Immigration Success Story: From Haiti to America’s Heartland as appeared in Diversity Inc MagazineApril 29, 2009
I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the son of a biologist (father) and a nurse (mother). Due to political and economic uncertainties and the lack of opportunities in Haiti during the mid-1960s, my parents decided that our entire family would be better off immigrating to the United States. So my parents, three sisters and I left for a better. After a short four-year detour to Costa Rica, we ended up in America's heartland--in the university town of Ames, Iowa. We settled in a blue-collar section of town where nobody looked like us. But it did not take long before our neighbors welcomed us with open arms and made us feel at ease.
Apart from the very cold winters, our family felt content. But many of the folks I encountered during my elementary-school years had not met anyone like me. I was not white but not really Black either, so people didn't know how to treat me. Often, my classmates would ask where I was born and why I looked the way I did. I told them that I was just like them, except my skin color and hair were different. As a family, we demonstrated to this Midwest community that we were similar by going to the same church and shopping at the same stores, even though we had accents and some of our customs were a little different. We made a point of inviting neighbors to our home to eat and indulge in our Haitian customs.
Today, I'm thankful for the opportunities America has provided me. I was able to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from Fairfield University, and then went on to get a J.D. from St. John's University School of Law. I now practice labor and employment law at a prestigious national law firm, Epstein Becker and Green, PC, in New York City. I sincerely believe I would not have been able to accomplish as much in my career if my family hadn't immigrated to this country.
But my story isn't unique. On a daily basis in my practice, I encounter people who owe their livelihood to this wonderful country. What advice do I give immigrants?
Don't be so quick to criticize. No country is perfect. But I'm unaware of any other place on Earth that gives foreign nationals the opportunities that this country does. The "American Dream" is available to all, and it's up to you to grab it.
Be patient. Although I'm one of the lucky ones who came to America by plane (and not illegally through the border or by boat), this is a country of laws and there are legal ways to immigrate here. Many people who are unable to come in legally venture entry illegally and are waiting for some sort of comprehensive immigration reform. Be patient. I believe some type of relief will come to you, but only time will tell.
What do I tell native-born Americans?
This country was built by immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants--and that is what makes us what we are. Americans often forget who we are and quickly blame the newly arrived for our economic problems. Many immigrants are happy to do the jobs that most of us don't want anymore, and we rely heavily on their blood, sweat and tears. Look to the movers and shakers in our country to see that they, too, have made substantial contributions to this country. They may not be first-generation immigrants, but their parents or grandparents often were.
We, as a people, should be proud of our roots and all of the beautiful things that diversity has brought to the United States. As a country of immigrants, we should never forget where we came from. And instead of placing blame on the hardworking newly arrived, lend a helping hand to those who came after us.