Get Up. Take a Shower. Go to Church.

Legal ways to immigrate to the United States are through marriage and family connections, work visas, or political asylum.  Another option, though a long shot, is the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery. Although called a lottery, it does not award recipients money. Instead, each year it allows 55,000 foreigners an opportunity to obtain Green Cards and legally immigrate to the U.S.  Over nine million people enter the DV Lottery per year.  The odds of holding a randomly drawn number are extremely small. 

Mistrale Nectata is a fellow disciple at St. John’s. Her husband won a number in the DV Lottery allowing them legal immigration to the U.S. from Cameroon, Africa.

Regardless of their country of origin, DV Lottery immigrants’ experiences seem to follow a pattern: high expectations, preparations, immigration, and settling. I use this pattern to share Mistrale’s story.

High Expectations

Before and after arrival to the states DV lottery winners have high expectations for a better life, better educational opportunities, and ultimately to make more money.  Mistrale’s expectations evolved from movies and other media, depicting life in the states as one of ease, convenience and wealth.  These expectations motivated Mistrale and her husband to enter the DV Lottery for several years. Eventually Mistrale quit entering because the odds of winning were too small. However, her husband did enter the lottery, without her knowledge, and that year his number was a winner. It is worth mentioning that her husband had travelled to Europe and tried to warn Mistrale that actual life in the U.S. might not meet her high expectations.

Preparations and Anticipation

DV Lottery winners go through the feelings of luck, happiness, and excitement along with some fearfulness and anxiety. Filling out lots of paper work, attending interviews, and extensive vetting prior to the actual immigration keeps the winner very busy.  It is an expensive time of paying application fees, arranging travel, determining where to move, and deciding if it makes financial sense to ship personal belongings or leave them behind.  Although family members may be supportive of the winner’s opportunity to go to America, there is apprehension about leaving family behind. In Mistrale’s instance, her children could not come with her until additional arrangements and sponsorship were complete. 

Immigration 

After the euphoria of expectations, anticipation and preparation, the actual immigration experience is tiresome and stressful for DV Lottery winners. Mistrale went through a time of depression, especially as she awaited the arrival of her Social Security Card and Green Card. Without the cards, she could not apply for work. She missed her children. The current realities of her situation did not align with her expectations of America. She felt her life was moving backward and to a lower standard than what she left in Cameroon. To make matters worse, she ultimately accepted a job for which she was over qualified. Despite being tri-lingual, (speaking French, English and her tribal language) and having an extensive work history in office management and sales, she was unable to obtain comparable work in Springfield. Her first job was a housekeeping position in a hospital, thus dispelling the easy prosperity myth that was her motivation for coming to the U.S. She came to realize Americans work hard and put in long hours to make a living. 

Mistrale believes there are two obstacles preventing her from better work opportunities: being black and having an accent.  “Many people wrongly assume I am from the jungle, although I am a city girl”, said Mistrale. “And, their wrongful assumptions make me feel like “the other”.” Unfortunately, Mistrale’s interpretations of co-workers’ assessment rings true with other immigrant’s reports; having an accent makes a person appear less intelligent. When managers and co-workers treat immigrant employees as inferior, it increases the susceptibility of the immigrant to making more mistakes or forgetting, resulting in exasperating on-the-job experiences. 

Mistrale says being treated as “beneath or less intelligent” than others “hurts her heart”.  However, the way that St. John’s has welcomed her and her children is what “heals her heart”. She is thankful for the sense of belonging at St. John’s. This helps her cope with the outside world. Three St. John disciples sponsored the immigration of her children so the family could reunite in the U.S. These disciples also are Godparents and baptismal sponsors to the children.

Settling

Most DV Lottery winners indicate a time of settling into their work and life. Offers to immigrants to participate in higher education are numerous, but expensive. Mistrale used her housekeeping position at the hospital as a springboard to becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). She is currently working as a CNA while continuing her studies in nursing.    

Mistrale’s Faith and Coping Strategies

Mistrale’s depression continued for several months after her arrival to the U.S.  Although meeting other Cameroonian immigrants in Illinois lifted her spirits, the major turning point resulted from of a phone call Mistrale made to her sister in Cameroon.  Her sister listened to Mistrale’s lament and then asked, “Have you joined a church?” When Mistrale answered “No”, her sister told her “Get up! Take a shower! Go to Church!” 

Mistrale chose to attend St. John’s because it is close to the German Evangelical denomination she belonged to in Africa. After attending the traditional services a couple of times, Pastor Ladd encouraged her to attend the Contemporary Service.  She found this service closer to her worship experiences in Cameroon. It seems she is adjusting to life in Springfield, although she says, “It takes a lot of inner strength and motivation to remember that I am more than how the world so poorly judges.” During the low times, she relies on a saying from her church in Cameroon, “Your faith will make you rise.”