This summer, our interns attended an ethical storytelling workshop in partnership with the University of Mississippi and Southern Foodways Alliance. To learn the ropes of the industry, they were tasked with interviewing immigrants within their community. Mobilization intern Peace spoke with Chisom about what being an American would mean to her.
A new normal
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Chisom dreamt of leaving her home to go study abroad anywhere in the world, including the United States. “It was never a realistic dream,” She explained. “It was just something my parents mentioned a few times but was never something that was definite.” On March 30, 2017, Chisom and her family relocated to the United States, making her dreams come true right before her eyes.
She recounted the details of her journey to the U.S. with many emotions and smiles, even if the journey wasn’t a smooth one.
“It was a terrible experience because we were scared. At the place where they check your bags for contraband, the family in front of us, they checked their bags, and I don’t know what they found,” said Chisom, who is now 17 years old. “I don’t remember the situation at all, but they got deported back to the country—all five or six of them. They had huge bags, and we had a lot of stuff. It wasn’t a nice sight, honestly.”
Chisom eventually found a rhythm as her life found its new normal. She started high school and started to get accustomed to their curriculum, but her new normal was not without a few culture shocks.
“There are so many differences that I could write a whole book. Free public-school education was a huge difference. Even back in my country, they may have had ‘free’ public school education, but it wasn’t,” she said. “Here [in the U.S.], we have free public-school education where you’re given a free Chromebook to use throughout the school year, and you are given textbooks to use, and all you need to do is check it out. You don’t have to pay any amounts except if you lose it.”
On top of the differences in schooling, she also had to adjust to new standards of living.
“Anytime I think about it, I would always ask myself ‘How did I do this?’ There was never constant electricity back home. I feel it is all about adaptation because we were born into it,” Chisom explained.
The American dream
When asked about the reasoning behind her parents’ decision to migrate to the United States, she stated that it was simply the American dream.
“The American dream is what sold them, that when you come to America, you have a better life, and you have more opportunities for a better life, you get to explore more aspects of your life,” she said. “I think that is what pushed them to bring I and my sister to this country: to have opportunities that they didn’t have.”
In February 2020, Chisom found her life taking a turn for good when she got her legal permanent resident status, which meant that she was officially a green card holder and could apply for citizenship in the near future.
After stating that she is very happy about the turn of events in her life, she began to explain what a U.S. citizenship meant to her.
“America is known as the land of the free and the land of opportunities. Being a citizen means that I will be given the freedom to explore and utilize these many opportunities. I have been able to apply for scholarships that are only given to U.S. citizens, even as a legal permanent resident.”Chisom, 18
One of those newfound freedoms would be helping to make decisions for her new country: “I think being a U.S. citizen entails knowing the constitution, knowing the privileges you have when you become a citizen, like voting. So, that would mean that I would partake in huge decisions of choosing leaders for my community, my state, or even in the country at large.”
She also spoke about the benefits of being able to travel to places like Austria, Qatar, Ukraine, and countries that don’t require a visa when you have your U.S. passport.
“This opportunity will help me explore many places while expanding my knowledge on how the healthcare system works in various places, preparing me for my career as a doctor,” she says.
Turning dreams into reality
Like many immigrant children, Chisom is not afraid to face her big dreams. She has dreamt of being a doctor since she was little and cannot see herself doing anything else.
Chisom graduated from high school in May and will be continuing her education at the University of North Georgia in the fall as she works towards her goal. She stated that the opportunities that a U.S. citizenship offers will help her achieve her dream of helping underserved communities and, hopefully, to help better the healthcare system of her homeland, Nigeria.
“Being a U.S. citizen is definitely going to help me achieve that. If I decide to build a hospital, I am pretty sure there’s paperwork and things that require my citizenship—maybe to have land rights and other things,” Chisom said.
The conditions of the healthcare system of Nigeria continue to be the driving force of her motivation to become a doctor. “I saw a video of them giving the COVID-19 vaccine, and the environment was not good at all. I almost cried,” she said.
Even without COVID, other problems still exist within their healthcare system such as self-diagnosis. “You feel weak, and all of a sudden it’s ‘malaria.’ You start taking malaria drugs every day, but it never occurs to them that they might have some other underlying problems,” she explained. “That is the sad reality.”
While Chisom continues to worry for her home country, she believes that her dreams can be achieved when she becomes a U.S. citizen, and she is grateful for the opportunity.
Peace joined the Mobilization Department as an intern in Spring 2021. She’s currently a sophomore at Rhodes University studying biology.