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Immigrant Stories: United Kingdom

Barbara E.

At the young age of 13, Barbara was forced to make a very signficant decision when her mother gave her the option to immigrate from her home, Britain, to America. As a girl of Jamaican descent growing up in a quaint working class town, there were few people that looked like her. She found herself with a lack of role models and began drifting into the wrong crowds. The United States was a chance to start again.

When she arrived in New Jersey, she was shocked by what she found. She met Puertoricans, Chinese, Dominicans, and other ethnicities for the first time in her life. She describes this as the most amazing part of America, saying, “…. the amount of cultures is beyond beautiful.”

However, despite her experience and newfound love for other cultures, she was perplexed by some aspects of America. Originally imagining the United States as a melting pot, she soon learned that America was like a picky eater with a dinner plate full of cultures that often didn’t touch or mix with one another. She also immediately noticed that expectations for students were lower based on skin color and quickly realized as she traveled for track meets that school district resources varied dramatically by zip code.

At the same time, she had many positive African-American influences around her and from them, she learned to understand her blackness. Experiences of being spat at and humiliated in Britain were transformed into feelings of belonging in America. She attended the Hamburg University of Virginia, a historically black college, and marveled at the instant community and described how inclusive it felt, saying, “Oh, okay! This is how it feels like not to be judged. Not to be isolated out of the clique.”

Now with three children and a Nigerian husband, Barbara’s home is representative of the beautiful mix of cultures that she so loves about America. Their family is a combination of British, Nigerian, American, and Jamaican culture and influences, and they generously share their experiences and culture with our St. Louis community. Barbara’s story is one of identity and community, and it was in America where she discovered the importance of diversity of background and ethnicities—something that the International Institute of St. Louis also encourages the St. Louis community to be proud of and help sustain.