I moved to the United States from Jamaica the day after I turned 16 years old. I had just graduated from high school, but had a problem getting my official transcript, so I was not able to submit my college applications. Once it became obvious that I would not be able to attend college that fall, my parents and I made the decision that rather than sitting around the house waiting, I would attend the high school around the corner from our home for one semester until the material arrived. What a culture shock! I had attended an all-girls Catholic High School in Jamaica, so the New York Public School system was quite an experience. Going to school with boys for the first time, not wearing a school uniform for the first time, and learning the “American way” of doing things when I had been so firmly entrenched in the British system. Everything was so brand new to me, and I was at least a year or two younger than the rest of the senior class. Never-the-less, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Though I was more than prepared academically, I was socially unfamiliar with American customs. I would have been lost in the college system had I not had this experience first. I ended up staying for the entire senior year though I could have moved on to college in the spring. It became as important to me to graduate with these classmates as it had been for me to graduate in Jamaica with the girls I had been in school with for five years. Though it was frustrating at first, I will never consider that year a “wasted” year in any way. I made some enduring friendships, and was much better prepared to navigate my new life in New York.
In 2002, I applied for my US Citizenship. I knew then that though Jamaica would always be home, I had as much if not more in common with my fellow New Yorkers than I did with my friends back in Jamaica. This was where I belonged, plus I could still get all things Jamaican here! Food, music and culture were all available in New York. I joined very long lines, submitted the lengthy application, got fingerprinted, went in for the physical and had a background check run by the FBI. After a snafu with the fingerprinting, (I was told my fingerprints had expired! What?) I finally got a date to report for the Citizenship test. I was told not to bring any food or beverages into the building. Once I passed through security, I was asked not to leave the building. I had a 10:00am appointment but was not seen until almost 4:00pm. Hungry, tired and thirsty, I took the test and passed with flying colors. I was given a date in December to be sworn in as a citizen, which then got postponed when the courts extended their holidays to include the date of my appointment. Finally, in March 2003, I reported to court and got sworn in as a new citizen of the United States of America. I felt joy and comrade with my fellow immigrants. I loved the diversity in the room, it so reflected New York. That same day, I applied for a US passport and registered to vote. I came into the offices of Carnegie Corporation of New York that afternoon, warmly congratulated by my fellow co-workers who also surprised me with a cake. It was truly a wonderful day.
Living in America has provided me with awesome opportunities. My education, being able to purchase my own home by myself, and working at an institution that has allowed me to meet dignitaries and celebrities I had only read about or seen on television. I am also able to give back, both my time and financially. I serve on the boards of several organizations that support children’s education both in Jamaica and locally. I have voted in every single election, no matter the level, participated in protest marches, signed petitions and participated in election campaigns. 2013 marks my 10th year as an American, and this July 4th, I will be taking an extra moment to reflect with gratitude on all that my adopted country and city have given me.