Where are you from?

My name is Shamalee Lovelace, I was born and raised in a small community known as Ritchies located in Clarendon, Jamaica.

What was it like growing up?

When people hear of Jamaica they think of the beaches and having a good time but that is not always the case. Jamaica was my home for 14 years of my life and I would not change that for anything. Growing up I have faced some hard times especially financially.

Example: 1st Jamaica high school system and above is not free, it requires tuition to attend.

2nd You need money to make uniforms, in which case, everyone is wearing the same color and style for school and it’s definitely mandatory.

3rd Bus fare, I would take 2 or 3 transportation to school and there is no such thing as bus pass like what we have in the United States. For each transportation ride, it requires separate payments.

4th Lunch money

Even though I grew up in a poor country, we Jamaicans are survivors. I grew up in a community of farmers (The most common occupation in Jamaica) and we eat what we grow. My family and I did not let anything bother us when hard times hit us, we continue to be “irie,” which means everything is all right. This is a motto that Jamaicans live by even when they might not have all the things they need or want, but we appreciate everything.

I grew up in a religious home where we practice Christianity. I also grew up in a strict home; Jamaican parents are by nature very strict. In my household on a school night my sister and I were unable to watch television or go out, because what we had to do for school was the most important thing in our parent eyes. They also expected us to do our chores such as, making our beds, washing the dishes, and sometimes cook. This type of behavior is normal for the typical Jamaican household.

Why did you #Choose CLE (what brought you to Cleveland)?

Coming to Cleveland was not by choice of my own. My Grandfather lived in Cleveland and he was the one who filed for both his 6 kids and 6 grandkids to come to Cleveland and live with him.

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

My first thoughts coming to Cleveland was that it was so beautiful with the high rise buildings, good roads, lots of highway, and not to mention the amazing white snow. This was a change from the hot sun, the beaches, and nature (animals and trees).

My thoughts have not change but because I got so use to my surroundings I do not feel that wow factor anymore.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

I came to the US in February 2005 when I was 14; couple months before my 15th birthday. I was scared to be enrolled in the United States school system but unfortunately it was not hard to make friends. I came to realize that the Americans are very fascinated about my country Jamaica (the food, music, language, and especially the dancing). The only challenge I faced was that both the Americans and I had a very thick accent. Most of the time I have to repeat myself and vise-versa which makes me a bit irritated and uncomfortable to speak. I did not speak to my classmates for a year because of my thick Jamaican accent, which the Americans love but I was new and I wanted to get to know them better.

The transition was not so difficult to adjust to because Jamaicans do wear the same clothes as the Americans, Jamaicans do eat fast foods (we don’t rely on it however), and we speak the same language. The only big transition for me was relocating to a different country and making new friends.

What is your occupation?

I am an Administrative Assistant at the law firm of Margaret Wong and Associates, LLC.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

I feel welcomed by the Clevelanders because they love and embrace where I am from, they do not judge me they appreciate me, and they do not manipulate me they teach me.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

The traditions or customs I continue to practice are going to church most Sunday’s, have family gatherings, still eat Jamaican foods, speak the Jamaican language in the household (creole/patois), and listen to Jamaican music.

What do you love about Cleveland?

What I love about Cleveland is that it is very diverse, even though you can find that in every state. I love how passionate they are about sports and how it brings everyone close together. I also love Cleveland because it’s the only place I truly know and it’s my second home where all my family lives.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

There are many opportunities for those who are willing to make a better life for themselves here in the United States. Education is affordable and government assistance is available when it comes to housing and food and much more. America has the resources to help those in need and immigrants and refugees are no exception.

Immigrants and refugees are a very important part of America’s history and how they contribute to the growth of America. They are very driven and hardworking people who are trying to make a better life for themselves, their family, and for their future generations. They are human beings and they want the same goals as any Americans, so we should embrace them with open arms and treat them with the respect that they deserve.

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming community?

I think Cleveland is on the right track by showcasing diversity. Cleveland is a very “colorful” metropolis but it’s actually quite segregated. Everyone tends to stay on “their” side of town.

However, I have learned that Clevelanders have a spirit that is unbreakable and the love they have for their city is unmatched. They have gone through a lot over the years, from economic struggles to professional sports struggles and they still stand strong in their confidence and hope in their city. And that attitude is contagious.

There is a lot of criticisms and misconceptions about Cleveland and I adamantly found myself defending it. Cleveland has beautiful landscapes, fun parks, historical citing, wonderful schools, etc. Moreover, the city of Cleveland is full of courageous, loyal, and determining people; thus, makes Cleveland a more welcoming place to visit or lived.