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Humans of CSU: Balancing two cultures

Humans of CSU

Editor’s note: Like Humans of New York’s “daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets,” Humans of CSU tells the stories of the people who populate our campus. Written by Collegian staff and told in first-person from the subject’s point of view, this series aims to make each individual on campus relatable.

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My dad is originally from Mauritania, which is in the northwest of Africa, and my mom is from Senegal, but her mom is also from Mauritania, so them being married is through that connection of each family knowing each other. They got married, and my dad used to travel around Africa working business while my mom stayed in Mauritania. Then later, my dad bought a house in Senegal, moved my mom there – this was way before I was born – and would travel to other countries in Africa, like Angola, Zambia and Congo and come back to Senegal. 

Humans of CSU-Lamine
(Photo courtesy of Ousmane Ba)

My dad was in Congo for many years until the war started and then he was caught up in it. By this point, my mom and older siblings were in Senegal and he would come back to visit or send money. But when the war started in the ’90s, he was stuck there and we thought maybe he had died there. I remember specifically when I was younger, my mom was walking down the street and ran into a friend who was a friend of my dad’s – they worked together. He had been missing for so long, they also thought he had died. But then someone said, “No, he came back the other day. He’s alive.” Later on, my dad showed up.

When he showed up, everything he had – all the money – he was worth zero. The only things he had was what he owned in Senegal like a car and a house, so he sold everything so he could try to get his business back together. But that didn’t work out. He was scammed and lost all of his money. The only thing he had left to do was sell our house, the house we were living in. He didn’t even tell anyone. He sold it so he could try to get a business visa, but the business visa didn’t work out. He ended up getting a U.S. visa for business. 

When he got the U.S. visa for business, he got here, tried to do business quick, and get back to Senegal. But it didn’t work out. His older brother was living here at the time. He had been living here since the ’80s and told him, “Apply for asylum. You have a valid story that would get you an asylum.” But he didn’t want to stay here. He just wanted to do business and go. 

When his visa had a few days left, they convinced him to finally apply for it. Usually, you have court dates and stuff. They granted him asylum after an interview. They were like, “You went through enough. We’re going to grant you asylum.” That was in 2000, I think. Then he filed for his sons to come because in Africa, men are the ones to provide and are responsible for the family. I have five sisters and two brothers who are younger than me. My oldest brother and I were the only old enough men to be there, and we’re responsible for our mom and siblings until they get married. Our birth certificates got all screwed up and the embassy was asking us all of these questions so I had to pretend I was 17. I had no choice because they were like, “There’s no way you can prove this. You’ve got to tell everyone you’re 17.” 

When we came here, we first came to New York. I started going to school. My brother started working and helping. My dad was living in Philadelphia at the time, working at this restaurant and getting paid $7 an hour. He was working 18-hour days. He would go to work at 6 a.m. and come home at midnight every day except Fridays, and that was still not enough to pay his rent here and send us money to take care of us. 

My dad heard about Colorado and all of the jobs and making $10 an hour was like, “Whoa” for him, you know? He tried doing business in Philly, but it was up and down all the time. He had to bootleg and counterfeit to make money. They crack down on everyone doing counterfeit. Nike, movies and DVDs – that was just the normal of Philly markets. But he got caught twice, so he gave it up and came here.

I hated it when I came here. I didn’t like Colorado, the mountains, the cold, and I was in an all-white school. That was tough. I did school for a year and a half in Philadelphia and that was nice. It was all international students. Even though we came from different areas, we had similar backgrounds. When I started at Summit High School, I was one of the three black kids out of over a thousand white kids. The stereotypes were just ridiculous. They were killing me. I was fighting every day. I had to pretend I came from the hood. They labeled it as ghetto. And I had to pretend I liked hip-hop because of the stereotypes that they had of me being black and African; lions, huts. I was like, that’s not who I am. That’s just what they show you on TV of my country. Just because I’m from Senegal doesn’t mean that I know all parts of Africa. 

But I got used to it. Some of my best relationships came from there. I learned about patience when I was at Summit High School. I was 16 when I was in college and I was still working on my English. It really sucked. But my intellect was there. I didn’t realize that until lately because I didn’t like to be told I was smart when I was younger. I didn’t want to be treated differently than anyone else. I liked being in the U.S., but I didn’t like going to school here. I wasn’t challenged. I wasn’t judged intellectually, but I was challenged by my ability to speak. That wasn’t fair. 

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You know how people say, “I wish this didn’t happen”? I don’t wish that. I think that this was a route I had to take to get to where I am. In a very amazing way, everything I have today is because of those experiences.

Collegian Staff can be reached at socialmedia@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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