As I continue work on the Threads of Our Fabric Project, I find myself spending a significant part of time reflecting on my own immigrant’s story. My childhood was left in Cameroon and my identity as a young adult developed in America… What began as an ongoing personal quest for self-understanding continues to evolve into a life project.
During my interactions with the many young women I have interviewed over the past 7 months, it is as if spirit recognizes spirit at every encounter. Particularly for those considered the 1.5 immigrant generation, like myself. We instantly bond over shared difficulties and experiences. Over the course of a 30-45 mins conversation (sometimes longer!), we recognize a shared core, a mirroring of souls. Understanding beyond words the journey that brought us to a new country, the many trials and successes of integrating. Most importantly, the weight of not fully belonging to the land we emigrated from or the one to which we now belong. Though connected in our new communities, there are often feelings of isolation because of how intimately our unique identities become tied to the overall experience. Over time, I have personally found that I have been able to preserve some of my culture. Thanks to my family and being part of the Cameroonian community in various states. However, I had to adjust over time to accommodate my identity that emerged in the context of American society.
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So by now you have probably read my few posts and are asking yourself: “Where is she headed?”… Excellent question, so glad you asked!!!
As you are aware from my earlier posts, I am currently in the very early crafting phase of a development and integration program for African young ladies ages 15-24yrs. The vision is to provide a safe supported environment and opportunity where these young ladies can address important issues that come up during the transition process into America. Issues such as identity development, self-awareness, ethnic pride, cultural values and traditions etc. As I continue to review responses to the Threads of Our Fabric project survey that I had implemented in July 2010, most of the main issues identified in almost all of the surveys focused on the lack of information and a support network after entering the United States, and the rude awakening from pre-migration ideation.
I have always been fascinated by the latter. Let’s briefly talk about that migration fantasy that oftentimes morphs into a grotesque obsession, well for some of us who were lucky enough to have had time before taking the big flight. I had 48hrs from the moment I found out that I was leaving my first home to when I stepped on a plane headed for America. I like to call it my very own mini-operation “shock and awe”… But from what I have heard, the usual pre-migration story goes something like this…YAY! I am finally approved for a visa, but have to prepare big time before leaving. I have to go shopping for some necessities, there are school transcripts to gather, some personal properties to be redistributed, hearts to break and promises to be made during my extensive goodbyes. Oh America!…that land where I will make beaucoup money than I will know what to do with…I will return rich and successful!
Fast forward a few months, maybe years later to having taken the big flight…slowly reality drifts in…
You know…The “Is this the Promised Land?”…”What happened to the “Beamers, Benz, and Bentleys”, or the “Party Everyday”, that was guaranteed by expats when they came back with pockets full of money. The major, if not sole point of reference for preparing to migrate to America aside from popular western-world media. Sometimes it is the “I want to continue my schooling but the College Board’s evaluation report shows that my current academic credentials are not sufficient”…
Constantly feeling as if you are stuck on a treadmill, running full speed ahead but in reality you are not really going anywhere… still in the same spot… Or do you find yourself using all your resources and strength scaling mountainous obstacles only to look-up once you reach the top into the horizon to see nothing but other mountain peaks in front of you? Feel free to insert your own “what happened to…” experience here. I know you have one…
Such scenarios are just a small portion of the number of challenges associated with immigration that can overwhelm anyone! The development and integration program is a personal commitment to invest resources towards the long-term welfare of recently immigrated young African ladies (15-24). Helping them explore this new world, understand the impact of the immigration process on their developmental processes, and successfully establishing themselves in America. I am looking for a counterpart seeking to implement something similar with young African men.
Personal Mantra: My problems are not my problems, but the perception of my problems.