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Eyes on the Future, the Past Stays With Immigrants in Maine


The past is the consequence of what we have done. The present and the future will be the result of what we are doing in the now; all choices lead us to the future.

My family and I, we made a choice, and that choice brought us here. My name is Jemima, and I am from Angola, a beautiful country, located on the South Atlantic coast of West Africa, between Namibia and Congo, a country that is wonderfully warm, with happy people who love to dance, with beaches and forests, a country where summer is longer than winter.

My country smells like the ocean. It is a place where it is possible to find hawkers in every corner of Luanda, the city capital, with small markets almost everywhere, some streets paved, and others not. 

When the rain falls, it makes a lot of small holes in the roads, streets are always crowded with taxis of blue and white color, but what captivated me, and it still captivates me in my country, is the capacity of Angola to make anyone feel at home and get into the rhythm. It is important for everyone to feel at home, and Angola makes everybody feel comfortable, because of the diversity of colors found in each corner, by the unique and exotic way of the Angolan movement, a joy that the people transmit every day. It is unique!

It was both an easy and difficult decision to come to the United States; it was easy because we were excited with the idea of knowing a new country outside of Africa, to see the snow for the first time, to eat the famous American hot dog, to listen to the noise caused by the traffic in New York. I was amazed. It was also a difficult decision because we had to leave our house, our old friends, stop going to our favorite places, say bye to the country that saw me grow. Yes, it was difficult because I didn’t know when I would go back to it until now, and now I do not know.

For political reasons, my family had to move, reasons that included protecting my life and the lives of my family. Before we left, we spent some scary moments in which we did not feel safe in our own country. We feared being killed or kidnapped. 

During all the time that we lived in Angola, we created roots and friends; we were afraid of not being able to rebuild the same friendships and roots here.

We decided to leave without even knowing what awaited us on the other side of the world, carrying with us only a few suitcases, which were full of hopes and fears. But above all, we carried joy, the joy that a lot of the strong characteristics of the African people would continue to be the weapon of my small family; we were happy with the mere possibility of a better future.

As we arrived in the United States, we began our journey into the future and the quest for much of our questions about life as an immigrant.

In the beginning, it was difficult because we did not know the language and it was complicated to communicate with the natives; it was difficult even to get some answers. But it was also easy because around us there was always someone willing to help, using a translator of course!

We saw great differences between here and my country, and one of them was the snow, something we never saw. Our first snow was a memorable experience, very different from Angola.

In the short time that I have lived here, I would say that the smell that identifies Maine is a mixture of cigarette and wood smoke and that the sound that identifies it is the sound of the wind on the trees. We were very well received here, and we met people with huge hearts, who were willing to help. 

We are rebuilding our lives here, learning every day, meeting new people, new places, and learning to see Maine as our new home. Maine will eventually turn out to be our home, but Angola will always be our place, the land of our grandfathers. Maine will see me build a future for the people that I love and for me, but Angola saw me born, grow, and leave.

On my journey here, I learned that each country is a country with stories, adventures, and culture.

When building a new life in another country, we should not forget life in the previous country. We must use all the knowledge from our previous countries for the new one because, no matter where we are, the land will always be the same, the air the same, the same souls, the same animals, there will always be music and dance. Any country will always be a home.

Jemima Nsenga is a student at Deering High School. She produced this piece during a Raise Your Voice Workshop at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science sponsored by Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project.