Kenyans abroad share their "American dream" experiences | The Diaspora Life Episode One
Margaret Njoroge, 74, left Kenya for the US twenty years ago. Hers was not a lofty dream, she relocated out of necessity.
“One year after the death of my husband I decided to look for greener pasture so that I can bring up my children and they can go to school,” Margaret started her narration.
Unable to make ends meet after the demise of her husband, Margaret decided to travel to the US. To realise her American dream.
“I tried farming, vending Sukuma wiki at the Gikombaa market and even selling milk from my four cows to Kabete dairy but the return from all these was not enough to drive my wheel of life,” she says.
However, her journey to America was not ducky soupy. She recalls how difficult it was to get the passport and visa but at long last, her widow status was a blessing in disguise as it guaranteed her a visa.
“When I reached the America Embassy, the only question they asked me is whether I was married. I told them that I was a widow and I had my husband’s death certificate. So I was guaranteed a visa,” said Margaret.
It was December 9, 2000, when Margaret left behind her relatives, friends and everything she ever knew for America.
Jobless Margaret struggled to fit in the American way of life for a year before she started babysitting. As time went by, she worked in a mental health facility where she cooked for the mentally challenged. Margaret introduced them to African meals like beans, ugali, chapati instead of the already cooked food stored in cans.
She stopped working at the mental facility and the patients kept on asking for her whereabouts.
“They used to call me mama. The whole month, the house was like ‘where is mama, where is mama’. I think that is the reason why they decided to give me another chance of working,” said Margaret.
Twenty years later, the 74-year-old Margaret commonly referred to as ‘shosho’ in America could never be happier.
She confesses that America has been good to her and she has lived her dream to the full. She drives Toyota Sedan which she bought 10 years ago and lives in a three-bedroom apartment with her family.
“If someone finds a way of coming to America, it is a good country if you work hard,” says Margaret. The concept of the American dream conjures in people's minds as an ideal life consisting of freedom of speech, an opportunity for prosperity and success as well as upward social mobility for the family and children achieved through hard work in a society with fewer barriers unlike in Kenya.
There are thousands of Kenyans living in the US and certainly not all dream are alike. Their American Dream varies depending on one’s set of circumstances. Josephine Gathoka and July Othuno, Kenyans living in Philadelphia and Pittsburg respectively narrate their version of the American dream.
“The first time I heard of an American dream was like one wife in a two-bedroom house with three kids and a dog. It is true and it is not true. The truth is you have to work for what you have,” says Josephine. “I came from Kenya with a deaf child.
So my American dream was for my child to be able to hear and talk like the other kids,” says July on the other hand. Therefore, the American dream can be defined as the belief that anyone can attain their virtue of success in a society with upward mobility regardless of their origin or social class.
However, the dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, hard work, rather than chance.
The American dream has had convictions over immigrants since America was founded. Families pack their bags and leave the only life they have ever known for the promise of something bigger and better like freedom, equality, and opportunities.
Paul Mbugua another Kenyan who has been living in Dallas Texas for eight years visibly appears to have assimilated into the American culture with his Cowboy hat and an American accent narrates his convictions. Many divorce cases
“America has offered me more than my motherland would have, but on the other hand it feels like I am here to learn and when the right time comes I will relocate back,” says Paul.
According to Margaret, one of the enduring challenges of Kenyans living abroad is a high rate of divorce and separation, Margaret has committed her life speaking to distress couples and counseling them about marriage.
“Because women are being paid the same amount or sometimes higher than their husbands, there is no respect for their husbands. I always tell young ladies that a man is the head of the house.
I am talking to them and telling them how to build a home,” says Margaret. According to Jeremiah Okari, a professor in Minneapolis - Minnesota, an American dream is nothing other than touching lives with the little one has.
“In as long as you come here, work hard, follow the law and go to school if you have to and invest at home, that is a sense of happiness and that is an American dream,” says professor Jeremiah.