Elma Nfor has been on an emotional rollercoaster the past few months. He plays striker on the Wingate men’s soccer team that won the NCAA Division II national championship on Dec. 3, 2016. Nfor describes the experience as “amazing” and “overwhelming.”
But President Trump’s announcement of a temporary ban on immigration from seven nations triggered a wave of different feelings for Nfor. “Raw emotions, like anger,” he says.
Nfor was 8 years old when he emigrated from the African nation of Cameroon to the U.S. He is now an American citizen. The Jan. 27 executive order severely restricts immigration from seven nations. Cameroon is not among the seven, but Nfor is concerned that the president’s order implies that no immigrant can be trusted.
The 21 year old believes political leaders are playing into a fear that outsiders want to take American jobs and culture away from those who are already here. “That’s not the intention of immigrants,” Nfor says. “We don’t come here and say, ‘Let’s take America from them.’ That makes no sense.”
Nfor says his family left Cameroon because they wanted to become more like Americans. The process was not easy. The U.S. State Department offers a Diversity Visa program, but because of the large number of applicants, the winners are chosen by lottery. “A lot of [my parents’] friends thought they were crazy because a lot of people enter, but they had faith,” Nfor says. “Sure enough, we were selected. It was an incredible moment, but we couldn’t announce it.”
That’s because Nfor’s father was serving in Cameroon’s military. To come to the U.S., his father had to desert his military obligations. Keeping their plans a secret, Nfor’s father and older brother completed their paperwork and came to the U.S. Eventually, Nfor, his mother and his two siblings emigrated in 2003 and the reunited family settled in Kentucky.
Nfor says his parents left Cameroon because they had few options for making a living there. “It’s not a place for dreamers,” Nfor says of his homeland. “My parents were dreamers. They wanted better lives for themselves and especially for their children.”
It took a while for Nfor to adapt to the culture and make friends. Although he spoke English when he came to the U.S., most Americans spoke it more fluently and quickly. But Nfor clearly recalls a classmate who offered him half of his sandwich in an elementary school cafeteria. “It wasn’t just a sandwich,” Nfor says. “It was the start of me being included in everything, feeling like an American.”
Motivation and gratitude
Now a junior, Nfor is majoring in human services and envisions a career working with children. He keeps a journal of his ideas—a diary of dreams such as plans for new nonprofits and sketches of fashion designs. Along with his ideas, he writes down his strategies for achieving them. He says this mix of determination and thankfulness is woven into the mindset of many immigrants, regardless of where they come from.
“Immigrants bring with them an attitude of ‘I’m going to put as much into this as I can. And I’m going to get as much out of the experiences of life as I can,’” he says. And Nfor does not take for granted his opportunities as an American. “I will always be grateful, because America is one of the best places to be in terms of better life, freedoms, safety, everything.”
He describes the executive order restricting immigration as “terrible” but understands that it’s motivated by fear. “It’s generalizing a group of people based on something that one person did,” he says. “That’s a terrible way to look at something, because then you live in fear. If you think you have to put up walls, that means the enemy is winning.”
Although he disagrees with the immigration order, Nfor believes that politics should not be us-against-them. “I hope Trump gets re-elected, because that means he’s doing something right,” Nfor says. “Saying ‘I hope he gets impeached. I hope he does a terrible job,’ that’s no good, because I live here. If he messes up, we all suffer the consequences.”
Nfor overcame numerous injuries, including tearing the ACL in each knee, to be successful on the soccer field. In high school, a doctor told him he’d never play soccer again. But his determination enabled him to get back on the field and fulfill his dreams, including scoring nine goals and dishing out eight assists for the national champs this season. When he got his national championship trophy, he chose to give it to his physical therapist back in Frankfort, Kentucky.
He brings that same level of motivation and gratitude to his schoolwork and his career plans. “When I see people who let opportunities go by, it kind of annoys me,” he says. “I don’t want to live with any regrets.” Then he picks up his dreamer’s journal and business cards, in search of more people to network with.
In addition to students like Elma Nfor who were born in other nations and are now U.S. citizens, Wingate’s undergraduate student body has 135 foreign students representing 42 countries. The Office of International Student Services helps Wingate students meet government regulations and adjust to American culture.