“When I came to America I thought, like every other West Indian, money was flowing, the streets were gold, but I was wrong.”
Those are the words of a Barbadian-American woman named Cathy that I interviewed for Island Origins, our next television project. Many who have heard Cathy’s words agree, we all come here for what is supposed to be a better, easier life. Often times we do achieve better because we work hard, but it’s rarely easy.
Our streets aren’t usually gold. Our roads to success are more often paved with overstayed visitors’ visas, menial work for menial pay, and the disrespect of folks who believe that because we are other-than, we are also less-than themselves. But like Cathy, we pay close attention to the trajectory of our futures and our children’s futures.
In Cathy’s case, she had a decent job in Barbados as a young woman. Race and class issues in that island’s social structure, the same many of us face around the region, made her acutely aware of a ceiling she would reach in her quest for upward mobility. She came to the US without her family, found a way to transition from undocumented to legal status, got herself educated, and worked her way up the food chain to retire comfortably from a management position within a national corporation.
She is the type of inspirational figure that many who work as farmers, tradesmen and those who hustle to send their children to school in America, want their kids to emulate. She did what she had to, to get where she needed to be, and then she hopped on the straight and narrow path to a life that may now seem out of reach even to many native born Americans.
Her path began with cleaning homes and being called the “n” word for the first time in her life by a white employer’s child. In this overly glamorized world, homeownership, comfortable retirement, good social status and having independent, grown children may not be impressive to some, but to Cathy and to many of us it means that she has achieved the American Dream.
Calibe Thompson is the Executive Producer of the “Taste the Islands” cooking series, now airing M & Th at 7:30PM, and Sat at 3:30PM on South Florida’s WPBT2 (Ch 2). Her next television project “Island Origins” explores the concept of the American Dream from the Caribbean perspective.