fact about it.  It makes me smile, probably as much as it makes some cringe. There is something about it that makes me think of strength, resilience, boldness, drive, ambition.  Admirable traits.  

Every July 20, I reflect on what it has been like since I moved from Jamaica.  This one is especially poignant because it is the year I have been in the US as long as I lived in Jamaica.  16 years.  It hasn't always been sweet, but I've made the most of it.  As immigrants usually do.  Or should, in my opinion.  

Immigrants come from different situations but I can only speak about my own experience and that may include some generalizations.  Here is what I mean. 
During community college in Prince George's County, MD, I had the pleasure of meeting many international students mostly from the middle east, various African countries and follow West Indians.  It was clear that we had something in common that bonded us.  We were non-American people of colour.  We had come from somewhere else and were here to better ourselves.  Hear me, we were plenty good to begin with.  We didn't come to "get good," we came to get better.  We had a similar drive and ambition.  We took our education very seriously.  Very.  Seriously.  I remember my first C on a philosophy test - a 78 - I cried right there in class in front of perplexed American classmates who thought something terrible had happened.  It had.  I got a 78.  My last C.  
From As early as preparatory school, I grew up hearing the following:
Good, better, best
Never let it rest
Until your good is better
And your better, best - St. Jerome

A high school mate (thanks, O) recently called to mind another saying that I think speaks to the level of ambition drilled into us in our formative years: 
The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward through the night - Henry Wadsforth Longfellow

I will forever praise the educational foundation I received from my island home. It helped me have a successful academic career through my postgraduate degree.  While I followed my passion, sometimes I can't help but feel like an underachiever compared to my classmates who have gone on to "fancier careers."  I am proud of our collective success.  We serve this country from the courtroom to the front lines of the military. 

My experience in that community college was pivotal.  My circle of friends were Muslims, middle easterners, Africans and fellow West Indians.  It was nice to be around people who were like me in some fundamental ways but who were also vastly different in the most intriguing and fascinating ways.  It was also my first exposure to African Americans and their culture.  I would learn that sometimes the only thing we had in common was the way we looked. 
Take me back to my side of the island - St. Elizabeth!

Then I moved to Missouri. This is where the people were from who came to Jamaica on mission trips (ha!).   This is where I got asked over lunch if I was illegal.  Where people complimented my good English - not my command of it, that I spoke it (It's our first/primary language, wink).  One lady said, "Welcome to our country."  That was sweet considering the alternative.  Where I heard references of Jamaicans living in huts/thatch structures (go ahead and google "Jamaican houses").  On and on.  I am not saying I would not have experienced this elsewhere and from people who look like me.  This just happens to be where I experienced these things.  It is also during this time that people thought it was cool that I was from somewhere different, wished they sounded like me and wanted to try our food and drinks.  
Always miss pear (avocado) season. I just about cry every time I pay for these pea-sized offerings when I know the full potential of a good avocado is the size of my head. This one pictured wasn't even ripe yet!

In a place where I am the minority, I love to see other immigrants.  Oh Lawd! We just know.  We just get certain things.  I love the feeling of that connection.  It's similar but deeper than when I see an American of colour.  There is a limit to even that connection - it goes beyond just looking alike and being treated like similarly. There is a bond in that, no doubt.  But other immigrants know about sending money back to the motherland, we miss good fruit and various animal face and feet dishes, we ask how long it is before we get to go back home, we know the passion of watching football or the Olympics on foreign soil and certainly we keep up with international weather patterns!  There is also eye rolling and laughter about the ignorant things people think and say about us.  And nothing compares to using your own language or dialect freely.  

When hubs learns to peel a sugarcane - Jesus be praised!

My least favourite thing is the look and sound of pity about where I'm from.  Don't feel bad for me/us.  We will survive, thank you kindly.  

Can't wait for a post/baby one of these!
I have taken advantage of my 16 years here.  I have given and I have gained.  And I've been lucky.  It's been a symbiotic relationship.  The best take-away from this move has been my friendships and my acquired new family (my in-laws).  I don't ever want to downplay the gratitude I feel toward those who accept me.  I'm not going to beg and carry on to get it, but when I feel it, I appreciate it.  I will always live my life as an ambassador of where I'm from.  I don't love everything about it, even countries are man-made constructs and I never place faith in those.  But I will not discredit the good.  I want my children to have a healthy dose of pride in where they are from and I can do that without belittling where their mother is from.  Pride in one's nation home does not mean disparaging other nations. 

The day we migrated, they made me pitch my giant Bombay mangoes my bestie sent me off with.  I still think about those mangoes.
Paid 79 cents for one of these bad boys this week. 

If you are looking for a good read and better understanding of what it's like to be an immigrant in the US and the UK, give this book a read: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. 


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