The Power of Dialogues and Citizenship
In the kitchen of one of the organization’s members, I sat and had a touching conversation with Araminta McIntosh, a long-time associate of the Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island. We dove into her experience fleeing Liberia to the United States and her journey to becoming a citizen. Then we touched on her narrative of being a Liberian immigrant in the ’70-the ’80s in Providence. In this 10-minute clip, the abundance of information is dense, poetic, and heart-warmly yet unimaginable.
I was shocked to learn how distant our narratives were due to the big gap between my experience and hers in Providence. What staggered me in our conversation was her struggles of working tirelessly in jewelry factories in Oneyville. She was making little to no wages and hiding from the “Grey Suit Boys,”; who were immigration officers disguised in suits looking to find undocumented immigrants working and imprison them for working undocumented. At that moment, all I can imagine is the constant fear and anxiety that encaged in Liberian immigrants’ souls at the time, who yearned for a better life for themselves in this foreign place. Also, I ponder the nervousness of using another person’s name to find a job, and manipulation of employers taking advantage of immigrants for their own profitable gain.
Nevertheless, I can envision how potent and fearless Araminta remained in those times and while filing for her citizenship. The politics and atmosphere during those times were remarkably distinct in how things operated, and how long until you received status did not matter to her as long as she was a citizen. These conversations remind me of how critical being engaged in America is; citizenship doesn’t just involve the ‘others’ in politics; instead, it opens up the room for financial freedom and better job opportunities and protects people from being deported.
The following conversation I had was with Emmanuel Nyema, a humorous, charismatic fellow. Before the camera was on, we had a compelling debate on the pros and cons of being here (United States) rather than in Liberia and the improvements that are happening back home in Liberia. That little moment taught me about the current political environment of Liberia and how certain things are distant and similar to America. As we got into the conversation of his narrative, I was intrigued by his demeanor and eagerness. He was coming to a new world and had an abundance of expectations of how things would be. However, even with preparation, things still surprised him upon his arrival, from the foods he ate to the site of rapid homelessness in his new environment. This is prevalent in the Liberian culture back in Liberia, which they expect America to be the holy grail. But unfortunately, as I realize from Emmanuel, it is not. Only those who have been here and experienced America can understand this misconception.
I found it interesting how influential the church is; Emmanuel’s fare to come to America was funded by his church, which, even though he never paid it back in total, oriented me about how the church took care of those in the congregation and the significance of community. It also highlights the church’s culture as a symbol of personal development. Another thing was his eagerness to become a citizen to participate in voting, and have his voice heard on policies and things he feels need to be changed in his community and state.
A trend I noticed quickly from multiple conversations with the Liberian organization members was how factory employment was the cornerstone of opportunity for refugees from Liberia upon arrival. However, it was not the best in terms of conditions and well-being. These stories exhibited the intersections of an outsider effect and the hope of a better future.
July 26 is a momentous day for the organization and me, this year it is Liberia’s 175th celebration of being independent as a country. A few weeks after we had recorded these intimate videos of their experiences, we wanted a way we could connect these rich stories with the community we are all part of. We concluded that one way would be to spread these videos across the organization’s Facebook page to spread these narratives wide as they may touch, engage and bring back memories to other Liberians within the community. We uncover that stories of Liberian life are a form of normalizing and enhancing the experiences we all share as Liberians. Given that within Liberian culture, these things may not even be expressed or talked about often. So we posted these videos on the page and had the community react and give feedback on their migration story.
Another thing we did was showcase a preview of the videos at an event they throw every year celebrating Liberia’s independence and showcasing how the organization has been involved in the community, its projects, and new endeavors in motion. These videos were depicted, and the community and Rhode Island residents who support the Liberian community got to see a different side of us. At this moment, I was astonished at how much involvement this organization has been within my community. They showed the ways they have given back and shown cultural pride while creating ways of enhancing opportunities for all Liberians in Providence.