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Coming To America!

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  • Derryck S. Griffith
    April-5-2004. 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2004

      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.

      Chapter 1:

      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!

      Chapter 2.

      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
      with impunity.

      Chapter 3.

      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
      African descent.

      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.
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