By Nsiona Nguizani
Being an immigrant in Maine was not the childhood dream of most immigrants, but rather the end result of unfortunate circumstances. Like most people born in the U.S., back in our dear homelands we also had happy, free lives once, with dreams for the future. We dreamed of becoming doctors, economists, chemists, accountants, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, or any number of other professions in our own countries.
But then life decided otherwise for us and, as a result of the irresponsible actions by national, continental, and global policymakers, we had no choice but to flee our countries. In leaving home, we immigrants were not only pursuing a better life – we fled to save our lives. We came to Maine not to take, or steal, the lives of others, but to save our own. Most of us had to choose between survival, or death.
When immigrants arrive, we hope that our host country will accept us, and facilitate our integration. We arrive deprived of everything – no means of earning a living, without English, without a map, without family support – and we are expected to succeed. It’s like asking Ferdinand Magellan to find a sea route to the Spice Islands without using a boat or a compass!
Like St. Paul says in the Christian Bible, “When men will say: Peace and security! Then a sudden ruin will surprise them, as the pains of the child surprise the pregnant woman, and they will not escape,” just when we think we have arrived, that our lives are finally peaceful and safe, we perceive that the challenge of immigration is just beginning.
Psychologically, it is difficult to leave a life behind that was started somewhere else. We go through stages of renunciation, mourning, and the search for an identity. We are stuck between two worlds. We are not yet integrated in Maine, but at the same time we are no longer exactly as we were in our countries of origin. There have been too many transformations, too many changes. The search for a new identity is not always easy.
The challenge of integration can be compared to a relationship of a couple.
The honeymoon period. This is filled with enthusiasm for discovering a new country, a place of peace after coming from a place of violence, the joy following a successful flight from persecution or death.
The moment of doubt. This is the stage when some people move on, leave, relocate within the host country. They say, “I’m not going to make it here, it’s too difficult, I can’t fit in, it’s not what I had imagined.”
The adaptation phase. This is when they start to get into the rhythm of a new life, and adapt. During this phase, immigrants need to establish relations with the people of the host country.
Acceptance and fulfillment. At this stage, they finally feel at home and set out to prosper.
The key idea is to surround newcomers with resources and supports, and not isolate them. It is important that there are culturally appropriate resources available that reflect an understanding of the immigrants’ reasons behind seeking a new home, and where newcomers can find support, help, and guidance from those who have gone through the same experiences before them. There is also the need to belong to associations where they can speak and say what they feel. Acceptance by the host community plays a decisive role in helping newcomers to integrate.
Our lives changed from the moment we left our countries of origin, and the lives of our hosts changed as soon as we walked into their countries to seek asylum, whether we – or they – wanted this or not. One thing is certain: our lives are better when we choose to share them with others.
Nsiona Nguizani is the president of the Angolan Community of Maine. He arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and is now a permanent resident. In Angola, he built a successful career as a project manager for organizations such as UNICEF, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the European Union. Before moving to the U.S. he was the national representative of Comité d’Aide Medicale and traveled between offices in Paris and Luanda. When he arrived in the U.S., he was obliged to start all over again, and earned degrees in Accounting and Economics. He is currently employed as cultural broker for the City of Brunswick.