"My story is no different to that of the typical immigrant who resides in New York. I came here in search of opportunities both economic and educational that were not available to me on my native island of Trinidad and Tobago. I wanted a better life for myself and I wanted the opportunity to travel and see the world. I also wanted to return one day and give back to my community. My dreams were and still are pretty ambitious ones.
Assimilating into the American culture was a bit challenging at first. I quickly learned that the African American culture and that of West Indian culture were vastly different. We may look the same as people of the African diaspora but our experiences and way of life differed immensely. Growing up I was educated under the British Colonial Education system and spoke the “Queens” English. Yet, In America, Americans often corrected me for not speaking proper English simply because of my accent. This angered me and I often grew frustrated because I was being judged because I sounded different and not because my English was inaccurate.
I quickly learned that as an immigrant you are quite frequently considered “The Other", a term that signifies being different to the norm or mainstream American. I struggled internally with this label of “immigrant” and being different. However, It was my first boss, an Italian immigrant himself who changed my thoughts and empowered me not to accept this label but to use each opportunity I got to make a better life for myself.
One day while dropping me off at the train station after working for another family in the neighborhood who refused to pay me my full day wages he said to me, “Kid, the only difference between you and another person is the fact that they got an opportunity in life that you did not have. Don’t you ever allow anyone to make you feel any less of a person than you are.” I held on to those simple words and they have been my motivation ever since.
I made it a priority to seize every opportunity that I encountered that would position me one step closer to accomplishing my dreams. It has been 14 years since I migrated to this country since April 2002. Today, I am proud to report that I am no longer considered an immigrant but a productive citizen of the United States of America. I have made good on every opportunity that I was blessed with. Three weeks ago I graduated from CUNY Medgar Evers College, Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Childhood Special Education. In August, I will begin my MA in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College Columbia University.
I have earned my seat at the table. I am now able to advocate for myself and the people behind me that were once in my position. It’s ironic that people seldom ask me where am I from anymore. That accent that was once frowned upon is now being exalted as being exotic. I still sound the same, but pursuing a tertiary level education has afforded me a seat at “their table”. I can now speak their “language” and negotiate on their terms. I am well on my way to crafting that better life I once dreamt about.
I am also still committed to giving back to my community and remembering my humble beginnings. But I will always remember that old saying my grandmother religiously preached to us while growing up as a young child in the countryside. “If you give a man a fish, you can only feed him for a day. But, if you teach him to fish, you can feed him for life”. I have seized every opportunity, and I have learned how to fish. Now I can feed myself for life and teach others to do the same."