We are back with another installment of our Stories of Hope Series! With the goal of spotlighting the real lives and faces of immigrants in the US, we are excited to share Mimi’s story, who came to the United States from Mali in West Africa.
Life in Mali…and Everywhere Else
Mimi begins by describing her home country as “one of the five poorest countries in the world.” Located in West Africa, it is landlocked but still known for its natural beauty. Even though it isn’t a country without its problems, she has fond memories of her childhood there. When asked to describe a perfect day in Mali, she reminisces: “The perfect day was my dad picking me up from school and taking me to this bakery that still exists. From when I was six, it’s still there. He would take me there and we’ll sit there. And he asked me about my day, what I liked about the day, what I didn’t like, and we’d get ice cream and then I’d go to swim lessons. That was perfect.”
Although born and initially raised in Mali, she spent her childhood in several other countries before settling in the United States. At age 10, she and her family left Mali, primarily due to her father’s work; “my dad was a geologist, so we’ve lived everywhere. We lived in England, in South Africa, in Ghana, on the Ivory Coast”
As a child, she saw her future as one filled with joy and surrounded by children. Although she didn’t exactly know where she’d end up, she had a dream in mind. “When I was younger, I was hoping to have three kids and be happily married in a big house, having my business pickup. I’m still on track a little behind because I only have one child, but I think I’m getting there. I’m working to get there.”
Coming to the United States
After all those moves, Mimi decided to come to the United States in the 90s to pursue a university education. She ultimately chose the US because it was “a country that I’ve always wanted to visit mostly because of the educational level and being the world’s superpower.” After researching universities and student opportunities, she discovered Spelman College and was hooked. After obtaining a scholarship to attend, it was the obvious path for her.
When it came time to move, her father accompanied her, helping her settle in for the first few days. But, after that, she was on her own. Her family was left behind and she had to start this new chapter by herself. She also brought very little belongings with her. Knowing she’d miss the food, she stocked up on traditional African food. She also packed some clothes and a bit of money to give her a kickstart. But after that, most of it had to stay back with her family.
Adjusting to student life on her own was difficult; “it was hard to settle in at first because just being in a new country with no family.” It was a sad and lonely first few months, but the support of her new friends and peers made the adjustment easier.
As she slowly adapted to her new life, she noticed how different it was from her past. Coming from Mali, but living the student life, she had to adjust her lifestyle. Reflecting on the differences, she says how “When I was in Mali, we had two maids. We had a driver, we had a Gardner, we had a cook, so I really didn’t know how to do anything. And so leaving that and going on to college, where I was left to cook for myself wash my own clothes, take the train, take the bus, was a big change for me. It was a huge change for me.” Living in the heart of Atlanta, she would “take Marta and I didn’t use to pay because I didn’t know until one day they caught me and they were like, ‘oh no, this is trespassing.’”
One thing Mimi is grateful for is that she didn’t go through any major culture shock. Having lived in England, it was a similar environment. However, she does reflect on how in England, “it was a European setting completely. And then Spelman was a mixture of so many different cultures, so many different races.”
Her fondest memory in the US is her graduation from Spellman, graduating with a degree in Political Science and International Affairs; “I really felt like I had accomplished something. I really felt like I came on my own. I was on my own and I made it on my own.”
Now, Mimi works happily as a statistician, having graduated from Georgia Tech with a Master’s in Data Analysis. She spends her days working with businesses to predict their futures based on data from previous years, and absolutely loves it; “I love my job and I don’t think I would have been doing anything different. I really enjoy it.”
Becoming An American Citizen and Calling America Home
Mimi first felt at home in the US when she met her husband. “We dated for a couple of years, and I was like, ‘Oh, this feels like home.’” Now, although she sometimes goes back and forth, “I really feel like Georgia is my home more than Mali itself.” She especially thinks so because she’s become more herself since coming to the US; “ I have become more independent, more open-minded.” Having lived in many places, Georgia is the one that stood out the most, “with so many different people, they are more tolerant of other cultures. And they’re more respectful of the maids and the help than at home in Mali. I don’t take that help for granted anymore.”
Mimi met her husband as a student and they got married in 2009. This was only the beginning of what Mimi describes as a “quite interesting” immigration journey. At the time, she was on an F1 Visa, which she thought was enough for the time being. But, after five years, they thought it was time to apply for the Green Card. However, it meant facing some challenges, like having enough bona fides to prove the legitimacy of their marriage. “We didn’t have any joint account. I moved in with him. So my name was not on the lease and we were not prepared. So we went ahead and applied and then it was, they sent us a notification saying that they would deny it because we didn’t have enough evidence to show that our marriage was real.” Because they also didn’t have any kids together, they struggled to get evidence together, leading to frustration and delays. At one point, Mimi even contacted her governor in hopes that he could help, but no luck.
Eventually, she found Hope Immigration and was able to apply for the Green Card with Tracie’s representation. Thankfully, it was approved, and Mimi and her husband could relax, not having to worry about her status in the US.
Two years later, Mimi decided she wanted to become a US citizen, returning to Hope Immigration for guidance. Describing Mali as “such an unstable country,” she knew that she wouldn’t return to Mali, even though her parents were still living there. “There’s political riots going on. There’s Islamists, there’s Jihadis, there’s killings everywhere.” After spending time putting together all the paperwork and making sure she would be approved, Mimi received her approval in the summer of 2021; “I went to my oath ceremony and then I got my passport.” We are so happy for Mimi and that she could achieve this final step in her immigration journey!
Community & Immigrants
When asked what message she would like to share with the community about immigrants, Mimi had a strong message to share.
Often, the community will “feel like you don’t belong. They treat you like you came to get something that belongs to them.” Mimi wishes the community would realize that most immigrants are actually here for a better life; “I’m here to get an education. I’m not here to take anything from anybody.” Being treated like you don’t belong was “a feeling [that] was hard to swallow at first,” and she hopes that those around her soon realize that it is not a feeling immigrants should have to feel, to begin with.
“That’s all life is: a series of moments. Go seize yours.” –Mimi