In 1976, my grandmother came to this country with my mother and my three aunts determined to work and build a solid foundation so that her children and her grandchildren could experience the “American Dream” and economic empowerment. That “American Dream” however quickly became an uphill battle after the Mariel boatlift in 1980. Following the Mariel boatlift many Caribbean immigrants were negatively stereotyped, jeopardizing my grandmothers’ employment and making the international transition more difficult on my mother and aunts.
Growing up my randmother would tell me had to work twice as hard as everyone else just to make in this country and although it took me a long time to truly understand why she felt that way her words resonated with me and taught me “hard work never killed anyone”. Just months after the Mariel boatlift, Ronald Reagan implemented a new economic policy referred to as Reagonomics. My aunt was in college at the time, which was funded by federal student aid. Since Reagonomics reduced college opportunities my aunt was unable to finish her education at that time.
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Although now she has a great career and is approaching retirement Reagonomics delayed her college graduation almost a decade. There was limited federal funding for school when I was born in 1988 and the job opportunities available were dead ends. As a result my mother chose to enlist in the military in 1990. Six months of enrollment the Gulf War was ensued. Upon the end of the war my mother decided not to re-enlist and returned home to finish school. Both Reagonomics and the economy had an impact on my families’ life influencing heir seemingly personal decisions.
September 11, 2001 is a day I will never forget. It was my first week in public school and I was thrilled until my homeroom teacher turned on the news and we saw the devastation happening. My mom had recently taken a job in North Carolina and immediately told me when I got out of school that I was coming to Charlotte. September 16th I arrived in Charlotte and started school that following Monday. I was completely culture shocked, everything about the south was different and although struggled hrough the transition ultimately it taught me how to function outside of my comfort zone which I had never experienced.
Both the Mariel boatlift and Reagonomics initially made transitioning to America more difficult for my family but it made us more resilient and determined to make a prosperous life. It also caused my grandmother to instill the importance of education and hard work in her children and grandchildren. As I reflect on my personal choices and ambitions I realize how much the macro and micro elements have shaped who I am and who I am becoming.