I am an immigrant. I wear my title with pride. I accept the negative connotations that come with being an immigrant. I swallow my pride when we are mentioned in the news about coming to America to steal jobs and live off of the system. I am an immigrant and this is my story.
From as early as I can remember, I wanted to come to America. I grew up in a tiny country called Guyana on the North Atlantic coast of South America. I’ve heard, “where are you from,” so many times that I’ve rehearsed it- I am from Guyana, a former British colony in South America but my forefathers are from India, so I’m Indian. And no, I do not speak Spanish, I speak English. This is my story- a complicated background made even more complicated by immigrating to American at age fifteen.
But getting back to why I wanted to come to America. You see, I grew up on the banks of a river called Mahaicony River. We drank rain water, bathed in the river and used an out-house to do our business. Our fathers were rice farmers, working 15 hour days to make ends meet. As a child, I didn’t know I was poor or that Guyana is a “third world country.” In fact, I had a great childhood filled with love and kindness from my community. I walked the 1 mile stretch to school every day saying “good morning” to everyone I passed as my mother had taught me to do. I spent my afternoons playing cricket with my brothers, eating fruits and daydreaming about America under the hot Caribbean sun. This was my simple, beautiful life.
On August 29, 2002, I, along with my older brother, came to America. I won’t bore you with the story of how we were able to get here. We flew into JFK international airport with four suitcases to our name and no money. We went to live in the Bronx with my aunt and her family and my grandparents. At the time, there were 6 people living at my aunts when my brother and I joined for a total of 8. We crammed into my aunt’s home and made it work. Every night, we laid a mattress on the floor for my brother to sleep on. I would never forget the kindness of my family.
I enrolled at Lehman High School. I was placed in an ESL class because of my thick Guyanese accent. I was 15 years old and placed in the 11th grade. I was lost. Completely and absolutely lost. I was late to class everyday because I couldn’t figure out where my classes were or how to get there. I was afraid to use the elevator and felt so alone. I remember reading out loud in an English class and raising my eyes from the book to find my class staring at me. They couldn’t understand a word that I was saying. I was placed in a computer class but I didn’t know how to even turn on a computer. I would copy the girl sitting next to me and pray that she wouldn’t be annoyed with me. I walked to school every morning, a good few miles because I didn’t know how to take the bus. My grandmother said that lunches were free in school so I didn’t take a lunch to school but I couldn’t figure out how to get the free lunch either. So I went hungry most days.
But I never forgot where I was. I was in America and living in New York City, the greatest city in the world. I woke up every day excited about my life and reminded myself that I was finally living my childhood dream. America represented so much to me. For a young Indian girl, it represented hope of a brighter future. It represented endless opportunities and freedom. Even when I was going through the most challenging time of my life, I was still so very grateful for this amazing country.
My parents eventually came to the United States and my family, parents and two brothers, were reunited. We shared a one-bedroom basement for 6 months until we were able to move into a 2-bedroom apartment. Again, my extended family stepped in and offered us a place to stay until we could get our feet on the ground. I eventually graduated high school at age 17 and went on to CUNY Hunter College. My father paid for my classes out of pocket. He worked multiple jobs. We never received any government help and didn’t need it. Because if you’re in America, you will find a job and you will be able to support your family. So my father worked at a car wash on the weekends and saved his money to send me to college. I graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree at age 20. I had lived at home and finished school in three years. I was one step closer to my American dream.
In 2009, I decided that I was going to go to law school. At the time, my family was living in Queens, New York and I had never lived outside of my parents’ home. So I moved to Florida and attended Ave Maria Law School. In 2012, I graduated law school and took the Florida bar. I passed the bar. This little brown girl that grew up on the banks of a river, passed the bar and was admitted to practice law in the state of Florida. Four years later, I am still in awe that this is my life.
Today I am married to a southern gentleman from South Carolina and share a home with him in Cape Coral, Florida. I now own my own immigration law firm in Fort Myers, Florida. I am so unbelievably grateful that I get to call America my home. I wake up every day thankful!
So America, I do not want to steal your jobs or take advantage of any of your social programs. I just wanted the chance to call you my home. Thank you for allowing me to do that. I pray that someday I can return the favor. Until then, I will sing your praise wherever I go.