Amadou Camara

Mali

Engineer

My name is Amadou Camara. I’m originally from Mali.

I left Mali with my family in 1983 to live in Ethiopia, where my dad worked for the UN. From Ethiopia I went to boarding school in France came to the U.S. for college.

After high school in France, I looked at what it would take to become an engineer. Looking at the long road and challenge, it would take to get my engineering degree in France-Two years of math specialization, then exams to get into engineering school; the struggle to get a job afterwards because they favor French over other nationalities. I decided instead to come to the US on a student visa for college, figuring to just go pay and get my degree here. I wasn’t thinking necessarily about migrating to the US, I just wanted to get a degree. Actually, my dad wanted me to be a pharmacist so I could be independent. He had already built a building, a pharmacy back in Mali. So the goal was to go back to Mali.

Initially, coming to the US was very weird, but in a good way because everybody was friendly. People would take the time to talk. If you stopped in the middle of the street and asked for help, people would go out of the way to help. I landed in Melbourne, Florida. If you asked a stranger for directions they would maybe just take you there. I had a very different experience in France where I wouldn’t ask for help, or if I got help, it was not very welcome. I found people here to be friendly and open where I could blend in pretty easily. The best part is that, no one was coming and touching my skin to see if the blackness would rub off. I actually spent a couple of summers with a host family who opened their arms and doors to me, welcoming me and treating me as one of their kids. If fact, 27 years later, I still call them and they still call me son.

The year right before I finished my master’s in Chemical Engineering, I won the Diversity Lottery so that gave me my green card. I worked as an Intern while I was writing my thesis; those were long days: I remember that my days started at 4AM, I would go to school to run my experiments and drive 60 miles to be at work at 7. After work, I would drive back to school rushing to meet my professor, he used to leave at 5, to review my experiments and my thesis. The company extended an offer before I graduate and I started working right after defending my thesis and completing the requirements of my degree.

I worked for them for a couple of years and became tired of working there because of the rain. I looked for a job either in Arizona, Texas or California. About 18 years ago I was hired at Intel in Arizona.

As for discrimination against black people, I found France to be worse than the US. The boarding school I went to was in Nice, probably one of the more racist places in France, so going from Nice to Florida was a big change. I didn’t see discrimination until much later when I moved to Oregon.

If I lived in Arizona, I would be more concerned about the current political climate being anti-immigrant. Here in California I have not picked up on that.

At Intel in Silicon Valley, there are mostly immigrants working. If you go to Oregon, you get a different view. If you go to Arizona, you get a different view.

This political climate is interesting. I’m surprised that even within Intel, our colleagues hold the same views on immigration as the administration does. In a lot of buildings the most watched TV is Fox News. I don’t think security sets Fox News on the TV’s, so folks must be choosing that.

My hope for this country is that my daughter and her generation will acquire a moral compass. 50 years ago, segregation was still okay. A whole generation grew up with the understanding that it was okay for blacks to be a certain way, for minorities to be a certain way. That’s how they grew up. That generation is getting into their 60s and older. My hope is that the younger generation views equality differently so can build a society that is more just, that is more accepting of diversity. It’s not “Oh yeah, I don’t hate blacks because I like Michael Jordan. He’s different.” It’s more inclusive. Color becomes more transparent. That is my hope. But I think this takes time, it takes generations.

Ultimately, people are impacted by their pocket books. As long as the economy is good and people think that they’re doing okay, they might not have a problem with the government. But if we have an economic downturn and people were struggling, then it might be a different story.

The days are gone when a white person out of high school here in the US could get a good-paying job and live well on those wages. You now must compete. The immigrant understands that there is little competition here for engineering jobs. They come with an engineering education and get a high paying job and integrate with society. And at the same time, they push their kids to get an education. They are going to be in the society and be making changes. Diversity will happen. Folks are coming to understand that you cannot survive with a high school diploma. The society is going to change.

I’m a good citizen. I pay taxes, I don’t create any problems, I contribute to my community and I am good to my neighbor.

The fact that I’ve lived in different places gives me perspective. This is helpful at work. I can sit down and talk to anyone. I’ve been at Intel in this organization for about two years and I have very good friends. I like to joke. I say that within Intel there are four sources of power. You have the whites, you have the Jewish, you have the Indians and now you’re having the women. You align to one of those so you can move up. I’ve aligned myself to the Indians. There is an affinity.  It just naturally it feels like I can connect with them.

 

I’ve thought about how to make this country better, stronger. I told my wife just yesterday that either she runs for some kind of office or I will. I think city council. People need to understand how the government operates here, how their community is organized, how the laws are made so you can effect change. As a black Muslim I have incentives to get involved. As a Muslim immigrant, I owe a contribution to society around me to give a different view of Islam, first and foremost. As a black person, I also have to do something that changes the narrative about blacks and how that plays out.

My daughter is watching. She is 13. She’s listening very carefully to all the conversations. She is seeing what her daddy is interested in. Is he willing to go door to door? Is he willing to be socially active? How is he contributing to the society? We dragged her into shelters to do community service and into volunteering. She was out there at the women’s march with my wife. She’s reading and learning about this country. We need to understand how the country functions and how we can contribute.

My wife did a lot of campaigning for Obama. She did door to door, getting people out. We will again go door to door to get people to vote. In France when they get a 70 percent turnout, they say it’s terrible. It shocks me that here a 40 percent turnout is standard. It’s like the old adage from the Romans; give people food and entertainment and run the country. So we have 24/7 entertainment, 365 days a year. We have football, when that runs off, you have basketball, when that runs out you have baseball, you have hockey, you have soccer now. While people are busy watching that and drinking beer, you have a small minority that’s making the laws and screwing up people’s lives.

Immigration is an interesting thing. I lived in China for about a year and a half and I used to hear China is going to dominate the world. But the U.S. excels because of the diversity and the brain drain from abroad to here. China will always have problems competing because that diversity is not there. The melting pot is not there. When you take immigration away, you lose that leverage. And you’re going to lose the greatness of this country.

An immigrant has the same feeling as any other individual. Whatever you want for your kids, that’s what the immigrant wants for their kids. And if somebody is willing to come and work hard and contribute to society, what is the problem? At the end of the day, competition is fundamental.

I have crossed the rubicund unto a land of opportunities. A land that where the majority has embraced me through no questions ask.

Today, as an American, my heart aches as I have discovered over the years the missed opportunities of the system to live to the ideals.

I am witnessing women earning less than man for the same work in America.

I am witnessing women in being raped in America with no consequence in America.

I am witnessing my daughter being told that she cannot do certain jobs in America.

I am black and a muslim. I was raised to reach for the ideals of my faith, so it taught us to allow our mothers, wives, daughters, to be business women, scholars, doctors, savvy advisors 1600 years.

So it taught me to treat my mother, wife, and daughters with the utmost respect, while protecting them.

Lo and behold, my beloved mother, is a teacher.

Lo and behold, my wife is a doctor.

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be an Islamic Scholar.

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be a doctor.

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be an activist and not take oppression from anyone.

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be a lawyer.

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be a Supreme Court Justice.

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be a writer.

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be a computer scientist.

 

Lo and behold, I’m training my daughter to be a fighter for good, literally and figuratively.

O America, I am glad that the women have risen demanding equality.

O America, I am delighted to see women say no more…no more silence to abuse, no more silence to second class citizenry…

O America, I am exhilarated to see more social movements and engagement- from black lives matter, metoo movement, fight for common sense gun laws.

Because this country that I have embraced is too great to succumb to it demons.