Leaving Island Life for a Different Kind of Paradise

A pregnant woman from the island of Antigua set out on a trip to New York City 32 years ago with the sole purpose of giving birth to her son, Mario Nicholas, on American soil. She was taking advantage of birthright citizenship, a law that gives any child born in the United States citizenship, regardless of where the parents are from. Two months old later, Nicholas was brought back to Antigua, where most of his family lived. His American citizenship allowed him to return to the U.S. at age 16, move in with his aunt in the Bronx and finish his schooling. He never looked back to his tropical upbringing, instead choosing to attend college in Atlanta and then move to New York, where he works as a business development manager at Stage and Screen, a company that makes travel arrangements for professionals in the entertainment industry. He now lives on the Upper West Side, with dual citizenship and considers himself both American and Afro-Caribbean.mario

Q: Why did your mother come to America while she was pregnant with you but then go back to Antigua?

A: It’s actually really popular with Caribbean people to do this so that the child is legally born an American citizen. Then they bring the baby back to their home country to attend school within the British education system because they believe it is more rigorous. The idea is that their child now has all this opportunity – to go to college, to take advantage of all the things afforded to American citizens, and then when the child turns 18, they can apply for citizenship for their parents.

Q: Did you find it easy to adjust after returning to America?

A: It was an adjustment finishing high school here. In Antigua, we wear uniforms and there was a strict, strict discipline code. Here, kids do whatever they want. There is a lot less structure. I stood out because I had an accent but people were accepting. I think they thought it was cool. Obviously New York is a cultural hub so it is a world unlike what you can find on an island. Customs and traditions are followed by everyone in Antigua. Whether or not you are religious, you go to church every Sunday there, it’s just what you do. You get to New York and there is such a variety of cuisines and people from all over the world. It’s amazing.

Q: Was it difficult growing up gay in the Caribbean?

A: It’s more of a conversation now. More people are comfortable and out. There’s not as much hatred directed towards gays and lesbians and even transgender. But there was a time, when I was living there, that they were not very accepting. Kids would tease you. But it wasn’t illegal like it is in Jamaica.

Q: What was your social life like after moving to the U.S.?

A: At first, I had a lot of Antiguan friends and only dated Caribbean guys because they were familiar. Now that I’ve lived here for almost 16 years, my friends are from everywhere. I started dating guys from other cultures. I find now, I’m more drawn to people with a different story than my own. I have very few Antiguan friends now.

Q: What do you miss about Antigua?

A: I miss the food, like goat stew and salt fish. A lot of it is time consuming and requires a lot of fresh ingredients so it’s more difficult to make it here. I miss the way of life – it’s much more laid back. The pace is more leisurely. I love Carnival and all the festivals but I could not move back to that small, restrictive type of place. I don’t miss the weather. I don’t miss the hurricanes. Seriously!

Q: Does your family in Antigua visit much and have they considered moving?

A: Most of my family is here now but my mother, an aunt, an uncle and a few others are still there. They visit several times a year. They think it’s great here in terms of the shopping, which is why they visit often. They buy things in bulk – food, clothes, toiletries – put it in barrels and ship it home. Some of them are hesitant to move here because of things they see on the news. They live on an island with the beach around the corner. It’s like paradise for them. Uprooting an older person and moving them to a new country and trying to find them a job when there are so many stories of ageism, racism and all the crime in the media is not really appealing.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were still living there?

A: I would have been a teacher, 100 percent. Thank goodness I’m not. My life was mapped out and that was going to be my path. Teaching is great but that’s not what I wanted to do. There are not as many diverse industries as there are here. Now I get to work in the travel and entertainment industry where my passion can marry my day job. What can be better than that?

Edited for content.

Published in NYU Magazine 10/8/15

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