Portrait of Kamau Kanyi

“The decision to stay here was not a straight line. I still ask myself where I am most helpful.”

Kamau Kanyi works in foster care and adoption services.

23. KKPrior to coming to America in 1997, I was enjoying working in public relations at a college in Nairobi, Kenya. Coming to America was an opportunity for academic and professional credentials.

Also, my girlfriend came to Philadelphia area in 1996. I came to go to school and to be with her. I moved to New Jersey and went to Rowan University. I graduated in 1999 with a masters degree in public relations. My girlfriend and I went back to Kenya at the end of 1999 to get married and then came back together to gain professional experience. I decided to go back to school again to keep legal status and continue gaining professional experience.

I went to the doctoral program at Rowan University in 2000 where I also worked as a research assistant, and graduated in 2009. In 2003, I got a job with a non-profit organization doing community relations. I am still at the same organization, which provides foster care and adoption services for children and families in the Philadelphia area. My wife and I first had work visas, then applied for green cards. We are now beginning the application for citizenship, which takes five years after getting the green card.

Do I feel pulled by two different cultures? I had an open mind to going back to Kenya, but the experience of settling here was difficult and lengthy. The process of maintaining legal status on a work visa before the green card was also long and expensive. The decision to stay here was not a straight line. I still ask myself where I am most helpful. Being in both cultures is a balancing act—living here and being of help back home. I try to help organizations and individuals back home, especially with fund raising. It is a healthy tension.

I remember the day I left home very clearly—imprinting the memory of my family.  Coming here, I was leaving my mum, dad, older sister, older and younger brothers, as well as my extended family. I was also leaving my many friends, beloved country and life as I knew it. That was very difficult and heart-throbbing.  My last day before leaving home was quite hectic. Farewells to family, following up on last minute packing and details, etc. and then be at the airport for a 3am flight. On the other hand, I was going to see my girlfriend that I had not seen for a year. There was also opportunity to grow together academically, professionally, and to begin a family together.

My wife and I have two kids now, nine and thirteen. We went back home last summer with our kids. As always, it was awesome to reconnect with family again. Yes, coming to America was worth it. For me this has been one of God’s many miracles. And this story is not finished yet—I am full of hopefulness for the future.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

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