Immigrant Women and Their Struggles

I was born in the United States and raised in Haiti. I moved back to the United States at the age of eleven. Being a witness to the struggles faced by my mother, a single mother, made me more appreciative of the education and the opportunities that I have had as a Haitian-American woman. Having to learn English as a second language and completing my Masters Degree in Social Work are my two greatest accomplishments.

Growing up in the United States and having to adapt to a new culture was a difficult and challenging experience for me. However, my struggles were minimal compared to those of my mother’s. She worked two jobs, at the time her English speaking skills were minimal, and she supported four young children. Additionally, even after we moved to the United States, my mother believed that she had a responsibility to care for her siblings living in Haiti. As a result of this belief, she kept sending them money on a regular basis.

My mother always stressed the importance of education. She did not want to see her children struggle as much as she did. With education in mind, I completed High School believing that getting a High School diploma was all of the education I needed. Unfortunately, I had a guidance counselor who, rather than support the idea of my going to college, reinforced my belief that High School was enough education for me. Luckily, I met a professional and successful Black woman who became my mentor. She taught me the importance of furthering my education. She believed in me and she helped me to believe in myself. Although my mom had also stressed the importance of education, up to this point, my experience was in seeing the women from my culture who had immigrated to the United States, obtain jobs as cleaning ladies and I considered them to be successful. So, with a broader understanding of success, as well as some assistance from my mentor, I applied and was accepted to Syracuse University where I majored in Social Work and ultimately obtained a Bachelor’s Degree of Science and Social Work.

I learned many valuable life lessons during my undergraduate years. I lived in Harlem, NY; and as a result, I was not exposed to many different cultures. When I went to Syracuse University, I was faced with culture shock! I had to learn to live with individuals of different backgrounds and religious beliefs. I was impressed with the different student organizations to choose from. However, because I wanted to feel like I belonged, I assisted in creating a Haitian-American organization so that I could meet other students of my own culture and who, I assumed, were faced with the same challenges as I did. I soon began to realize that I was segregating myself from the many different cultures represented by other students on Campus. I began to branch out and participate in different organizations so I could learn more about different cultures. To my surprise, I found students from a wide variety of cultures who were struggling as I was and their parents struggled as my mother did.

My first professional experience was as a Director of a child abuse prevention program. Working with parents was rewarding for me because I was able to educate them about child rearing skills and help them to learn stress reduction techniques. After approximately one year, I was accepted onto the staff of an organization that specializes on domestic violence. In my capacity as a Senior Social Worker, I encountered many minority women who were victims of violence in their primary relationships. I soon learned that it is often difficult for women to break away from violent relationships. For the women I worked with, matters were complicated even further because many of them were undocumented and, as a result, they were usually unwilling to ask for help from any authorities because they feared they would be deported. These women also faced language barriers, difficulties getting employment, and the social isolation we often see both with battered women and in new immigrants who have not yet settled into American society. Of those who were able to leave the batterers, they often found themselves unable to navigate the system and not able to support themselves financially without the help of public assistance. Of those who did receive public assistance, they often came to rely on public assistance because their English speaking and writing skills were poor and or they were unable to get training in a vocation that would allow them to support themselves and their children.

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