Dave Lindo, Gleaner Writer
AS WE observe Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, it is also fitting that we celebrate the lives of many Jamaicans who have made a difference, both locally and abroad.
One such individual is Dr Mildred Smith-Chang who, through sheer strength and determination, overcame many obstacles to achieve her goals and be a successful individual in the United States of America.
Smith-Chang was born in May Day district in Manchester to parents, the late Henry Alexander Smith and Dorris Adella Bruce Smith. She attended May Day Primary School, then Holmwood Technical High School, where she excelled both in academics and track and field.
"I put Holmwood on the map, being one of the first girls to get a point at Girls' Championships," she said with a smile.
After leaving Holmwood, she attended the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, where she did a diploma in education and Spanish. After leaving UWI, she taught at Mandeville All-Age School, Mt St Josephs, and Knox College.
Two years in Mexico
Smith-Chang then went to Mexico, where she taught Spanish for two years. Smith-Chang continued her studies at El Instituto Mexicano and also taught English at a school there.
In 1988, she went to the United States of America in search of a better life, leaving her six-year-old son behind.
"When I reached the United States, I got the big surprise that with all your academic qualifications, without your Green Card, you couldn't do anything as a professional," Smith-Chang said. "So I was regulated to being a live-in maid for six years, where I had to clean people's house, walk their dogs, wipe their cats. I did that for six long years until I got my Green Card."
Smith-Chang added: "Before I went to the US, there was this exported hype about this country called America, that everyone wanted to go there. You find people who didn't graduate from high school in Jamaica coming back and telling you that that they are engineers, etc, but most of it is false. You living here believe it's a bed of roses, and when you go there, you will get things straightened out physically, emotionally, financially, and otherwise."
Her brother sponsored her and in her sixth year in the US, she received her Green Card. "I went to America with a plan to be a lawyer like Norman Manley - a great barrister," she disclosed. Although I was a live-in helper, I had a goal. I told myself once I get my Green Card, America, I am gonna conquer you! Maybe I won't be a lawyer, but I will get the highest degree in the land'."
Smith-Chang has since obtained her masters in Spanish and political science and her doctorate in Spanish and education.
She has recently written a book titled The Mask is Off in which she speaks about undocumented workers in the United States. "The Government over there, they really do need undocumented immigrants. That's the blood. That's the fuel," she explained.
"Without undocumented people working there, the country can't stand. They need the live-in helpers, they need people to pick their fruits and vegetables, to work in their nursing homes and for the elderly. This is because American citizens won't do that kind of work because the pay is not good - the long hours the abuse. They won't do that."