"We always say, it’s cold in Wisconsin, but the people are warm."
Photos by Megan Monday
Michael and Patience | Appleton, WI
Michael: I had come to the United States as a Fulbright scholar and went to the University of Minnesota. In '95, when I was in Minnesota, I went to an event called the Promise Keepers, something that taught men to be good husbands. I went there with 60,000 other men in the Metrodome. By providence, I sat next to a gentleman from Neenah, Wisconsin. I didn't know anything about Wisconsin, I hadn’t ever heard of Neenah. Over the next three days of the event we became good friends and shared pictures of our families, exchanged addresses, then left. At the end of my Fulbright year I went back home to Cameroon.
Then, a few years later, we had the opportunity to return to the United States as immigrants and we decided to move to the Midwest. We arrived in Chicago and I wrote a letter to my friend in Neenah. We talked. He said, "Michael, you're here now?" I said, "Yeah! With my entire family now." He said, "I don't believe you." I said, "Well, that is the truth."
Patience: Then his wife called and said, "It’s going to get cold, do you need anything?" It was in November. We told her we brought a few warm things. She said, "What do you need?" It’s like, you need everything, how do you ask somebody to give you something? We said we were just planning to get along gradually. She said, "We'll just put together what we can."
Michael: On December 15, we saw two vans pull up with a trailer on the back. They brought us everything from furniture to lamps to pots. Everything. They did a fundraising thing for us in Wisconsin. There was an older lady in a nursing home, they said about 90 years old—when she heard about us, she donated all of her chinaware. They brought it all to us and helped us to settle in Chicago.
Michael: In January we came to visit my friend in Neenah. When we got here, oh my goodness! We were driving around, it was so calm and quiet in the Fox Valley. It was so different compared to Chicago.
When we expressed to our new friends that, "Wow, this is a nice place," they encouraged us to move. They said, "Come, come!"
Our situation was a little difficult because we were working in Chicago. My wife was a teacher trainer, I was in the diplomatic service. So it was kind of tough on our psyche to have to begin again, but everyone here was so encouraging.
So we thought, this is where we need to raise our children. And that's how we made the decision to come to live in the Fox Valley.
We moved here with a family of eight children, a big family by any standards. We were impressed with how people received us and helped us to settle in. We are first-generation immigrants, so when we look at family to turn to, they are the people around us, our friends. We always say it’s cold in Wisconsin, but the people are warm.
Patience: Before we moved to the United States I was a teacher. When we moved to the Fox Valley, I began substitute teaching.
Around that same time we discovered that our daughter, who was a year old, was going through some developmental problems. It was hard for me to continue to teach because I was trying to find out what was wrong with her. I decided to go back to school to really understand learning disabilities. It was very therapeutic for me because I was going through all of this guilt and shame and wondering what went wrong. Our daughter was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome. I learned that even doctors don't know what causes it. It's still hard, but going back to school is what helped me to really cope more with her situation.
Now I teach at Neenah High School and also part time at UW-Oshkosh. I work with special ed students with learning disabilities and emotional and behavior issues. I go into the job not just as a teacher, but as a parent, too. I understand what parents go through and I really appreciate working with the students.
My daughter is now a senior at Neenah High School. She can’t do anything on her own. She is like a six-month-old. But she is very healthy. She has really taught me a lot of lessons so far: endurance, perseverance, and she has helped me to build my faith in a greater power.
Michael: We have about one of the most educated families in North America. It’s a feat for being a first generation immigrant, for being here for only 16 years. We have a daughter who is training to be a nurse and another daughter who is becoming a nurse practitioner. We have a son who's a brain surgeon from Harvard Medical School. A second son who is practicing law in a Green Bay firm. Two of our kids are in college now. Then we have two at home and this young one who is with us is very talented. Our other daughter is a senior in high school and she's very healthy. So, Appleton has been very kind to us, so we’re thankful to God for choosing Appleton for us.
Ndemazea: I want to be a writer. I wrote my first story when I was three. I really loved Sponge Bob and my sister loved watching anime like Naruto. We would always get in fights about which one was better. So, I wrote a 12-page illustrated book about why Sponge Bob was better. It was all drawn in crayon. I thought it was pretty good.
-Michael, Patience (1st Generation), and Ndemazea (2nd Generation) | Appleton, WI