It seems like every day there is more talk about immigration and travel bans. As a gay immigrant from Cameroon living in San Francisco, all of the talk is making me nervous because I feel like a foreigner again despite living here legally for four years.
Being sent back to Cameroon, a place where I was threatened and beaten for my gay activism, terrifies me. Things got very bad during the filming of Born This Way in 2011 when I first even considered leaving my home country.
During the filming I was threatened repeatedly and the producers, Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann, reached out the U.S. Embassy for help. Shaun and Deb had friends in Los Angeles and San Francisco who would sponsor me. Threats to me and my family got so bad that they relocated me to the Republic of Benin, about 700 miles from Cameroon. I had become a political refugee while I awaited asylum in the United States.
A Fresh Start Meant Giving Up Everything.
Freedom from prosecution came at a cost. Like many refugees, my “choice” to leave my home was a matter of life and death. My personal safety and my family’s safety depended on my giving up everything I loved. Everything I ever knew would be a distant memory from that moment forward. I can’t go back. I may never see my parents again. I will ever hold my nieces or nephews. I can’t help my friends and colleagues who continue to risk their lives to build a better community for LGBTQ people.
A New Life on the Other Side (of the Bridge).
I couldn’t believe it when they told me I would be going to San Francisco. That night I went on Wikipedia and learned that the city had a beautiful bridge and was the first to legalize LGBT life. That is really all I knew. That and my English was not very good.
Everything I was about to do was brand new. It was like I was a baby again. I had to rely on new people for everything -- this time nothing would be familiar.
Erik Gregory became my first U.S. friend and sponsor. He explained that I would live with him in Sausalito which was at the end Golden Gate Bridge. How lucky for me! I knew about the bridge!
That first year I hardly ever left Sausalito. I had to be the only black gay man there and I didn’t have a lot to do. I didn’t really know anyone and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I went to the gym in the morning and walked a lot. I went to my class, studied English in the library and did my homework. I watched a lot of TV. It was definitely a big change from my life back home but I knew had to get used to it.
The Golden Gate Bridge was almost a metaphor for the new chapter in my life. Optimistically, it represented my crossing over to a place of safety, liberty and human rights. On the other hand, it was a physical representation of the distance I would still need to cross from foreigner to resident. From asylum to acceptance.
The Opportunity to Contribute
My work in Cameroon was so important to me. I realized not only did I need to earn money (San Francisco is one of most expensive places in the world), but I needed to contribute.
Erik and his friends knew Chris Lim who owned Climb, a real estate company in San Francisco, and told him about me. Chris invited me for an interview.
I was very nervous. The interview would be in English and I had to prepare. I worked so hard to reduce my French accent. He liked me and offered me a trial period job for six months as a helper/janitor. That first day was amazing. I made some mistakes. But I was surrounded by about 45 young people in the office.
At my old job at Alternatives Cameroon, an HIV clinic, I had 25 people reporting to me. Now I was back at the bottom. To make it back, I knew I had to work hard. I did everything I could to learn.
Chris gave me a full-time job as a receptionist and eventually promoted me to marketing coordinator. I now do a lot of different things to assist our real estate agents including designing their marketing materials. Climb is filled with so many different types of people. It’s great, like a mini-version of San Francisco. I love it.
That is why I am upset at what is going on now about immigrants. It seems like a new government can sign something and the lives of immigrants and LGBT people can change pretty quickly. I have been here for almost four years. Like so many others like me, I left everything behind to come here. This country is amazing and has given people like me a chance.
I hope that people who are scared of immigrants read my articles and see why we love the United States and what it means to us. Maybe this will help you see we are people too with dreams and a love for this country. I go to work, have so many friends and love the music in San Francisco. I go to live shows and the ballet. I’m happy and free to talk about my life. I am as American as everyone else. And when people ask if I have been home since coming to the U.S., I always tell them, I am home.