Non-Fiction Highlight: “Coming to America” (No, Not Like the Movie)- by J. Yepes

Panama City
“Panama City at Night” Source: Wiki Commons

As part of the mission to spread diverse experiences in storytelling, Nuff Said will feature non-fiction works, such as narrative essays or topical opinion pieces.

The first feature comes from J. Yepes, a Panama-native detailing struggles his family endured after relocating to the United States.

“Coming to America (No, not like the movie)”

By J. Yepes

Many people have a catalyst in what makes them who they are. I never really thought of my catalyst until now but when I did it became very clear: the relocation from my home Country of Panama to the great land known as the United States of America. I’ve always felt this moment in my life is what has defined me. I was 5 when the move happened, and I’ve never taken the time to reflect on the affect this had on me. Maybe through elaboration, the act of sharing the experience on paper will calm the restlessness I’ve always felt regarding the scale of this change.

The adventure began with my father’s ambitions in the home country. We were a relatively successful family in Panama, with my father working at a law firm as a well-respected attorney, and my mother working as a paralegal a different firm. We had a nice apartment in the heart of Panama City and were generally very happy. However, my father had the itch to relocate to the States to fulfill the ambition of the American Dream. My uncle Mauricio lived in Tampa and worked at The Tampa Tribune as part of the maintenance department. He explained to my dad how great life was in the States, and how life could be much better for my mother and me if he came to work and live here. Thus, my father had the motivation he needed to uproot the family. My mother had heavy reservations on coming here, as all her family lives in Panama. She’s always been a family woman, and leaving was hard on her. Initially, she was skeptical of my uncle’s claims of easy success in the States. However, as a supportive wife, she decided to join Dad, who’d left 2 months prior. In March of 2004, my mother and I followed my father to the United States.

Noticeably, I’ve not been mentioned up to this point. Being only 5, I stayed in the background and didn’t fully comprehend what was going on. Things were about to get harder, because I was also entering kindergarten without any knowledge of the English language. I became isolated from my classmates because of the language barrier, so the move caused distress for my social development. Yet, I wasn’t the only one in trouble. As the time passed in a new land, my parents’ marriage began to deteriorate.

The constant bickering increased as my father struggled to attain success. For him, reality slid further and further from the American Dream. He worked a dead end job at a window factory, while also working part time job delivering Colombian newspapers. He was fed up with living in this country and obtaining no meaningful success as a result. Disillusioned, he presented my mother an ultimatum: either return to Panama or their marriage would end then and there. My Mom was struggling too, but she recognized the potential for me in the time that we had been here. I had learned English the summer after we arrived, and I showed promise as a talented student. Given my father’s stalled efforts, amazingly, she believed I had the ability to make it in America and that going back to Panama would undo my development. She decided to stay. The next day, my father emptied out our bank accounts and left to return to Panama. My father’s departure became a turning point in my young life. In our brief time in America, my family was no more.

It was a time of new beginnings. The old way of my life had faded away and now we had to start anew. My mom got a new apartment in a different part of town, and for the first year after dad left, life wasn’t too enjoyable. My mother went through depression in dealing with the massive problems that came with my father leaving. She found new happiness after meeting my stepfather Jorge, and the addition of my little brother, Chris. The fresh start would eventually lead to our life how it is today.

The story I’ve just told is very personal, and difficult to write about. All the same, I’ve achieved a sense of peace that comes with introspection. My life so far has always been connected to my catalyst moment, and I’ve never been too happy about that. What I hope to gain from sharing is a path leading away from the darker moments and into new, happier defining moments.

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