by Michelle Addai
I was born in Italy, and as an infant I was sent to Ghana, my parents’ homeland, where I was placed in the care of an aunt. My parents’ plan was to work in Italy and send money home to take care of us. Then eventually they could both return to Ghana and we could live together as a family.
That plan did not quite work out as intended. My father ended up immigrating to the United States, where he believed he could find a better job, and my mother stayed in Italy, while we kids stayed in Ghana. The entire family was torn apart among three continents–we kids in Africa, our mother in Europe, and our father in America. We lived like this for years without seeing our parents, and eventually my mother decided to return to Ghana to be with us. By the time I was 15, I had lived with my dad for only the first two years of my life and the few months he visited Ghana.
Two years ago I immigrated to the United States to join my father, who thought we kids would get a better education here. Like many immigrant parents, he wanted his children to have the opportunities he never had. My mother is planning to join us here eventually, and when she does we will be at last a complete family again.
This move to America was an abrupt change for me, and the world as I knew it was no more; the community, the culture, and the educational system were wholly different from what I was used to. Even the differences in climate were extreme. Going from the pleasurably warm weather in Ghana straight to the freezing cold winter of New England was a difficult adjustment.
The first few months proved challenging. I found many of the students disrespectful towards teachers and adults in general, which really disturbed me. Once, just a few yards from my school, a couple of students attacked a police officer and broke his leg. This kind of violence made me very fearful.
That was another thing, the fear I felt. I was so intimidated by everything around me that I could barely contribute in class. Furthermore, because I was from Africa, some students mocked me, saying mean things and claiming I ate lions for breakfast. I laughed with them to mask my true feelings, but it hurt.
At first I was able to at least looked forward to the weekend, when, as a Jehovah’s Witnesses, I could share the good news of God’s Kingdom with others. Little did I know that my evangelizing would result in more culture clashes. In Ghana, people are more accepting of this kind of volunteer preaching, but in America, well, not so much. Many people blatantly rejected our message, and slammed doors in our faces. Once, a few summers ago, when I was still a relatively recent immigrant, I joined a few members of my congregation to go to a town in Central Massachusetts to preach. At one home, I pressed the doorbell and heard the occupant yell that she would be with us shortly. When she came, however, she accused us both of having entered her house, and she called the police.
My heart raced when the police arrived and started yelling at us. An officer of the law had never before confronted me, and it was a frightening experience. We explained the situation to them, but one insisted that we be summoned to court. We were asked to leave the area, which we did without hesitation. It was a major relief for me when we found that we would not need to go to court.
These few years in America have been very challenging for me, but I continue to have a positive outlook because l know that no condition is permanent. My family and faith have been a support for me through my difficulties, and I strive to achieve academically because I know how hard my parents are working to give me this opportunity. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Being a teenager on the road to adulthood is in and of itself hard; being an immigrant teenager makes the journey even tougher.