Why I Became an American
Name: Lorraine Lamm, 31
From: Kingston, Jamaica
Let me tell you—Jamaica wasn’t an easy place to live. I hated everything around me: the broken-down cars in people’s front yards, the cracked sidewalks, garbage everywhere. Worst of all, I never felt safe. The house I lived in, which belonged to my stepfather, wasn’t in a good neighborhood, and a group of unemployed men would hang out every day right in front of it, smoking marijuana. I tried to ignore them, even when they hollered at me. Still, I hated going to bed knowing that these men could easily break in and steal what little I had. I had three locks on my bedroom door and slept with the lights on. That constant sense of being in danger wore me down.
As a teacher, however, I wasn’t able to move to a nicer place. In Jamaica, all public employees, teachers included, are grossly underpaid. I couldn’t afford a car or even new shoes, much less a place of my own. I was frustrated all the time. I knew things weren’t like this everywhere. I had visited the United States several times: once on a class excursion to Disney World, when I was 9, and again at age 10, for my uncle’s wedding in the Bronx. It was winter. The snow looked like granulated sugar! The rush of being in some place so surreal kept me from feeling the cold.
As I got older, I thought back on that chilly trip often. Then, when I was 25, I again visited my uncle’s family in New York and met a wonderful American man, Damian. After I returned to Jamaica, we carried on a long-distance relationship for about nine months, then got married in July 2005. I moved to New York City to be with him.
Coming here was a bit frightening. I wasn’t automatically eligible for jobs (I didn’t have a work visa), and I knew I would be somewhat dependent on Damian. Fortunately, my aunt and uncle and cousins helped me feel welcome, and I was so happy to be with my new husband. I finally felt safe. Although Damian was my immigration sponsor, it took a long time to become a citizen: one year to get my green card, then another three before I could apply for naturalization. The government doesn’t make the process easy, but it has been worth the wait. Life in the United States has been good.
In Jamaica there’s a feeling that you shouldn’t have certain ambitions or dreams, because you don’t have money or you’re not from the right family. Here, I’m pursuing a nursing position, and my children—Damian, 4, and Neela, 2—can do anything they want in the future. We live in a little square box apartment, but they’ll grow up knowing that every door is open to them.