MLP Column for Black History Month

Avatar of Sephora Brevil

When I came to America in June of 2016, it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be like. I heard stories about how the streets in America were so clean you could eat off them, but when I arrived, I saw many homeless people living on the streets. I had not seen homeless people since the big earthquake in 2010. I am from Haiti, a country full of great food and good people. While Americans would probably say Haitians are poor, I never felt poor. I believe what matters is the love you share with your family. 

When I first arrived, the only English phrases I knew were “My name is” and “I’m good.” My native language is Haitian Creole, a mix of French and other languages, including Spanish and West African languages. Haitian Creole was formed because of contact between French colonists and enslaved Africans working on plantations on the island of Haiti. Eventually, they formed their own unique language. The language barrier was a challenge I had to overcome, a goal I had to reach to succeed in life. When I first learned about Black History Month, I learned about the history of Black people in America, and about slavery, racism, and injustice. I also learned that the Black community isn’t “free,” and we do not have the privileges we deserve. 

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, half of Californian children have at least one immigrant parent. This shows how many children in this state are affected by immigration issues. When people see Black immigrants, they always assume that we’re from Africa. This makes sense, considering that Africa is a large continent with 54 countries. And many African immigrants in America are very successful. A report from the Pew Research Center states that “Black immigrants from Africa are more likely than Americans overall to have a college degree or higher.” 

I believe Black immigrants value their educational opportunities because there aren’t always many choices for them back home. They have to work hard to support their families and be successful. Americans have freedom and many opportunities. I see that immigrants take school more seriously than students born in America because they understand how important education is. My dad always tells me, “Education first!” 

However, the assumption that all Black immigrants are from Africa is not true. Black people exist in many countries outside Africa, such as Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Brazil. In fact, almost half of all foreign-born Black people living in the US in 2016 were from the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica and Haiti, according to the Pew Research Center report. Black immigrants speak many different languages, and many come to the US already knowing some English.  

I interviewed Naod, a Berkeley High School (BHS) sophomore from Eritrea, which is a country in northeast Africa. We talked about his experience as an immigrant in the US. Naod came here in May of 2019. Unlike me, he knew some English at the time, so learning at BHS was easier for him. Back in Eritrea, he didn’t know about racism, mainly because the whole Eritrean population is Black. When Naod came here and witnessed the violence and injustice towards Black people, he felt surprised and sad. “At first, it’s surprising to learn what they are doing to Black people, but you get used to it and it makes me sad,” he said in a Zoom interview. Naod noticed how Black people are treated by the police: they have to make sure they speak in a respectful way in order to be treated with a little respect.

I feel like when other people see Black people like me, they feel afraid and they have all these negative thoughts. It feels like they think that we are predators and they are prey. But when I think about the Black community, I see commitment, teamwork, and leadership. The people I admire are Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. They are the ones who stood up for the Black community. Like Barack Obama said at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, “We did not come to fear the future; we came here to shape it.” The only reason why Americans are so afraid of change is because they are afraid of realizing they have wronged the Black community for centuries. We cannot change the past, but we can envision the future.