Years to citizenship
Arrived in the US
Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
My childhood was magical. I was born in Benin. It’s a small country on the West coast of Africa. We were able to go hunting all day. There are mangoes that you can cut from the tree and eat. It’s beautiful. And pure. My father traveled a lot because of his job. I didn’t really grow up with my father; he passed away when I was 11 years old. I grew up with my mom. She raised me. She taught me everything I know from cooking to how to treat women.
What was your journey like to the United States?
I came to the U.S. with zero English. I had a tourist visa when I entered the country. I then applied for permanent residency and citizenship. I still feel like I don’t know where my home is. I left home (Benin) a long time ago. I’ve lived in the U.S. for 17 years. I’ve only been back to Benin once. I feel like I cannot go back home because of my lifestyle in the U.S. I remember we ran out of power back home in Benin. The lifestyle here in the U.S. is good, but I don’t quite feel like it’s home yet. Living in Charlotte has been very tough. When I was in Benin, every single weekend all of my friends came to my house and I would cook a big meal. That was community for us. That’s how I grew up.
What have you gained?
Privilege. Opportunity. I put my sister through college. My U.S. Citizenship allowed me to purchase trucks in Europe and ship them to Benin. I’m able to ship 20 cars at one time and give back to my country.
What have you given up?
Food. A community. Not speaking my language. In Benin, we have a saying: “If your home doesn’t teach you, the street will teach you.” Which means if a child is misbehaving on the street, a stranger will teach your child or say something. And the parents will come and thank you. That doesn’t feel possible here in the United States.
What message would you share with a newly arriving immigrant?
Stay out of trouble. Try to be open to what is around you. Don’t forget your home. Send money back home to your family. Try to do good in your life. That’s so important.