Our flight landed in Orlando in June 2014. My wife, daughter and I looked out at the unfamiliar landscape as the plane taxied toward the terminal in Orlando. We sat quietly but inside, we rejoiced. Finally we were here, in America -to stay this time.
We’ve been in love with this country almost forever; the way its wildness juxtaposes with first world institutions, how it embraces a melting pot of civilizations; we could not wait to be a part of it. We knew it would be new, that we’d be foreigners in a far away land and we’d have to fit in and join the underlying culture.
We didn’t fully appreciate we would immediately become minorities.
In our former home, we were part of the major demographic. We were native, normal and unremarkable. But when you’re brown in America, things are different. People look. People wonder. Some ask, most are polite and we learned to adapt quickly to our ‘otherness’ in the middle of sleepy Deltona. We accepted our differences and kept moving forward. Work, groceries, car payments. Same as we’d been doing in the Caribbean, just now, here in the USA.
No job is too hard for an immigrant. No labor a disgrace. We survive, day by day, every stone we stumble upon, we step up on.
As a newly minted minority though, significant mental shifts took place which I had not anticipated. I’ll share them with you; our minority mindset if nothing else, emphasizes bare bones survival in strange new lands - much like the way America is shifting and becoming new to many.
Of all the lessons, moving to America first taught us humility. We were unaccustomed to physical labor. My wife and I both worked in the health field. My hardest day involved a full clinic of patients and dozens of prescriptions. But here in the USA, if I take God out of my thoughts to call a plumber, she’ll show up only after I agree to pay her a $75 appearance fee, and then her hourly rate after that. Changing a tap in my vanity cost $150. When you’re an immigrant, that’s a hard row if you’re looking for work. So, I learned to fix the sink. I mow my own lawn, paint, fix the garbage disposal, install tile and even drywall. Thank God and YouTube. I get it done; I cannot guarantee perfection, my wife settles for my definition of unreservedly crooked. Tums and hard lemonade help her cope.
No job is too hard for an immigrant. No labor a disgrace. We survive, day by day, every stone we stumble upon, we step up on. You learn quick, attitude and pride don’t work for minorities; they become heavy weights dragging you down when you would rise. Let them go; they do not serve you. All minorities should understand, there is honor in work, pride in performance, reward in persistence and joy in living well with those around you. Thriving societies build up from right here where we live as minorities.
Life proceeds out of our preparation and intentions, energized by focused action. A dedication to working at your full capacity is half the battle; when you take your focus and apply it forward, the universe always responds.
As a minority you have to get over yourself. We all live and die as humans and we’re buried in the same sized holes where we return to dust. Be humble.
Everyone works but if you’re a minority you’re the nail that sticks out. The different one. The other. Eyes naturally pick you out of the background. With that in mind, dear minority, you have an unprecedented opportunity to shine. More than your co-workers, you are the eye magnet. It’s a kind of superpower.
Work harder than those around you. Work longer if you can, work smarter, and as Thom Friedman suggests, autograph your work with excellence. Make your contribution your best, and put that on repeat every day. Bend your shoulders in the pursuit of perfection, even if you’re sweeping a floor or wiping a door. Leave only evidence of a job well done; this will surprise you. It will create a good reputation among your supervisors, set an example for others, and it will get you accustomed to performing at your highest capacity.
If you only add goals to your mix of effort and preparation, you cannot fail. Life proceeds out of our preparation and intentions, energized by focused action. A dedication to working at your full capacity is half the battle; when you take your focus and apply it forward, the universe always responds.
This is a big one precisely because as a minority, your circle of friends may be small. You don’t share the common culture of the majority, but for you to fit in, you will have to adapt. This means you have to identify and rid yourself of bias and any of the ingredients in the toxic brew of racism, bigotry, xenophobia and even gender roles we all may have internalized.
The neighbor next door may watch your house when you’re away. Are you so sure you don’t want to befriend them? Your child may get sick and you’ll need someone to babysit the rest. You might need blood or a friendly face during a hurricane or a flood. After Irma, a tree fell in our front yard; the neighbor came over with a chainsaw and we bought the beers. That’s how you survive as a minority, with grace and respect and consideration for your fellow man.
Funny thing is, the more you try to be a decent human being, the more it comes back to you in the goodwill of others. It’s a kind of magic this return of good for good. Biblical even. But it’s what you need to know. Love one another. It really works.
Family is also a big part of being a minority. Who loves you when no one else will? Family will. We found ourselves in a vast land, unable to connect at first with the people around us. We didn’t share their histories, their school days, or the gradual evolution of their country around them; we bunjied in and hit the ground running. Family is what held us together. Dinners with my sisters and their children. Helping mom and dad around their home. It’s surprising the way we turn inward when the world outward is strange and difficult. Family makes us stronger. As minorities, never neglect your family. They are the place of strength we can all draw from and our lives only get better.
This is a subset of relationships, you need to quickly find out who does what, where, when and for how much. Who is a good handyman? Where can I get decent groceries? When does the bus come by? What does it cost to have insurance for the house? To this end, I swear by my smartphone. I have an app that scans and maintains a searchable database of every business card I come across. I have another that allows me to record and use the bar-codes for every store I frequent. My gym membership? In the app. The public library scan card? In the app. My Walgreen’s account? Yup, in the app. Good times.
Funny thing is, the more you try to be a decent human being, the more it comes back to you in the goodwill of others.
To keep on top of the massive information dumps that fill up working memory, grab your phone. Use it to keep track of the important people and places in your life. Just don’t loose it.
Stretch your brain.
Everything in America will perplex you if you’ve never been part of the system. To get past the data overload, it’s useful to keep a balanced positive perspective. Accept there is much to learn and figure out what resources are there to help. To live here, something new comes at you every day. Open yourself to a lifetime of continuous learning.
The first time I heard about Obamacare I literally panicked. The website was difficult to navigate, I had to call for a customer representative and I had more questions than they could give me answers. But, I had a few beers in the refrigerator, a willing rep. And I managed to sign my entire family up for the best veterinary care we could find (dental not included). I blame the beers. Eventually we sorted it out, health insurance then was obligatory. We got it done. And we learned how to do it. You’ll need to as well.
Become a skeptic.
You never can prepare for the level of scamming in the USA. I swear to God, I’ve been suckered, phished, and almost outsmarted by every villain imaginable. The brakes on my car picked up debris. The nice guy at the fixit shop charged me 50 dollars to get it out, so far, fair enough. Then he told me my ball joints were loose and my tires were wearing unevenly. I would need new tires and ball joints. $1000 dollars is not too big a price to pay for my safety right? Except my regular mechanic, the Hispanic dude with the thick mustache that hid his harelip told me nothing was wrong with my car and I could drive it until it started to make funny sounds around corners. That was a year ago. The car still drives great, no problems.
Be open to opportunity but reserve judgement. Every scam invented is right here, waiting for you to trip up. Don’t let them get you.
I get calls everyday to help me with my student loans. (I don’t have any). Every car company within 100 miles mails me fliers guaranteeing a 25 dollar Walmart gift card -but I have to buy a car to get it. Really? An attractive brunette in a bikini at the beach, held my hand and walked me into a timeshare presentation that promised a 50 dollar Red Lobster dinner. Three hours later, I mentally rehearsed gnawing my foot off to escape the high pressure sale. Another time a cold caller informed me the water in my house was bad and he would gladly come over and test it for free. I took the bait. Two hours of my limited existence later, he tried to sell me a softening system for $5000. Good thing I like Lowes. I could install the same thing for half the price.
Best advice? Be open to opportunity but reserve judgement before you spend money. Every scam invented is right here, waiting for you to trip up. There’s a pervasive for profit undertone to almost every interaction; you have to be supremely self aware not to get sucked into the vortex, this country can nickle and dime you to death. Don’t let them get you.
Look for the good.
You’re here. For better or worse, you find yourself exactly where you are supposed to be; a stranger in a strange land. But despite the drama, the struggles and the frustrations, take time friend, to seek the wonder around you. It’s everywhere.
We found ourselves driving through a storm. Claps of thunder and blue white claws of lightning ripped the sky open. It was hard to see, even harder to drive; the white lines on the road disappeared beneath sweeps of water. But the wonder of the evening remains with me. The way you almost held your breath between thunderclaps; the white noise of rain on the car roof, even the red running lights on the cars ahead. You don’t see lightning like this where we once lived.
You don’t see the mist rising off the mountains in Georgia or plunging black waterspouts arrowing toward sandy beaches. You don’t see the smiles on children’s faces in theme parks or the way your wife’s mouth hangs open on the coasters at Universal. Magic is everywhere -if you look. Take the time to look. And make time to live whilst you’re alive.
Hope this helps,