According to the United States department of Immigration, in 2011 there were over 12 million illegal immigrants within the United States, 15 percent of those 12 million come from countries not in Latin America.
23-year-old Raven Hazel is one of those 15 percent, living among the citizens of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hazel hails from Luanda, Angola, a city near the vast mileage of coastline on the African Continent. She is the middle child of five, having two older half-sisters from her father’s previous marriage and then having two younger with the same parents and her.
Hazel and family stayed in Angola for a total of three years on and off. The family also spent time in cities like Portugal and Rio De Janero. Having spent time there, Hazel never got to experience much, she was often sequestered in the family apartment sometime living nearly ten stories up.
“As a child, I was sheltered”, said Hazel. “I wasn’t ever told much and I was expected to obey, obey, obey. Being shy was not who I was, but my parents would often chastise me for being so outspoken and outgoing”
Hazel also recalls her childhood pastime of dropping many things outside of her family’s apartment, whether it was a shoe, a watch or a tie, the thrill of watching those things drop from the window would ensure that she’d continue to do it.
“When I did not know any better, I would enjoy my childhood”, said Hazel. “It included puppies, pools, roller skates, bikes and the occasional bit of candy. That was all before (coming to) the US.”
Then when Hazel turned 9, she and her family made it to the United States, first settling in Massachusetts and then Miami, FL until it came time for her family to move to Charlotte, where Hazel ended up graduating from high school and eventually community college.
“Once we got to the US, the rest of my childhood was an attempt to live as frugal as possible, constantly changing schools and as sheltered as ever”, said Hazel. “We weren’t ever allowed to play outside whenever my father was home. Sometimes, my mom would let us outside whenever he wasn’t home though”.
It was that lack of freedom that initially created the rift between Hazel and her father, then she got old enough to pay attention to what her father was doing to her mother.
“My father was absent for most of my childhood”, said Hazel. “It got to a point where I used to think he was a hero because of the nasty burns he got on his arm from attempting to stop a fire. But as I got older, my mom would tell me what my dad was really like. Then I began to see it.”
Hazel began to see the constant abuse and arguing from her father towards her mother, she’d see that it was taking a toll upon her mother. The mother in turn would become distant and despondent and just hide in her bedroom.
The status quo would be acceptable until 38 months ago. The visa that her family had used to stay in the United States was running out. Having spent more than half her life on American soil, Hazel didn’t want to go back to Angola. Seeking any way to stay on American soil, Hazel did the only thing she could think of, she got married.
Hazel and her husband John knew each other in High school, had dated on and off for over 3 years. They weren’t together when Hazel asked him to marry her so she could stay. After mulling it over for a few days, he said yes.
“Being married is strange, but at the same time, I think I picked the right person for it”, said Hazel. “When before I would have considered us not being around each other 24/7 a bad thing, now I value the time we spend apart. That’s because the time we spend together we actually have something to talk about.
However, Hazel was the only one who managed to find a way to stay in the U.S. , as one sister is currently attending the University of Portugal and the other sister is in Angola with Hazel’s mother, Hazel electronically chats and Skype’s with her siblings and her parents around once a month.
Currently, Hazel spends her days working two jobs, one as a de facto secretary for a professor for one of the local colleges, the other as an order taker for a food truck.
“With the work study (position), my schedule is set”, said Hazel. “However the food truck schedule is a bit more haywire some weeks. I can work anywhere from one day a week there up to four (days a week).
When Hazel isn’t working, she’s playing video games at home (her current favorite is a game called Mass Effect), reading and keeping in touch with her family since they’re all spread out all over the world. Hazel also hopes one day to get her green card so that she can eventually go back to school to study massage therapy.
When asked about Hazel’s attempt to get a green card, she says that it’s been a struggle, primarily on the financial level. Having to scratch and save for doctor’s visits and renewing all of the paperwork required to file for a green card is arduous enough of a journey without having regrets, but Hazel only has one.
“I truly do regret the way I left my parents,” said Hazel “But at the same time I realize that if I wanted to stay here, I’d have needed to leave abruptly and without them not knowing where to. It took a while for them to forgive me and it will take a while longer until they are truly okay with my decision. But I truly hope this was the right decision.”
*names were changed to protect the identity of the subject*