Daisha’s Story. Age 33. Georgia.
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A small Midwestern town isn’t the ideal setting to be educated about culture, international politics, ethnic food, or different faith traditions. It is, however, a terrific place to learn about acceptance, love, patience and helping your friends, family, and neighbors when they are in need. In a town of approximately 80,000 and known to some as “Middletown,” it really didn’t get much more American than my hometown of Muncie, Indiana.
My parents moved us into the country outside of Muncie following my 5th grade year, stating they wanted to offer their kids better opportunities and a superior education. I do not fault them; their intentions were good. However, on that very first day of sixth grade, I came home crying asking my mom to let me go live with grandma so that I could go back to my old school in the city. Never in my life had I been surrounded by all white people. And I’m white. I asked her, “Where are all of the black kids? Where are the deaf children? Mom, there’s no one in a wheelchair and I don’t like it.”
Of course, she didn’t let me go to live with grandma and I began my seven year journey at the all-white, majority Christian, mostly right-winged, tiny country public school system.
Even before I reached driving age I yearned for more diversity in my life. My mom and dad offered everything they could to us: dance classes, music lessons, sports, church, and more. I remember them being open and accepting of the friends I made along the way. Some of whom went to my small, conservative school. Others were from “in town” and went to the city schools. I was lucky to remain somewhat attached to those roots.
As soon as I turned 16, I got a job in the city and started saving for concerts and trips and clothes to help define my identity. Those next few years of my life prepared me for a huge move; a move that would eventually define all of my beliefs as an adult.
I’m going to skip through the mess of my late teenage years. Those were complicated times. But shortly after my 20th birthday I moved 550 miles away from that little small town right outside of Muncie to Georgia. I was in for a shock, to say the least. Not only was I a Midwestern “Northerner” in the South, but I was thrown into a job where half of my crew did not even speak English. My black colleagues had little good to say about them and they seemed hesitant to even welcome me to the team. Those first weeks I longed to go back home, to my tiny all-white town with no stoplights, no grocery store, no post office.
Fast forward 13 years. I cannot picture my life without all of the wonderful and amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, working with, and calling my friends. They are folks from Peru, Mexico, Israel, Great Britain, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Senegal, Colombia, South Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria, Liberia, Brazil, China, and the list goes on. Currently, I’m in the minority at my place of employment.
Those lessons I learned as a child of love and acceptance have opened my eyes to the good in all people. I have seen first-hand the struggles of those who have emigrated to this land.
A woman who came here legally from Ethiopia misses her mother and father the same way I do. She won the U.S. Visa lottery but was treated very poorly upon her arrival.
An old co-worker who was brought to America as a four year old child will likely never be a United States citizen and fears for his family every single day because he might be picked up by police and taken across the border, back into Mexico. He’s nearly 40 years old and has two children.
A man asked me to marry him once so that he could obtain his green card. He was offering $5,000, but I declined. He found someone else. I begged him not to go through with it. They married and she blackmailed him for nearly three years after their divorce.
A classmate of mine escaped Colombia because she had no future there. Her family is well known for recruiting drug mules.
My Liberian friend left her war-torn country as a young girl. She has no fond memories of her childhood.
I know a man that hid in a crate on a ship headed for America to flee from poverty in his homeland. He’s been here 50+ years.
Some of these individuals are still in the states. Some have gone back home. Some of those have not gone back by choice. All of them hold a special place in my heart and my mind. Without them to teach me life’s most valuable lessons, I would be stuck with little to no understanding of the world around me.
My very first Christmas away from home was spent with a big group of Mexican men and women. Some of them were cousins or brothers and sisters, but many of them were alone, missing their loved ones just the same as me. I will never forget their selfless acts of giving that holiday season. My girlfriend and I did not speak Spanish and their English was so broken that we just communicated by pointing, laughing and using body language. We ate Sopa de Pollo with fresh lime and homemade tortillas.
Although my hometown didn’t offer worldly teachings, I learned to be polite and understanding. I learned to listen to people, to hear their story and offer assistance when I knew someone was in need. We all need to listen. We need to open our ears, our minds, and hearts and truly hear their stories.
For the past several years, I have advocated on the tiny scale-of-one for immigrants. My hope is that you are touched by one story, any story, to make a change in your life and help those who come to this great nation for a chance at seeking a better life.
Daisha lives in Georgia and is a freelance filmmaker. She is one of the leads on Facing Sex Trafficking: Atlanta’s Dirty Little Secret. This was her story. What’s yours? Join the project and share your immigration story.
This story originally appeared in Facing Stories of Immigration in the U.S., a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by The Facing Project national headquarters.