As the Challenge Airline plane started to move down the runway, I pressed my face against the window looking out at the waving gallery at Norman Manley International Airport. Many of my friends and family had come to see me off. I could recognize a few of the faces as the plane passed the gallery and began to climb into the air. The look on their faces would be etched into my mind forever. I wondered when I would see them again? When would I ever see Jamaica again?
I was going to Miami but did not have any papers. I had no family who could file for me and my visitors’ visa would expire in 2 years. The reality is, I had no hope of getting a green card and was running away from Jamaica. I was 16 and had just completed 5th form at Campion High and graduated. I had not gotten the 5 subjects I needed to qualify to go to the next grade (6th form) and could not find a job. I had very mixed feelings about leaving Jamaica but my parents made the decision that it was best for me to leave due to the economy and the educational system.
On one hand I was excited about the opportunities that would be open to me. My perception of America is that it is a land where anyone could get rich. Everyone I knew who lived in America seemed to have the greatest life ever. My 3 previous visits to America were to Miami and I loved it there. There was just an abundance of things that would cost you an “arm and a leg” in Jamaica. Everything seemed just within reach.
On the other hand I was leaving home & would be miles away from my parents, relatives & friends. The last few days before I left were really hard. I spent those days mainly with my friends but I could not let them know I was ‘running away’. I told them I was visiting Miami for the summer. I had no idea when I would see them again.
As the plane reached cruising speed I reflected on my life in Jamaica. It was a good life. I lived in a nice 5 bedroom home in Forest Hills with my parents and 2 younger sisters. We had a satellite dish and a pool. My dad worked as General Manager for a construction company and my mother worked at the bank. My 2 sisters were still in high school. One attended my old high school, Campion College and the other attended Immaculate High School. I had most everything I wanted but I know that life was getting harder as the Jamaican economy started to change.
As the plane landed, my thoughts shifted to going through US Immigrations at Miami International Airport. In previous visits to Miami, I was here just for a short visit & could truthfully say that to the immigration officer. Now I would have to lie with a straight face. As I disembarked from the plane and approached the immigration area, my heart rate increased. The line was not long but the wait was the longest in my life. Two people were standing in front of me. The line moved again and now there was one person in front of me. I was next. The officer smiled at me and asked for my passport. “How long will you be here, young man?” he asked. “3 weeks, sir” I replied. He looked up at my face and I stared right back at him, eye to eye. He stamped my passport and said, “Enjoy your stay”. “Thank you, Sir” I replied. I walked out from the immigration area relieved, then headed to the baggage area. I collected my two suitcases and headed for the exit. There was no turning back now. This was the beginning of my life as an illegal alien.
Photo by Lee Robinson on Unsplash