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Sherry Singh Oral History Interview



DESCRIPTION
"Sherry Singh," a DACA recipient, is an aide at a public school in Queens. Here, she tells her story of coming to the United States "backtrack" from Guyana at the age of eight to reunite with her mother in 1996. This interview has been edited for clarity and to protect the vulnerable.

AUDIO
Duration: 01:02:19

ADDITIONAL METADATA
Date: June 20, 2020
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Gaiutra Bahadur
Location: New York, NY

TRANSCRIPTION
Interviewee: Sherry Singh

Interviewer: Gaiutra Bahadur

Transcriber: Sraavya Chintalapati and Alisha Cunzio

Gaiutra Bahadur (GB) (0:00)
Today is June 20, 2020, and I'm here in Brooklyn with Sherry, who has been very sweet and agreed to, to talk today about coming to the United States. Sherry, can you start by telling me who you are?

SS (0:22)
My name is Sherry. I'm 32 years old. I came from Atlanta to the US at age, at the age of eight. It was not an easy journey because the way I came is with someone else's document. So I don't even remember the date, exactly, that I came. I just remember the first day I was picked up from my aunt, where I was living, because my mom was here in the US already. A lady picked me up from Cumberland, Guyana.

GB (1:17)
Let's um, let's slow down a little bit. When...when did your mom leave you? How...how old were you when she left for the US?

SS (1:24)
Well, the situation with my mom, it was complicated because my parents split up, and when they split up, the new man that my mother was part of her life was never married. But she couldn't have us around because she was already a married woman with three kids, and his family didn't, you know, like the idea of him having a woman with two kids. While they were together, I was already living with my aunt and uncle. My brother who was the oldest was with my grandfather, and, my sister who I live with now, she was with my grandmother. And we did that because my father was very abusive to my mother. Then, that man, my stepfather, he came here and later on brought my mom and his daughter because I have a sister born after me. And when that happened, it's like a few years later, like maybe a year and a half or something, he brought my mom and my other sister, that was his child. And then a couple of years later, they felt further, I don't know how that story happened. My brother is older than me; he came before me. And then it was like a lot of issues that was happening in Guyana with that family, like financial issues and things like that. My mother would send money from time to time, but I do know their situation here. So I could only assume that it was a struggle because later on when I did come here finally, I saw the lifestyle and you know how they were struggling and things like that. So that made sense. But when I was living there, I told my mom one day that I need, I can't be without her anymore, and that's when she started taking up, you know, like looking up on how to find ways to bring me over here. At that time, it was very easy. I guess a lot of people are doing it coming back way, the backtrack way. They would say, “Oh, I got ...I got a phone call from my mom.” She said, “Pack your bags, someone is going to come and pick you up on this day, this time.” I did that. I waited. A lady came late in the afternoon. She picked me up with a bag of like little clothes that I had in it or whatever. And we went to a house in, I think, Annandale. It was just her and her husband. No kids. It was a huge house, and she was very nice. It was very, very scary like remembering it, like I'm in this house that I have no idea who these people are, what type of situation is this...this neighborhood, you know. But the only thing that I kept thinking about is this as a way to get to my mom, so you know, I stayed there for about three weeks. And then she told me to pack my bags that I was going somewhere else. I packed my bags. I went to another family's house. This family, the wife was a baker. She baked at home, and I have no idea what the husband did. But I know they had a lot of kids. They had about six kids, all different ages. At that point, they started telling me like try, try teaching me like you're going over there. They, they give me the name of the person - identity that I was going to use - um, the address like what to look out for, what to look [for], you know, like basic things that may that immigration alone would ask if you were to, you know. Like, where do you live? What's your favorite thing to do in the area that you live in? What school [do] you go to?

GB (5:27)
So they gave you a script for -

SS (5:28)
Yeah.

GB (5:28)
When you were interviewed by immigration?

SS (5:30)
Yes. And I would -

GB (5:32)
Do you remember?

SS (5:34)
Yeah, I remember these things like very specifically because they had a balcony. And I would be locked in like the balcony with the glass door like for hours trying to memorize the information they gave me. And I used to... I would have chores. They would...they used to treat me like one of their children.

GB (5:55)
You were locked in the balcony?

SS (5:57)
Yeah, that's because they would put me there, and they will lock it. And, then, the man would come in from time to time to test me. And I remember the...the name was Darshini Singh. And I had to practice, and I didn't know how to read or write or anything at that age. So it was hard for me to figure out the letters and things like that, and I would remember I would always spell it Darshini. I can't even remember how to spell it now. But when I spelled Singh, when I spelled Singh, it was hard because I would spell S-I-N-G-H-T. And I don't know where the T would come from. And I remember specifically because I added the T that the man would get mad and he would like throw things at me or hit me or like push me because it was always the T and out of his frustration that it was like every time he would come and he would ask me I would...and he would like, like not physically like slap me across the face but it was like, you know, like a push or...or like if he had something in his hand he would throw it at me. Like where did you get the T from? So I was, I was very scared like when he would come back to ask me like how to spell it and so on. And I swear to this day. I don't know where I got the T from. And it got so bad. Like, I was washing rice one day and they live upstairs and the downstairs is where the pipe is with the water and stuff and I was washing the rice. And I remember I tilted the bowl to drain the water out of the rice, and a little bit of the rice came out and fell on the floor. And he had buckets from the upstairs, and he threw it at me that I was wasting his rice. So it was like... and then I had some good memories from it too. Like it was the first time I've seen that movie, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I remember, I remember it was the first time I've seen the Secret Garden, which is one of my favorite movies like because they had TV, which was something that I didn't have. So...and I remember seeing a movie, I think it was called Soldier? The Indian movie? So those are my favorite movies because that's like the best things that I remember. And then a couple like maybe a month, a month and a half, they had someone else; the guy, the husband drove me to another house. And that house was much more fun. This, this house now is where the girl lives whose identity I was using. So she was born here in the US, but they take her to Guyana, and then they bring someone else, someone else back with her identity. I don't know how they managed to get her to come back after someone else is already here, but they do that. And I remember when I got there, it was two girls: her, Darshini, and another girl. And I remember they took me into the room, and they told me that I was not allowed to tell her what I was doing there. And they told me to say that I was...the wife was a stepmother. They told me to tell to say to the kids that I was her niece - I was related to her, and that's why I was spending the holiday with them. And in the night, like I would still practice. The man, the man whose daughter I was...he would sit with me and we would go over, and they will tell me things like if someone were to speak to you to look at them directly in the eye or in the face, so they could make out the identity wasn’t you. They would tell me like, “Remember what park you like to play in the Bronx. This is the school you go to like.” And they would not basically teach me but they would ask me questions if they were um immigration or anything like that. So I could know.

GB (10:16)
And how did you make sense of all this, then? You understood that you were...you were going to pretend to be somebody else.

SS (10:22)
I think the one focus that I had that I didn't even like think of anything else is the fact that I'm going to see my mother because at that time, it has been a law. And with my aunt and whoever I was living, it was a struggle, because of food situation, abuse, because, you know, there was other type of abuse that was going on in the home. My uncle was always drinking and running my aunt out of the house and all hours in the night we would be outside and things like that. So it was pretty, you know, like to get away from that was one thing. And then the focus was like I'm finally going to see my mom because I think she, she took the push because I started crying like enough is enough like I need to come where you are like...I need to see you. I remember like she was on the phone and usually back then you get a phone call, like you need to come to the person that has the phone because not everybody had a phone. You're getting a call from the US; come at six o'clock. And they would call back at six. So you'd be like a lot of people waiting, like if you're in a doctor's office. So usually my aunt is always there with me. So I can't really speak my true feelings to my mom. And that one particular day, I remember she thought she left the stove on the rice. And my mom happened to call right when she left. So right then and there, I started bawling my eyes out. I started telling her like I need to come here like I can't be here no more. I can't do this because I mean, I would get hit to a point where I would like pee on myself by my uncle because he was so strict. Like, one day I came home from school and I put my clothes on the pole, and the clothes fell down. And I went to the backyard, and I was playing. And when he came home, the clothes was on the floor. He beat me so much like an electrical cord, like I literally peed on myself. It was there...and then there was, you know, like other things like sexual abuse and stuff like that. I try not to like talk about it because I don't want to bring that memory up. But you know, I would get beat in the bed to wake up at seven o'clock in the morning and I would get beat like to eat. He doesn't believe in eating and drinking, because if you're drinking while you’re eating, then you're not chewing your food properly, you swallow. You should drink after you're done eating so you don't get full. It was like his way the way how things have to be, and I remember he would come home drunk, and he would...I’m not saying like like I've never seen physically hit my aunt. But I've seen him like try to chase her to hit her and then it would be like all hours of the night he would be cursing at her. And but, she still would prefer him drunk than sober. Because the way he was when he was sober was to the extreme. It was like you couldn't raise your voice. It's like the master or something. I mean, that that's how I think about it. And then my...my cousin, the one son they had, had to work all the time because my uncle would drink all the money out. There was not enough food. Sometimes we would have to eat like green mango and so and go to sleep because you know, there's no money coming from nowhere, so it was a real sugar. So when I told my mom I started bawling my eyes out and telling her like “I need to get out of here.” That's when you know everything got the ball rolling and then coming. So while I was at these [people’s] house and all this was happening, my main focus was like I was just waking up one morning, and I was going to be where my mom is. That's what I kept thinking in my head. And like I said, that house that I went where the girl actually lived, it was fun because they did you know, she's on vacation. So they did things and I was able to go with her. Like, they did fishing and they did traveling all over the place. So I didn't feel it as much. It wasn't until like later on in the night like the guy would take me into the balcony and we would sit. And he was nice. He was an older gentlemen, and he will tell me that we will talk about it and talk about things and coming over here and what to look forward to, what to ask, what not to do. And it was like reenact, like when you're going through immigration, customs that what you would say, how you would look. So it was… I don’t remember how long I exactly stayed there because I wasn't really counting. Like I said, it was...it was pretty fun there. The day now for me to travel, they cut my hair, gave me bags to make me look like the girl, the passport. At that point, like, we're walking, I'm excited. Now I'm thinking, “Oh my god, we're on a plane; like, this is unbelievable, like a plane for the first time.” Like I've seen people come and go at this airport so many times, but I never in a million years would have imagined that I would go on an airplane. So I'm excited. The guy was going to be my father, and the daughter. As we're going and everything was great. Everything was great. We're going in. We're checking in the bags and whatever we're going to the gate to go to the airplane. And one of my real [dad’s] cousins was there, and he goes, “Oh, I know you. And this man is not your father.” So he pulled somebody over and right then and there, they took us in, in a room. They separated us. They put me in, I remember, it was a room and they had a little bed and a little thing over. I don't know where they took him. From time to time at the airport, they would come, and they would question me, like “Who is this man? We know he's not your father, who are you? What are you? And you know, we know that this is not your name.” And it got to a point like my real name, that before it changed, it was Damati - that was from my real father before they [taught] me Darshani Singh. And the way I remember I started crying because they're like, “What is your real name?” And at that point, I forgot everything. I didn't even know what my name was. And I started crying and crying. No, like all and I remember that one lady was like, “Poor girl. They torture her so much. She don't even know who she really is.” That’s listed out to me because they were in the corner and they were talking. And they would take me like try to get me to say that this man is not my father, and whatever, but I was crying so much because I was so scared like they couldn't get anything out of them. And then I remember that later on, they took me to the building, this house in Georgetown, I think...I don't ever remember where. I just know that it had like green things around it and the house with like white. And I stay there in a room for like a little bit. I don't ever remember how long it was, how many hours and whatever and then later on, they were like, “Okay, you [can] go.”

GB (17:42)
“Okay, you can go” is you can get on the plane.

SS (17:44)
No. Okay, we're done. We're going back home. So we go back home to the guy's house, my father's house and we wait. That's when I realized like they had sent my mom has sent money to pay abroad to the people to let us go. So then they went back, I guess they reassessed the situation and see how we could be able to do this again. When like maybe a week went by, and we tried it again, but this time was smooth, because to my understanding, there was money paid to let people still go through. So now my other fear was when I come over here, because that wasn't happening like that here. So you know, we got on the plane, I'm excited. I don't remember much about the plane ride except I was throwing up because, you know, I was sick. And when we finally got here like, I was so short. I couldn't see over the cabin. Because you go through the line and they were like booths that they were checking your passport with staff in it. I don't know if that's what they do now, because I haven't really been back on an international flight. But I was so short that they couldn't see me. So when the guy stamped like the guy who was with the passport, he told me to back away like where he could see me, like step back. And I was like, “Oh God.” Like, I was nervous as hell. But then, you know, like, he was like, “Oh, it's it's fine.” Like he didn't ask anything. He just stamped it, and that was it. But I was so excited. My mother was like, my main focus. But then, it didn't end there. So we got to the house in the Bronx. They call -

GB (19:39)
This was your mom’s house?

SS (19:40)
No, the guy’s house. So when we got there, they call us to let my mom know that I was here. And, you know, what's the next step? They wanted more money. They wanted more money, and then my mom was like, “You can't get more money because I was one who sent all that money.” She sent over 5000 US dollars to bribe everybody and things like that. So why should you get any more money? Like, you know, all this money is...so like we’re not, you're not getting your daughter until we get more money. So now I've started crying because I'm like one day, two days, three days is passing by. They're arguing on the phone because they can't come to an agreement. I'm here. So then my mom goes, “Okay, let me talk to her.” And then when I heard my mom's voice I started crying, I was like, Mom, “I want you. Like, I want my mommy. I want you. How more longer do I have to do this?” So then my mom, I guess she...she agreed to do it. So they agreed at a meeting area, the place where my mom was living was in the Bronx. And there was a Fine Fare Supermarket that was in...like right across the street. So they had me in a van. It was the guy I came with and two other guys. They had me in the back of the van, and they were trying to make the agreement: where, who's going to pick up the money? Who's gonna do what? And I look over. They opened the van door. And I look over and I saw my brother and another one of his friends for the first time. I got so excited. And he saw me, but he didn't know what to say. Like, it was like an awkward moment like because it was three guys in a van with me and it was just him. So who's like...and then when they saw me, they made a plan to come and just take me. So when I saw them open the door and I ran away. And we just ran away. They didn't know where we live, where my mom was living. They just know the area. So they didn't get the rest of the money because I ran away with my brother. And like, maybe about a week I guess they were still looking. They found my stepfather outside riding a bicycle and they, you know, “Where's my money?” And like, they didn't beat him up, but they like rough him up a little bit to get the money. And so for a while we were like in hiding, like we couldn’t go outside. He had to watch what was going on because they didn't get him exactly in front of the house. They got him a little off the block. I guess they were circling in a daze. And then yeah, that's how it was. That's the whole story. The very first day I came, my mom gave me a shower, and she got me all dressed up in one of these little cute dress. And [she] went to the supermarket and she's like, “Take all the chocolate.” And...and I got a picture with like a bunch of marshmallows and Cadbury chocolate and stuff in this market. Um, my mom has always been sick living in Guyana. I think that's part of why I hated my father so much because my memory of him leaving her was in the hospital, where he took me, my brother and I, and he tossed the key at her, hit her, and busted her lip. And he was like, “I can't do this anymore.” And he left. That’s [because] of the hospital. That's how we, you know, we were like split up and my...my brother was like my mother's world because he became the man of the house. He would like tend garden, sell fruits, you know whatever he can odds and ends job, and then my mother had to work. And then I have memories like while she was...she was working like my father would come home and be gone for days at a time. He was a fisherman so he was on the boat for... and then when he gets the money he would pull... drink it out, and then come home empty handed. And then because my mother was working or if my mother had lipstick on or if my mother had a dress on, I remember like peeking through and he would like tear the dress down or try to wipe the face off. I remember one time he shared a picture of us on and he was in the room. He was ripping the dress off like “You're not going nowhere; like why you have a dress on?” And my brother like in where he was living, it was like the door but or you could see the little area because it was a wall that was me. And my brother tried to throw a scissor at him through that little hole like to tell him to get away from her. So, I mean he's alive now. He's still in Guyana, but I don't really care much for him.My brother and sister, they have more memories with him because my brother when the first time he got picked up by immigration in Florida, my mom was sick. And he was on his way on a Greyhound Bus to see her. And they stopped the Greyhound Bus, and they raided it. And they picked him up. Um, they detain him in Florida. He spent about two years there in Broward County, Florida Detention Center. And as he was going through this case, the attorney advised him like “If you fight to stay and you lose your case, you go back today and you get to put behind bars for 10 years” as opposed to you being married to a US citizen because my brother's story similar. His...the name stood with him. He came [as] Ryan something, and we still call him Ryan to this day. He stayed with the name, and obviously we knew that the whole situation how he came, how he wasn’t supposed to be here was like the end of the world like for him as we know it. And we went to court every day. We went to every lawyer we could. It was like, “No, it's not happening. They can't help him because of the way he came. Because he wasn't supposed to be here. Like they're definitely gonna deport him.” Those were the answers that I was able to get.

GB (25:36)
But uh, Sherry, how...how do you feel? Right? I mean, the stories that you're telling me, they contain danger and threat in every moment. At least when you're telling the story, that's what I feel for you.

SS (25:49)
Yeah.

GB (25:49)
But nobody can live their everyday life in constant fear.

SS (25:54)
Of course.

GB (25:55)
Right? So how do you feel about your place in the United States?

SS (26:01)
Well, as I got older here and I started realizing what... because I didn't understand when I first got here, how the situation or what the danger or the consequences were, I was able to be here undocumented.

GB (26:20)
How did the adults explain to you your situation? Did they warn you in any way or tell you you had to be careful?

SS (26:29)
Yeah, I was … I was like most towards like schooling. It was like well, if somebody were to come to you and ask you how you got here, you know, ask you for papers or ask me where you live and want to come home because they were also undocumented for the time being, because they came with visa new overstayed. So they were in danger as well. But I don't...I didn’t take it as serious because I didn't understand what the consequences were or how, you know, they will take me away or anything like that. It wasn't until my high school like years where I started noticing for Career Day...like they're asking questions and people are signing up and talking about what they want to do as a career or in the future. And it was like, okay but in order for you to sign up for this because originally I wanted to be a lawyer. And it was like if you want to sign up for this okay you need your social. If you need to sign up for this, you need this and you need that. And that actually put a fear in me, and it was like: why even bother like to push myself to accomplish something that I'm never going to get anywhere with? So I stopped. I started going off the edges like I started not taking school serious. I started leaving. I would go for walks. And would just...what you would say like rebel against school and my family because part of me was like so angry. Like why did...why everybody who lived their life and be able to do this and do this and I can't have that same chances? And then I started like getting like this anger towards my mom because I said I wanted to come but not in this way where it's like I can't live my life. You know, I don't know who's who. I don't know where I go, what I sign up for. It took...took a while before I even got a passport. Um... a Guyana Passport at that because in order for me to get a passport, I needed to file a report for a missing passport. I never got a passport because I didn't come with my own passport. So I had to...if I tell him my passport was lost, and I needed to go to the precinct and make a report. I went to the precinct. You need an ID to make the report. So it was like it was so long that I couldn't even get a proper identification because of this situation. And it's like you go to the doctor and you go here. And it's like okay, do you have an ID? Do you have… Then, at 19, I was pregnant with my husband, and then I started going to the doctor's appointments. In order for you to do this where’s your ID, where's your address. And it was constant fear because it's like, at this point, you don't know where that information is going, who’s who. After 9/11, that got even crazier, where it became more strict...where not even a regular ID to work. You need a New York state ID, and you need all these things. So even now, like when my family was coming over here, I wanted to tell them, “Don't do it because it's not an easy life to live in the US undocumented.” Because if you were to look at it, it would be way better off to be in Guyana. Because I understand it's a struggle, because it's a terrible country. But coming over here, it's not as easy as people think. And because of living in that constant fear of you never know who's gonna, what’s gonna be your time, and it was even more stressful and fearful the fact that I became a mother. And my kids like it went from not being all about me anymore. So about... what...what if I'm walking on the street one day with my kids and they come and take me? Or go to a doctor's appointment and they're there waiting for me because now I'm now in all these systems and doctors. Because I think they...even now people that live here documented are more like certain things that could put... jeopardize themselves, they try not to. And I see that on a day to day basis, where it's like kids are hurt at school and their parents don't want to take them to the doctor or don't want the ambulance being called because of their situation. Or something as basic as right now to the pandemic: to go online 311 and sign up to get groceries as much as they need it. They have that fear like: where is this information going? Some things that I've got...even the census. You know, I did volunteer work for the River Fund pantry to fill out the census. And people fear where like: I don't have a social. Where's this information going? Who's getting this information? And some of them will tell you straight up. They trust you enough to say, “I don't have my papers, or I don't want to do it.” And you could tell already it is because of...some even if they call me over it's like: do you need like a social security number or something to fill this out? And it's... it's sad to see people to have to live this way because right now with the pandemic, you have... people that was already undocumented...as undocumented was already living paycheck to paycheck. And now that the pandemic is happening and they work as bars and restaurants and grocery stores. And these things are closed. Like, how are these families are supposed to live? How are they supposed to get by on a day to day basis? So it's like...it's hard, not only for yourself, but see, to...to live that life of being in that situation that you could relate and you know, these families and their fear and what they have and things like that. So it's definitely, definitely fearful, even with DACA, obviously not safe still.

GB (32:27)
How were you able to finally get documentation?

SS (32:31)
Well, so I'm married. They... they came out with...I didn't know so much about DACA. But I know that I've been to lawyers before. Because my husband, we're married. We're separated now. But at that time, we would go[to] immigration...tons and tons of immigration lawyers because he was born here. And we would always get the same answer: there’s nothing without that proof of entry. There was nothing. I took the option with the work authorization, which was the DACA. The lawyer told me, and he was like. Well, truth be told, I didn't want to get married at the time because I still wanted to focus on a career for myself. Because, you know, I just wanted to have my own and live that life where it's like it's not always a struggle, that I could build myself up, that I don't have to always depend on people because the lifestyle in our culture where women are always depending on the man or that role where is the man is the head of the household. I didn't want to have that because I was tired like of, you know, seeing the husband come home and the wife has to rush rush and cook and clean. I didn't...I couldn't live that life. I didn't see that as a part of me as something that I would want to do as a person. So I decided that I was gonna hold off and be married, and my husband was verbally abusive at the time and physically abusive. So I didn't even want to get married. But after the lawyer was like, “Listen, this you could get your working papers, you could be able to work. Let's go. You could do this.” So I got married the next week. Um, and I started doing the process with the paperwork. While that process was being done, I started studying to get my GED because I didn't graduate high school. So while that wasn't the thing, I started with the GED, and I was able to pass and get my GED. And I started volunteering at my kids school as a PTA. And I started like...I did other things like to just educate myself in things that I could do, where I don't have to depend on people because money was a struggle. My husband was one of the things that he controlled me with was money. So it's like I'm a mother of three kids. And if I wanted to go somewhere, it's like, “Okay, what do you want? Can I go have lunch with my mother?” “Well, I'm not giving you money.” So then I can't go nowhere or a limit to what I could buy if I wanted to shampoo my hair and stuff like that. So I would have to tolerate it because I couldn't do anything better for myself. And when I like I've been...he tried to beat me seven months pregnant and went to an abusive shelter - tried to stab me. Very, very, very abusive. And while I was studying to get my GED, I volunteered at the school and I went to a vocational program which was to be a CNA, and ever since I got my my DACA -

GB (35:43)
What is a CNA?

SS (35:45)
Oh, Certified Nursing Assistant. Ever since I had my DACA - I think I first got my DACA in 2016 2017 - I've always worked three jobs. I work at a hospital on the weekends as a CNA to allow a shift seven in the morning...in the night to seven in the morning, three days a week. I've worked in the school as a school aide. I worked... at one point, I did three jobs in the school. I did from 10 in the morning to 10 in the night, I would go up ten in the morning. I would stay there until three. Then, I would change my shirt. And I will put on my boys and girls club shirt, and then via group leader from three to 6:30. And then I would change that shirt and be custodian from 6:30 to 10:30. So I've always worked three jobs. I've always...even recently, like I end up...I did my taxes. I ended up owing the RIS from my taxes, and I ended up getting a job at a bar on the weekends. That was a lot of fun -not really - because the thing about working in a bar in this neighborhood, in Richmond Hill Neighborhood, is that these men or people in general, think that you can't do any better with yourself because you are undocumented. And a lot of the men because they get drunk and ignorant, they come up with like, “Oh, you know, I have my papers. I could give you papers,” because they automatically assume you working in a bar means, that's like, you know, you're not documented or anything like that. And out that would like really, really like rub me the wrong way because I told...ended up telling one of them, like they asked me how long I've been in the country and I said, “Over 20 years.” And he was like, “Well, you've been in this country a long time. You should have a better job. So or you should have your papers.” And then he's like, “Well, I have my papers. I came here with my right. I could give you your papers.” And I'm like, “First of all, sir, papers don't give you money - a job does. Second of all, I don't need papers from anybody because that's not what you need.” You know, what I mean? It was...it was like the things they would say was very, very like...and to know that some of these women are like that and what they have to go through um ahead.

GB (38:05)
What they are like is vulnerable?

SS (38:07)
Yeah. Yeah, very, very, very, very vulnerable. And some of them just don't have any choice but to sit there and take it because they are undocumented. And because it's the only way, the only means to provide for them so it's like...it's crazy.

GB (38:26)
How many jobs are you working right now? Well, I know that you can't...you can't actually work the... the…. the school aid job because school isn't meeting.

SS (38:37)
Well, we still do wellness phone calls check to families. My part of working with the school is... My other co-workers call up parents and say, “How you doing if the kids are not doing the work and stuff?” They work with the teachers. But because I got the upper hand with DRUM [Desis Rising Up & Moving] and the other organizations that they came up, so I've been like trying to help coordinate with DRUM and other organizations. And they call Queens Coalition to do like pop up pantries and things like that. So they weren't very helpful. So I took it upon myself. I tried to get the Boys and Girls Club - they're doing a pantry now for the month of June, I spoke to them. I reached out to the community board nine members and they set me up with the Riverfront Chairman. All those groceries down there are from these places that I combined, and I just try to assist families. I do like deliveries that are about close to 35 to 40 families that I do deliveries for that couldn’t. But now things are starting to get back to whatever the normal is, it's hard because I don't drive myself. So I'm trying to get people to either come pick it up [inaudible]. So...to my boss on by the school that's considered my part is working because I'm still assisting parents one or another. So like the Boys and Girls Club, I do that. And then I'm doing census calls for DRUM House Campaign call. And I get a little fund...depends on how many calls you make and stuff like that. But it's kind of like three. But it's not as hard. Because when I was working at the bar, I would work from 10 to 6:30. Friday was my longest day because I would work from 10 to three, three to 6:30. And then I would go to the bar for seven to whatever time they close, one, two o’clock in the morning. Then, I'll work Saturday, Sunday and then go back on Monday again, because I only work at the bar Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, it was...it was pretty rough. I mean, it's still rough because I'm going through a hard time right now with my husband. He has the children because I spent 13 years of my life trying to be a wife to him or in hiding because of my situation, my status. And I couldn't get anything done for myself because that's what he wanted. And he knew that I was undocumented. So it was like those threats...like I’m gonna call immigration, I’m gonna have you deported. You’re from a piece of shit country. You're never gonna be nothing. You're never gonna amount to nothing. You're an uneducated bitch. And it went like that until I got my DACA. I started working. And I started defending myself because if we were going to Rite Aid, I didn't have to ask, “Hey, can you find me some shampoo?” I would go pick it up, and he'll...he'll be like, “Who's paying for that?” And I'll be like, “Well, I didn't ask you anything.” So you know, it started being more and more because I started to be more and more, you know stronger. And that's how we I was like, “Okay, now I'm able to pay my way out. I don't have to sit here and take that.” And he still...he’s still abusive. Like he's still trying to have me deported. He’s threatened to call immigration. He's following me. He's constantly calling me, and you know he-

GB (42:06)
Does he know where you are?

SS (42:08)
He doesn't know where I am now, but sometimes when I don’t answer, he does try to follow me. Like I'm hide...I have to hide behind cars, hide behind trees, because I could see...cause sometimes like he constantly called me. And if he calls me and I don’t answer he'll call me and my children's phone. He has them where it's like and then I'll answer because you know. And then he’d be like, “Okay.” He'll take the phone and start calling me every name in the book. It’s a very, very toxic situation with him. Constantly, I would wake up [to] 300 400 phone calls, text messages. There's been instances where he's told me my kids are sick. I've been over there. He’s spat on me. You know, push me out of the house. And for that years, the 13 years I have lived with him, he's cheated on me, beat me, tried to stab me, had me arrested, called the cops, threatened to deport me. It's like constantly. And this is why I applied for my [inaudible] case because, you know, at some point it has to end…it has to end. And because of my DACA situation, I'm in fear, and my job. And I’m in fear that he threatened because I know the police, they arrest first and ask questions later. And so if I were to get arrested, which he's threatened as many times to say that I've threatened him or stolen from him or I've done something to have me arrested, I'll get suspended automatically from my job until that case is clear. And both jobs. So, I've tried to prevent that because he knows that I have more to lose in that situation. I do speak to a therapist every two weeks, so it helps a lot.

GB (43:56)
Can you get a protection order?

SS (43:58)
Um, I reached out to the courts about a protection order. But they... the things that I got it was like: you could get it on protection but it doesn't guarantee anything. And then we worry that maybe you get it on protection, and it rages him more - that he does more things. So what is the point of that? I mean, that's not gonna do anything. So and I think if I were to get it on protection, he is very vindictive, where it's like a tit for tat person. So if I were to do something like he doesn't think...like I've been there. And he picked up the phone and said that I stole a ring, which is my wedding ring. So because I left him and I wasn't answering the phone, he was in my cell phone. See that's him calling right now. And you can see the amount of times that he's gonna call his club block numbers and he's gonna call. Like, these are all him. All him, that’s restricted as him. That’s him. He calls my son's phone. That's him. These are all him. So it goes on and on.

GB (45:08)
When was the last time you spoke to him?

SS (45:10)
I spoke to him today. I answered because it was a restricted number. I thought it was huge. And I answered and then I realized it was him. Look, you could see, like the hours that he calls in the morning - 3 am for him. It's a lot. It’s a lot to deal with. And then to worry about your situation, like your status situation, again, in fear of being deported or getting detained, or anything like that. It's another stress that people shouldn't have to worry about. Yeah, I get it. DACA, we have DACA. While I'm grateful for it because I'm able to do so much, it's still stressful because, like how DACA was, you know, threatened. That was like...you know like how I walk sometimes on the street and I'm like thinking, “Oh my god like without this, how much work? What am I going to do?” Like right now I'm able to sustain myself, because I'm able to work through DACA. But if that were to be taken away, like what do I have to do? So what will be my option like being homeless or just going back to the abusive relationship at this point? Because, you know, everybody is struggling as is with the whole work situation, paying bills and things like that, especially folks like us, who are now building their life. Or like my sister here, she just moved from Guyana, like two years ago, and she has five kids so, you know, when when their also... their status is also undocumented. So, you know, that's a struggle for them, as is. So I try to prevent all of that, like my husband, not finding out because he’s constantly trying to call immigration. I don't trust what he's...he's even able to do capable doing, because I've seen him do some messed up stuff already as is. So...

GB (47:08)
How are you able to see your kids while keeping a distance from him?

SS (47:13)
I don't, on a regular basis, I don't because that's the control. It has to be his way or no way. So when I do go over there, he tries to like sleep with me. And then when I don't want to sleep with him, it becomes like a violent situation where he is like in my face. He’s telling me like he's happy my mother died because, excuse my language, my mother was a whore and she couldn't raise her kids. And he's happy she died. He...he likes to watch the videos...like hope you get hit by a truck. Like, we went to several couple marriage counselors. And they're they've told us to our [faces] like there is no way of helping us. Like so I start...I stop putting all my like, you know strength in that relationship, and start just trying to build myself. And I figured, once I build myself up, where I'm able to get my kids and do more for myself, like his threats [are] not gonna be anything, you know. It wouldn't even matter at that point because right now, I have… like my therapist says, “You don't go into a battle and not have weapons, right?” And the way he wants to fight is below the belt because he knows my, my situation, my status situation, my family situation. And those are the things that he continues to threaten me. So I'm not gonna go in guns blazing when I have, you know, people that are so vulnerable. Their life could be in danger or be... So I try to lay low and just take everything he has to dish out into it while my papers [are] in process. Like we just were going to send out the application from a green card, next week, when we were said. They already accepted the final application. And now DACA is being renewed so we’re going to try to renew that. And just try to...try to live, try to, you know, put whatever I can and try to be as safe as possible and try to protect the people that are around me right now because of their status situation. And just live-

GB (49:26)
I’m glad that you have support. I'm glad that you have therapists that you're talking to and community support through DRUM. I mean, they're good people.

SS (49:34)
Yeah.

GB (49:35)
And also a lawyer you feel you can trust also.

SS (49:38)
Yes.

GB (49:39)
Right?

SS (49:40)
Yeah.

GB (49:42)
Um, I think that particularly vulnerable time when you take that step and say, “I'm independent. I'm going to do this on my own. I'm going to leave this situation that's toxic for me.” That you know, like, from his perspective, it undermines his manhood. You never know like how he can react. So you just make sure that you are as safe and protected as you can be.

SS (50:12)
Yeah. My mindset is just to just occupy my time, as much as possible. And that's basically I don't...as long as I have the strength, I'm always on the golden ellipse getting into something. So that this way doesn't bother me because I'm still a mother of three kids and you know, them not being with me takes a big part, you know, breaks my heart every day.

GB (50:35)
And you're helping other people in this whole time that you're vulnerable. You're helping other people.

SS (50:40)
Well, I just try to do whatever I can because, one, I know what it's like to be there. Two, it's like it's...it's a situation right now, and people are in need of so many things. And it just why sit and hear it when you could actually get up and do something about it? And DRUM...being a part of DRUM also, like it's an empowerment for me, like it just gives me the strength in the way to look at things in a different way. And, you know, the backing of them is able to like just motivate me and encourage me to be able to do things that I’ve done myself. Like I have that...I have that the you know, the circle, that I have people who encouraged me and is there for me and whatever. But it doesn't take away from the fact that I'm still a mother of three kids, and they're not here with me. Like I'm not waking up to them going to sleep with them. And sometimes I second guess myself like it makes me look like a bad mother. But I stay away from that because why be it...the last time I went over there, he beat me so bad. Like, I had black eyes. My lip was busted and stuff like that. Okay, my son, my son who's 12 had to be the one...was the one that helped me get away, and when I'm in that area like his face, it's like I don't want them to see that he's cursing me. I'm talking about...about the grandmothers wishing me dead or telling me these things. And I stay away to protect them from that because I don't want. And then I keep on trying to build myself because I don't want them to think that I left them, and I didn't do anything. I just sat down. With that being said, I just signed up for school. I'm going to start early childhood education to further my career with that, because I'm already with the DMV. So I just want to-

GB (52:35)
Yeah, that’s wonderful.

SS (52:37)
Yeah so I start that August, and I'm just going to continue to do work. I...fingers crossed, praying to God that I get through all these applications that I sent into immigration. And I just want to go for it. I just...I'm just so tired. Like, I want to be able to help people in the situation that they are like...like me, and want to be like the reason for them to say, “You know, what? Sherry could do it. Why can I do it?” And just motivate people in that way - give them the courage and the strength to just keep pushing forward. I have a 16 year old nephew who wants to be a pilot who's very hard working. You know, same situation, abusive home, domestic violence, home, whatever. And he said to me the other day, he feels like he shouldn't keep pushing because of his social, his situation, his status being undocumented at 16. And I told him. I said, “Nephew you can't think like that because, if I didn't think like what you're thinking now, I probably would have been further being the DACA came about in. Instead of starting from scratch, at a later age, you push all the way to that, when you have that opportunity, you don't have to go back and redo what you should have done already.” And I'm speaking from experience because as a mother of two kids, being in school in the night, doing my GED wasn't easy. But I accomplished that. And there was...no one could ever take that away from me that I did that from someone who didn't know how to read, how to write, how to do anything. So someone who is now...that's a big accomplishment for me to get my GED because it shows that I finished something - that I did something. And it also opened up a different way because, as we know, without the basic GED, you can't get a job. You can't. So you know, and so now to go further with my education and things like that, it's scary, but I'm ready to do it. You know, and I want to be that example for my families like because it broke my heart he did his PSATs or whatever. And, you know, he did so good. And then we're talking about a scholarship until that. Once the man said, “Okay, all I need is your social.” He said like everything just blurred out. Like, he just actually he, the guy said, he was so excited about everything. And after the man said, all you need is your social. He was like...at that point, he couldn't hear anything anymore. So I know that feeling, and it broke my heart to know that he has some experience that also, and I just wish that now the DACA here that it could just continue to help him and many more people. There's so many people, so many amazing people being withdrawn or meeting people around that has DACA that [are] able to do so much. And for themselves, their family, some people who [are] on DACA is the sole provider for the whole...the household. So imagine if, you know thank God it’s here, but imagine if that wasn't here. I mean, you know, things that would have happened to these families and stuff like that. So...

GB (56:00)
When you came from Guyana at the age of eight, you, you didn't have anything except a suitcase with some clothes. You said, “At each stop along the way, there was less than less than that suitcase.”

SS (56:14)
Yeah.

GB (56:15)
You didn't have a Guyana Passport with you. You didn't have photographs. So if I asked you, Sherry, what do you carry with you now from your childhood in Guyana? How would you answer that?

GB (56:32)
I would say, “I carry my struggles.” And the reason why I say carry my struggles is because it makes me stronger every time I think about it because that's something that I don't want to relive. That's something that just keeps me pushing everyday forward. And just just don’t want to experience that again. I wouldn't want anyone to experience that. So it's like when I accomplish something good or do something good or I feel good for doing anything, it's like yeah, that, you know, gave me the strength to push me to where I am or to continue going. And that's one of the things that I would say.

GB (57:22)
Tell me about Darshini Singh.

SS (57:26)
Well, Darshini Singh, from what I met, that was [a] really good thing that I was able to meet the person who I would be right. Um, she was very sweet. We did...we were like friends - wasn't best friends for that short term. I know...I remember we went fishing. She was born over here, so she wasn't used to the lifestyle in Guyana. And I noticed that she was very picky with what she ate. She was spoiled because she was the baby. The other child was the older daughter. And she seemed to be like a daddy's girl.

GB (58:08)
They had you memorize her favorite thing. They had you memorize her. Do you remember any of those details now?

GB (58:16)
I don't remember anything about her like where she lived, where she goes to school. Um, the name, Darshini Singh, I spelled it. I've memorized it. I've learned to write it over and over. And I remember she had bangs. I remember around but the stepmother took a knife and cut my hair. So it was like all choppy. And I remember when I finally got to see my mother that was the one thing she was upset about. That she helped me cry that my hair was so bad like stepped me straight in the shower. She cut...fixed my hair. She gave me this too white fluffy dress. And then she took me to the supermarket.

GB (59:04)
She bought you candy?

SS (59:04)
Yeah, a marshmallow and Cadbury chocolate. I think I still have a picture of my mother's house album. I was so distraught with not like being with my mother. And it was like that was the only thing that was in my mind is like I’m here. I want to see her already, you know? And so when I came to this country with Darshini Singh, Dadmati, I completely forgot her. I completely forgot everything about her because that was the identity I had to put away to be able to take her up. And that's why I remember when they asked me at the airport, “Who like...what is my name?”, I started crying because as much as I wanted to tell them what my name was, I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember, and I remember that the lady said to the other one “Poor girl. She doesn't even know her own name.” And I started bawling my eyes out because I could not remember what my name was. At that time, it was just Darshini Singh, and that's all I knew. Because it was months and days and weeks of training Darshini Singh, it was nothing. That's why the name stood with me for so long.

GB (1:00:16)
Is there anything else that you want me to know?

SS (1:00:21)
I still...I'm still living the story and still, you know, writing it. Um, my main goal is to, to be to not be dependent on anyone, for a lot of different reasons, reasons of what I witness in...in people that have to depend on a man or a woman or parents. I'm more free spirited. I don't like to be told what to do. As...with that being said, I like to...I like to be a know it at all. And I want when I open my resume to be like Sherry knows a little bit of everything. And that's a goal that I have for myself, because of not being able to read, not being able to write, not being able to do anything. Like I, when I even came to this country, when I started school, I was crying because I didn't know how to read. I didn't know how to write. And it was a teacher, an African woman, her name was Mrs. Apanuko - I never forgot that - who took the time, and sat with me and taught me how to read from The Ant and the Grasshopper. And then from then on, I started reading, and here I am. So, you know, with that being said, I know that a lot of families, they...they come from Guyana, different countries, and I see it every day working with kids in school that day. They have to read like when I'm doing dismissal. They can't write their names. Their kid has to write it for them. And I want to be able to help, to help someone in every way possible, so they don't have to feel the way - that scared. “Oh my god, I don't know how to read. I don't know how to write or weigh in, whatever it is that I need to do that.” And like I said, not being able to depend on anyone, it's my...it's my goal.

GB (1:02:11)
I hope you achieve your dreams, and I know that you will be an amazing educator.

SS (1:02:17)
Thank you. Thanks.


PROVENANCE
Collection: Gaiutra Bahadur Fellowship Project
Item History: 2020-07-02 (created); 2020-12-02 (modified)

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