Coming To America!
This is an attempt to re-capture my formative years as a child
growing up in British Guiana, my entrance into the world of work; my
spate of service in The Guyana National Service Institution, Trade
Union Activism & eventual emigration to The U.S.A.
I was born a raised in Charlestown. Georgetown, Demerara. British
Guiana. Son of Ms. Enid Patricia Griffith. As a child I attended
The Carmel R.C. School up to fifth standard, then left to enter the
job market. This decision was taken after deliberation within
myself, based on the harsh realities at home for survival. We were
very poor, my mother struggled without a male (father figure) to
support us financially. You see, I was the only male out of five
children, Patricia (the eldest), Derryck (that's me), Valerie, Eulyn
& Eileen Griffith. We were all conceived 'out-of-wedlock.' I was
told on several occasions by my mother that my father disappeared
when I was at the tender age of three. He left one day after
visiting my mother to return to take me to see a 'cricket match' at
the local stadium, but never came back since!
I left Primary School at 16, and sought employment with The Guiana
Lithographic Co. Ltd. It was one of The Booker Group of Industries
in the colony of Guiana. This was a printing & box-making business
that catered primarily to the Service Oriented Industries. There I
worked as an 'In House Office Boy/Messenger' for a weekly wage of
$11.25 cents per week. (8 hours per day). I started in June-1963 to
January 1975. I became a victim of Structural Re-organization; which
the company claimed to be necessary, as result of rising overheads &
declining demand for it's services locally and abroad.
Pollard's Govt. Aided Self-help Housing Group:
"Meadow Brook Gardens."
This was a period in my life that today is still very painful to
talk about, much less write about. But it must be written, and it
can only be written by me, for I am the only survivor of that
experience capable of explaining it, because I was personally
involved throughout the entire project!
Sometime in the 1960's my mother who was a member of a group of
individuals that wanted to own their own home, was eventually given
the opportunity to experience it from the then PNC government
headed by Prime Minister L.F.S.Burhnam. This Housing Project was one
of several that was implemented by the government, to aid poor
people in attaining homes with State assistance. This concept was
called the 'self-help' or co-operative approach for building homes.
Several groups were called in, lands were identified for each group
to build houses on, accompanied by a government Supervisor/organizer
for official guidance & supervision of building materials.
We were called 'Self-helpers' & toiled days & nights for over two
years in the building process. The work was dreadfully hard for me
as a child. My Mom had to fool the authorities about my age (because
minors) were not allowed to help in the building of these homes. I
suppose several members of our group knew that I was under-age, but
no one 'snitched.' We were all poor people, and desperate to have a
home to call our own!
In the rainy days & nights that followed, fighting the mosquitoes &
gnats and coping with the flooded lands that we were given to build
on, we toiled relentlessly until it's completion.
The going was very rough for the women especially among us. The men
often made them feel in-adequate by saying they were not pulling
their weight, and the men had the BRUNT of the work to shoulder. The
supervisor in his capacity as overseer, then would try to pacify
these contentions as he sees fit, by encouraging UNITY and
comraderie among us. This helped greatly to alleviate many quarells
from getting out of hand/physical.
Our homes were eventually completed in 1978, the keys handed to each
resident at a Total Cost then of $3 to 4,000.00 dollars per Unit.
Payable in monthly installments of $25.00 dollars to The Ministry
Of Housing, (Housing Dept.).
We moved in, all five of us. My Mom (Enid, me, Valerie, Eulyn &
Eileen),with the exception of my eldest sister Patricia, who was by
then already married & living with her husband in Kitty Village,
Newtown Georgetown. My mom became ill some time afterwards from a
heart condition & subsequently died. The burden of paying the
monthly/rental payments fell upon me now. Before my mother died
though, she never really liked being there. She complained that it
was too far for her to get to, and it encroached upon her ability to
continue puntering-gambling at the local 'horse-race betting
shop.' So shortly after moving in, she deliberately stayed away at
her friend's home (as she referred), to be able to get personal help
with her illness.
Incidentally, this friend of hers "never gave us a dime" to assist
me or anyone of us with the burial of my mother, (her so-called
I worked at several jobs subsequently, for example, The Ministry Of
Information & Culture: The General Post Office: J.P.Santos (a
private business enterprise): The Guyana National Service, and
finally The National Insurance Scheme from 1977 to 1989. During my
years of employment I tried to gain as much knowledge as was
available to me. I did a one year stint at The University Of Guyana
(Soc. 100) Sociology & Political Philosophy. Attended several
training courses sponsored by The Guyana T.U.C. (Trades Union
Council); because I was also an ardent representative of workers
rights/shop steward, rising to the level of 'Branch Secretary of The
Amalgamated Transport & General Worker's Union, (A.T.&.G.W.U.) at
the NIS Branch. I left Guyana on April-30-1989 to attend A
Leadership Training Course at The George Meany Training Center, in
Silver Spring, Maryland. Virginia. This was intended to be for the
month of May-1989. But at the conclusion of this exercise, I
remained here in America!
My Travel Visa:
The travel visa that I was issued with from the American Embassy in
Barbados, in-transit to the U.S.A. allowed me to stay in America for
only 'one month.' There was no work permit or extension allowed at
completion, but a proviso that I should return to Guyana & serve my
country or Trade Union for at least three years, before I can apply
for a return visa to America to reside (if I so wish). Therefore,
after over staying-violating my visa conditions, I automatically
became illegal or (un-documented). After which I sought legal
advice & representation since 1994, and is still awaiting The
Federal Government's approval for legal residence/Green Card Status!
This process may take years to unfold, because America's foreign
policies differ from country to country in relation to emigration
quotas. Presently, under the National Security/Terrorist Act of
2002 it has become much more difficult to attain this status. With
the new regulations of checks & counter-checks; targeted countries
as Terrorist Havens, these regulations are being enforced, sometimes
Coming To New York :
Growing up in Guyana, we are led to believe by most of our relatives
abroad, that they would help us upon arrival in America or anywhere
else for that matter. We are led to believe that we could count on
them to assist family in times of dire need, because we are family,
& family is supposed to help each other out at these times. Well,
that's a fallacy for many of us, because reality very often
contradicts this view. I left Guyana after suffering emotionally,
psychologically & mentally from the lack of socio-economic
opportunities available to most Guyanese. Living in a depressing
and mis-managed economy, coupled with political strife, and petty
political squabbles indulged by our political leaders is the reality
of life back home. One would expect that relatives who escaped this
harsh reality would extend themselves to those left behind, whose
ability to escape a similar fate is questionable, but obviously this
is not the experience of most of us who encounter our relatives upon
arrival in the land of opportunity.
I sought help in a form of accommodation from an acquaintance who
was living on long Island at the time. I moved in with my
acquaintances shortly thereafter, and stayed for over two years.
Eventually my friend complained that the burden of supporting me was
becoming too much for her to bear and indicated that I should seek
alternative accommodation. This situation was hinged upon the fact
that I was encouraged to go 'shop lifting' with her relatives, and
when I voiced objection, I was spurned, rebuked & insulted, and
threatened with eviction from their home. It is important to note
that I resided under what one might call oppressive conditions. A
few of the house rules included the fact that I was not allowed to
return after midnight, as well as the fact that I was not allowed to
receive visitors or friends. Albeit, I was un-documented, (illegal)
in this country, with no job or prospects, so how could my fate be
different given my circumstances? It is really amazing that the
human conditions one can live through, void of options!
Realizing that I was totally alone in this situation, desperate &
homeless with no place to turn, I mustered all the internal strength
and resolve that was necessary, and told myself that it is now 'do
or die.' I had no intention of returning home to Guyana anytime
soon. Primarily, I would be given another visa, I would lack the
financial means it would require to return. I refused to allow
myself to even remotely consider the possibility of wasting this
opportunity of landing in America.
I was faced with the harsh reality of survival at any cost, so I
took action. I was offered false documents from underground
(illegal) sources for a considerable amount of American dollars.
With this new identity I was able to temporarily seek employment,
but was always fearful of being caught at anytime by the
authorities. This cat & mouse game continued for some time. Being
the product of a family that were law abiding people, who were
respectful of the law & authorities, I harbored a great deal of
guilt, shame and fear about getting caught at anytime. Reality be
told, this perception of fear was merely a figment of my
imagination, as no one ever approached me about my status!
The Trials Of The Un-documented:
Being an un-documented person in America today could be a nightmare
for anyone. The present Patriot Act. of 2002 gives The Immigration
& Naturalization Department lots of power to arrest, detain and
deport any un-documented foreigner without access to an attorney.
They can be held indefinitely for long periods of time in 'A
Detention Center' without access to an attorney, because under this
law they have "no legal rights.'
If you test positive for HIV, the only medical help available to you
is The Emergency Medical Unit at a Public Hospital. No prescription
drugs are covered, or doctor's fees. Families invariably will not
be inclined to keep you in their homes for fear that when you
eventually become incapacitated, the bills will have to be paid by
them. this is a serious matter as you the unfortunate individual
find yourself in a position where you cannot seek employment because
you are illegal. Therefore, you are unable to contribute to or
provide for your up-keep. My Caribbean/Central & South American
brothers and sisters are being infected with HIV/AIDS disease at a
colossal rate, primarily through ignorance, (lack of knowledge),
cultural, language barriers, social & religious stigma, as well as
fear of accessing preventive services and counseling.
This is the reality of life in America today for any illegal
individual. I have sworn to voluntarily contribute my experiences
and abilities, in helping to advocate for and on behalf of people
living with HIV/AIDS and their families. This I started doing since
1997 in New York City, and the outer borroughs. This activity
involves lobby visits to Legislators, Congressmen/women in the NY
State & US Senate. It is my belief that we all have a role to play
in the process of making sure that there is equity among the laws,
regulations and policies that impacts the lives of all people of
It is important to state that there are thousands of Guyanese living
in America that are legal residents, but for some reason are not
inclined to become citizens. They are missing out on all benefits
that citizens and naturalized aliens are entitled to. Their status
renders them incapable of assisting all of us people of African
descent acquire political representation at the Polls, because
without citizenship you cannot vote. This situation is chronic
among Caribbean & African nationals alike. They come to America,
live for years, accumulate property, but seem satisfied with this
precarious situation. That is why we do not have the
political 'CLOUT' that is necessary to make things happen for our
Derryck S. Griffith.
a/k Derryck Stewart.
Political Educator & Advocate.