Immigration is an individualized, private process. Each experience is unique and different. I migrated to the US as a teenager with my family and so details of the process that got us here is not something that I am familiar with. Our parents worked selflessly and tirelessly to get us here and shielded us from some of the hardships that I can imagine that this process came with. So, if you’re seeking tips on the immigration process, I’m sorry, I won’t be of any help. This blog will be more about my emotional journey through the immigration process from a young teenager’s point of view. It will give a glimpse into more of my young life.
I was born and raised in Jamaica, the beautiful land of wood and water. The saying “wi likkle but wi tallawah,” resonates with pretty much all Jamaican. Out of many one people, is our motto, and we are a multicultural group. We are bold, fearless, creative, and very confident. I am humbled, forever grateful and proud of being Jamaican. I grew up in a small community in Saint Andrew called Guava Ridge. Away from that Kingston heat! It was cool in the mornings and not so hot in the afternoons. Just a beautiful place to grow up.
I remember what prompted my parent’s decision to move. It was the year 1999, we lost everything in a fire. I vaguely remember what pretty pink house with the cool veranda and white grill gate, it was big and beautiful. We had our Christmas tree out on the veranda getting ready for Christmas. We never needed anything; our parents made sure of that. We were comfortable and carefree.
My parents are honestly the most hardworking people I know. My dad traveled and worked really hard to make sure we never needed anything. He sacrificed physical time with us, to create a better life for us. I remember as kids we would hear helicopters and planes overhead outside and we would run outside screaming “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” Waving our hands over head. It was tough not having him there all the time physically, but we knew that he was never more than a phone call away. We also knew how much he loved us and that he was working really hard to give us the life he thought we deserved.
My mom worked really hard too. She especially worked really hard being strong without the physical presence of my dad. They are both pillars of selflessness, and determination. It really took that fire to get us uncomfortable! It essentially prompted my parents to make the decision to migrate to the States to give us more than they had. That fire really took everything. Everything they worked really hard for at that time, went up in flames.
A new start
My dad ultimately made the decision to do all that it took to get us here, to the land of opportunity. It took years of prayer, hard work, lots money and commitment to the process, and it worked. In 2007, my twin sister, my older brother and I hopped in a plane for the first time to the United States. I remember crying. It was a very emotional time leaving our mom, our other siblings, family and friends behind, but we were also so excited to be with our dad after all of these years.
Before my Grandpa passed, his wish for his grandchildren was that we got educated. For my parents who did not receive the education they wanted, working hard to make sure their children were educated, was very important. It’s really why they really worked so hard to get us here, after all it is the land of opportunities.
Typically, you’d begin school at 3 years old, and you continued for as long as you and your family can afford to pay for it. It was a lot of us though, four at the time, and it was almost impossible for my parents after the fire, to afford to pay for all of our education in Jamaica.
I do remember life in high school before migrating. So, I attended the Convent of Mercy Academy Alpha. It sounds like it is, a very prominent, all girls high school. I was in the 9th grade and doing okay, probably mediocre to the other girls there. These were some of the brightest, most hardworking girls I had ever met, and I remember almost always being distracted.
Let me explain, the journey to school from where I lived was a pretty taxing one.
After the fire my parents were able to salvage the lower story of what was our house. They transformed it into a livable smaller house with two bedrooms and an all in one living room and kitchen. Very small and crowded with four kids and my mom but we made the best of it. I would get up maybe at 4:30 in the morning, showered, make something to eat (I hate being hungry), get on my uniform that had to be ironed delicately, weekend before, get on my brown shoes that I had to make sure was cleaned and polished.
I would run down the hill out to the bus stop to catch the first bus or available ride to school.
At times, I was able to get a lift all the way to school from a close friend’s mom. Just the nicest family. They had three girls going to the same school and I was able to get a ride sometimes. I can’t begin to express how grateful I was for all those rides, cause honestly the bus route to school was very draining.
Allow me to try to explain; I would take a bus from where I lived in Guava Ridge to Papine (the first stop). Then I’d hop on another bus from Papine to Crossroads (the second stop). Then finally, I’d take bus from Crossroads to where my school was by Sabina park; home of the sport- cricket.
If you kept up, that was three separate busses before I’d get to school.
Maybe you could see now why I felt almost distracted or maybe tired, could be both, when it came to school and getting this education.
Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for the opportunity to go to school. It was challenging at times, but I was nonetheless grateful that I could even go.
I would honestly say though, that coming to America, made life a lot less challenging. There was no more uniform to prepare a head of time to wear to school, and a lot less traveling. I was now able to get to school on time and focus a lot more.
I think the challenges of going to school in Jamaica made me a lot more appreciative of the conveniences of going to school here in the States.
High school here in the States, did come with its own challenges. I sort of lost that confidence I once had to be unique. It could’ve been insecurities that came with being in a whole new country as a teenager, but I just remembered doing my best trying to fit in.
I found myself shying away from others. Trying to hide what others would call my “Jamaican accent” whenever it was time to converse.
I must say there was a lot of times in high school that I would just talk, and maybe I’d be talking too fast, but no one would understand me.
I remembered one instance in English class I had to read something out loud, keep in mind, I was new, and my accent was quite thick at the time, so pronunciations of words were very different. Anyhow, I read my part and then it was all quiet in the class. My teacher at the time, said, “does anyone understand what she just read?” someone said, “ah, no”, and that was it for me. I had to learn how to talk like everyone else, I was determined to assimilate the best I could, at least for the sake of my confidence.
Fitting in consumed me.
I got hooked on Disney channel and I was on my quest of assimilating.
Instead of being unique, confident and proud of my beautiful heritage, I became consumed with what others looked like, and trying my best to blend in.
Like the new side kick, that phone was so gaudy and obnoxious, but I just remembered that had to have it lol! Just a mess. I got my first job at sixteen and instead of saving up for my future, I prioritized material things that hold no value today, just for the sake of fitting in.
Now, honestly, I can look back and say that I am grateful for humble beginnings! I’m grateful for my parents and all the sacrifices they made to give me a better life than they had.
In turn I was able to take full advantage of my immigration process to this beautiful country. I was able to get an education; a career in Nursing that I love. I was able to give back to this country with serving in the Navy Reserves. And, I was able to meet Peter, the love of my life. And I was also able to meet some of the most amazing people, that are just such a blessing!
If I could write a letter to my past self, I would say:
- Enjoy life’s journey. Everything happens for a reason, that fire, as horrific as it was to lose everything, it made us uncomfortable and propelled us into the blessings we have today.
- Be your own unique self! Be confident in who you are and where you come from. You shouldn’t want to fit in and or lose your individuality, be bold and brave to stand out and be uniquely you!
- Girl!! save your money!!! Nothing is more important than financial security! Buying things to appear cool or “in with the crowd,” doesn’t really do anything. Having that financial security is much more important in the long run.