Immigrant Stories: Trying not to follow in her mother’s footsteps
Intro: Marsha Weigum grew up in Jamaica watching her mother provide for five children on her own. And then one day, Marsha turned around and she was 30, and the same thing that had happened to her mother was happening to her. That’s when she realized it was time to make a change.
Weigum: Life was very challenging in many areas, I had three kids and no support from their dad. I had one job that wasn’t paying enough, and I knew I wanted my kids to have an opportunity that I never got. I wanted to give them a good education, a decent house and a life that my one job could not provide.
That’s when I got an opportunity to come to the United States and work. My friend put me in touch with a woman who was recruiting people to come to the United States and work.
Gallacher: How old were you when came?
Weigum: I was 31. When I came I was able to adjust pretty quick because I had waited so long for this change. One of the first things that jumped out at me was the way that people looked in terms of their smiles.
Most people weren’t smiling, and I would look to see how long their smiles were lasting. It seemed to me they went away very quickly. I decided that I had to smile more. So I tried harder to engage with people.
Gallacher: So it was your experience that smiles lasted longer in Jamaica?
Weigum: Yes, people in Jamaica seemed to take more time to socialize and interact and ask you about your day. They laughed more. Here, people seemed more serious. They didn’t make eye contact.
So I just tried harder. I smiled more and introduced myself and asked people about things that made them want to engage. That really did seem to help.
Gallacher: What did you miss about Jamaica?
Weigum: I missed my kids. I missed the beaches, the people, the food and family. People, there, are outside more. Kids are in the streets. Music is playing. There is not all this quietness.
Gallacher: What job were you recruited for?
Weigum: We came to work in McDonald’s. We landed in Denver and then stayed the night with the recruiter in Vail. The next day, a person from McDonald’s picked us up and took us to a house in Carbondale.
I stayed in Carbondale for four years, but I wasn’t able to get enough hours at McDonald’s. I needed to make enough to live on and also send money to my kids back home, so I did house cleaning, dog sitting, hair braiding.
I always kept my goal in mind, and that was to better my life and the lives of my kids. Sending money back home was always on my mind.
Gallacher: Tell me about your parents.
Weigum: My parents are in Jamaica, but they aren’t married. My mother raised the five of us on her own. My father was a policeman and was never there, so I grew up with a stepfather. I only visited my dad a few times; we aren’t very close.
My relationship with “Mama” is good. She had to bear the weight. What is that weight? It’s the weight of not having her kids’ father around, the weight of providing for us kids on her own, the weight of all her regrets and struggles.
Now that I am a mother I understand that weight because I have experienced it.
Gallacher: Did your mom get help from your father or was she on her own?
Weigum: She was on her own, but then she did seek out help from the family court system. And, because my father had a government job, my mother was able to get the courts to take the money directly from his salary.
I got to know that system very well, because I had to go to family court and pick up the money for my mother. It wasn’t a good experience for me, as a child, because it made me aware of things I didn’t care about knowing.
Gallacher: What kind of work did your mother do?
Weigum: She did cooking and housekeeping for people. She did her best, but many times there wasn’t enough money for us to go to school so we would stay home and help her by running errands.
There were times when we would show up to school and the principal would turn us away. The principal knew us, especially me. He would tell us we couldn’t come back until the fee was paid.
Gallacher: So your experience as child influenced your decision to leave Jamaica. You said you wanted something better for your kids.
Weigum: Yes. I wanted to change the pattern. I knew, even as a child, that I didn’t want to walk my mother’s path. I didn’t want to have kids without the dad being there, without the love and commitment and nurturing of both parents.
But I ended up making decisions that landed me in a similar situation to that of my mother. I think it was the birth of my third child that made me remember the promise I made to myself.
Gallacher: What did you do?
Weigum: I was working as a caregiver in a children’s home for the physically challenged. I had been doing that work since I was 18. I loved those kids and my work there, but I couldn’t make enough to provide the kind of life I wanted for my children.
So when I got the chance to work in the U.S., I took it. I went to my father and asked him to help me buy a ticket. He agreed to loan me the money. I told him I would pay him back, and he trusted me.
That loan was one of the reasons I did extra jobs. I wanted to pay back that loan to my father.
Gallacher: So you came by yourself and eventually sent for your kids.
Weigum: Yes, I was away from my kids for two years. That time was very challenging for me. I cried a lot because I couldn’t mother my children over the phone. I was relying on family and friends to make sure they were fed.
There were times when they didn’t go to school. I used one phone card after the next just to get a conversation out with the people I was entrusting.
Gallacher: Who did they stay with?
Weigum: Well, at first I left them with their dad, but, after a time, it wasn’t working out. Everything started to change, and it was chaotic. I had to make other arrangements.
Being an immigrant can be challenging, especially if you don’t know who you are, you don’t know what your purpose is, you’re not strong enough to have spiritual faith. It can be very challenging. I would sit and cry and wonder what I was going to do.
That was a hard time, but now, when I think I can’t keep up with it all, I turn to my faith in God.
Gallacher: Who was it that inspired you, when you were a child?
Weigum: My mother. She never gives up. She just keeps working harder and harder to make it happen. She would give to us and do without. I remember she had one dress. We would wash that one dress and her underwear every night, when she came home from work. She was always clean and pressed, in spite of the lack.
She would leave at 5 in the morning, and I would take care of the younger ones, take her lunch and help in her food stand. I think that is where I get my perseverance.
Gallacher: Given what you have been through, do you feel like you have broken the cycle?
Weigum: I believe I have. Now, I am happily married to a man who loves me. Before I met him, I told God that I was done with relationships unless he could show me a man who had these four things: He has to love his parents, especially his mother; he has to love and respect himself; he has to love you, God, and have a belief system; and he has to show my kids love.
And then one day there he was in the post office. It took me a while to realize that he was the one because I had trust issues. But he was patient with me. I had never had a man tell me I was beautiful and mean it. I had never had a man love my kids the way I do.
My kids are happy. I feel like I have taught them that failure is not condemnation. They know, from watching me, that when they fail, it is just a lesson that makes them strive harder for their goal.