Trying to Make It in America

Content warning: The stories throughout this issue may be especially activating for some readers. Many of these pieces involve descriptions of traumatic experiences including sexual violence, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, queer/transphobic violence, in addition to the violence of states and false borders.

I am an immigrant from Malawi, and I have lived in San Francisco for the last ten years. I came to the United States for a wedding and afterwards I decided to stay and try to make it in America. After all, it’s the land of opportunity, and I could get a chance to experience the American dream. My sister helped me get minimum wage jobs and I lived with her for a while, until her husband got a good job opportunity and they had to move to New York. I couldn’t move with them since they had already done so much for me, so I stayed in San Francisco and tried to make it on my own.

Slowly, bills started piling up and I couldn’t keep up with the rent, so I was evicted and had to live with friends for a while. These so-called friends would occasionally demand sex as payment and due to lack of options I would sometimes grudgingly agree. When I refused, I was raped, beaten and chased out like an animal. Eventually, even they got tired of hosting me and I ended up living in my car. 

During the pandemic, I lost my job and had to sell my car for basic needs like food and medicine. I finally ended up on the streets and I have been unsheltered since then. Due to my immigration status, finding employment has been a nightmare, since almost all employers require one to be documented. If am being honest, I have had to engage in acts that I am really not proud of, like doing sex work and offering sexual favours for food or shelter. This has really had a negative impact on my self worth and image.

I have on a few occasions contemplated suicide and even tried it once, though I was rushed to the hospital in time. I dream of going back home but I have lost the confidence to face my family and the people back home, since I feel like I have completely messed up my life and they wouldn’t accept me as I am now. Occasionally I go to shelters, but life on the streets is hard, especially for a Black woman. It’s unsafe outside due to fear of rape, beatings, even getting killed. Cops also harass us just for being homeless. Most of us on the streets are just happy to see another day, even though we know it might be our last day on Earth due to horrible living conditions and excessive drug and alcohol consumption. But we have nothing and no one to turn to except the few individuals and organizations that will from time to time help us with food, warm clothes, socks and other necessities. It is truly a terrible way to live and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.