116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the very center of Africa. In my home country at least 200 languages are spoken, but only four are recognized as national languages - Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba and Kikongo, and one as an official and professional language, French. The majority of people speak at least two or three languages, some can speak up to 10 languages, without having learned them at school. I speak Lingala, Swahili, French and Tshiluba.
My dream was big, but quickly the reality caught me. ... Then I discovered Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids.
I became a lawyer in DRC because I like words and defending people. This is why I created a TV show titled “Bonjour Maitre,” which means “hello counselor” or “hello attorney,” and later an organization of the same name, to fight ignorance and promote socio-legal values. Unfortunately, being a lawyer, human rights activist and member of a family resisting dictators for 37 years is a deadly mix in a dictatorial country.
If I wanted to live into my 30s I had three choices — leave, resign to silence or wait for it to pass.
With much help I left home and spent a brief time in France, then I came to Georgia in the United States. A brief misunderstanding stemming from my weak English warned me of what I would have to face in the United States. It would be challenging and I would have to fight to get my head above water because, in the United States, I was already underwater. I was nobody.
I fell in love with Georgia, even if my love for Georgia in particular, and the United States in general, was being tested by a whole campaign of stigma against migrants. I often wondered if the United States had always been like that, or if it was me who had come at the wrong time because, under the former administration, the United States was a nightmare for migrants. Policy led by the new administration gives me hope for the future.
I hope this country will again be where dreams can be realized without discrimination by sex, race and religion. That is what the United States is.
My dream was big, but quickly the reality caught me. Nothing was as I thought. In Congo, I always thought that all women in the United States were as beautiful as Beyonce. Well, you can imagine my disappointment. Add to that my weak English language skills. I had to forget being a lawyer and became a laborer where the pay was not good. I hated myself for a while until I decided to go back to school but there was still a language and financial barrier. I decided to leave Georgia for Iowa, then I discovered Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) in Cedar Rapids.
I moved to Iowa because a family member gave me good news about the state on a professional level, and he was right. But what interested me the most about Iowa is that it has one of the best colleges of law in the United States. All I needed was to find $45,000 for tuition and improve my English, that is when the CMC saved me.
CMC is a nonprofit organization in Cedar Rapids whose programs serve distinct populations like immigrants, refugees and women experiencing crises. All I can say is I had no choice or excuse not to learn English. CMC immersed me in it and now I swim in it every day.
I studied two semesters at Kirkwood Community College to improve my grammar and writing. I felt welcome in the United States when I got in contact with CMC and I will never thank it enough. Because CMC does not help you only to improve your English but it becomes an important family member, participating in your improvement even more than your family.
I keep working on improving my organization, “Bonjour Maître.” It offers expertise and analyses to African lawyers, journalists and politicians in the goal of promoting democracy, state of law and human rights. I hope to do it in the United States too.
One of the great things we have done, which makes me proud, is helping African students in general and lawyers in particular to have the opportunity to continue their school in Europe, America and even in Africa. One recent success of my organization is the arrival of a young African girl in the United States to study at Southern Utah University. The CMC recommended me to the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission which offered me an interview to talk about migrants and my organization.
My next step is the University of Iowa, although I still don’t know where to find tuition money. I hope to earn a law degree, pass a bar exam, become a lawyer and, of course, publish books and articles in English. As I have heard often, when I speak to someone who finds himself in a similar or worse situation, never give up.
Tshimbombu Eric Wa Tshimbombu, aka Eriq Tshhims, lives in Cedar Rapids.