“As bad as it seems like living in the US is right now, especially when viewed through TV and social media clips, it has made more minorities bond together than ever before. I grew up in the 90’s and if you told someone you were from Haiti, you would probably get cracked on. In the last 30 years and specifically this decade, people are aware of the challenges that some individuals face in this country and are now open to conversations about changing those things. They are more supportive of each other and I’m loving it!”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Johane Filemon. Johane is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of the nutrition consulting firm, Wonderfully Nutritious Solutions. Since starting her practice in 2014, she has helped hundreds of individuals transform their lives using proven nutrition therapy techniques.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and lived there until I was about 7 years old. My family and I lived pretty decently in Haiti, maybe upper-middle class for Haiti standards. We had a nice house, a car, a support staff at the house. My siblings and I attended private school as public schools aren’t the best in Haiti. Both of my parents had careers. My mom was a teacher at one of the private schools and my dad had a career as a French chef in a high-end restaurant in one of the richest neighborhoods in Haiti. We were doing well.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I was young, so I don’t remember everything that led to us coming to the US, but I do know it was a combination of political unrest at the time and an overall lack of opportunities for our growth. My parents always wanted a better future for their kids than what Haiti could offer. With the political climate becoming uneasy and having family and friends who were already in the US, they made the decision to move here as well.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
My parents and I left Haiti in 1989 and immigrated to the US, landing 1st in Boston. Although we were doing well in Haiti, we pretty much had to leave everything and start over. The education and careers my parents had in Haiti meant nothing when we got to the US. As a kid, you don’t really know what’s going on, but you know something is different. From the minute I stepped off the plane, I couldn’t understand what the people around me were saying, I couldn’t read any signs. It’s a strange feeling to go from being able to read, write and understand freely to only being able to communicate with your parents because everything is in a different language and no one else around you speaks your native language.
I remember moving in with my aunt’s family, who lived in an apartment, with my mom and my brothers. Where my aunt lived wasn’t huge, but they gave us one of the bedrooms so we could have something to call our own. My dad who was not fond of cold weather, knew that there was no way he was going to live in Boston, so he went to Florida to find a job and to scout the best area for us to live. We lived in Boston for less than a year and then moved to Florida to join my dad.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Being that I was so young when I immigrated to the US, all I remember is my parents doing everything in their power to make our transition smooth. Working as many jobs as they could find to make ends meet. There were families we knew who would immigrate and leave their kids behind so that they can make arrangements and make life easier for their children when they arrive. My mom refused to do this. She told my dad that if her children were not going to the US, she was not going either. I remember my mom not knowing how to drive and getting a job cleaning someone’s house. I remember my dad driving her to that specific job and me and my siblings along with my dad waiting outside in the car for her to finish the whole job. For us, these outings were an adventure at the time. For my parents, it was doing what had to be done to provide for their children. Looking back, it brings tears to my eyes on the sacrifices my parents made.
So how are things going today?
I guess you can say my parents’ decision paid off. I don’t believe that there is one definition of the American dream. I think it’s relative in the sense that everyone measures success differently. While one person’s goal may be to come to the US and be able to put food on the table and have some sort of stability, another person’s dream may be bigger than that. For me the American dream meant that I would acquire higher learning degrees and be successful at what I did for my life’s work so that the decision my parents made to leave Haiti was not in vain. Today, I have my own family with a husband and three young boys ages 7, 3 and 2. I have a thriving private nutrition consulting practice where I help people live their best life. I vacationed in Haiti a few months ago after not having been back since we immigrated about 30 years ago, and from some of what I saw and heard from the locals, I’m certain that the opportunities I have now and those that lie before me would’ve probably never been there without my parents making the difficult decision to leave their place of comfort. My dad is no longer with us and I wish so much that he could see where I’ve gotten thus far.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My life’s work is to help people change their lives and make the world a healthier place. In addition to my clients who I help to better their health, I spend time at community events and various churches educating families on proper nutrition, grocery shopping for better health, and guidance for overall healthy living. I also speak at high schools and other youth groups about the field of dietetics and why it’s a great career choice that benefits them and their communities. I love to mentor others who are coming behind me. I was one of the 1st in my family to accomplish most of what I’ve done so far. There wasn’t really a path that was already created that I could follow. Now that I’ve gone through my journey — and still going through it — I like to provide guidance to everyone I can.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
1. It’s too expensive. I paid $595 to apply for my citizenship. I can’t even count how much my parents spent overall for the process of us being green card holders. I have friends whose family came in the 60’s who paid $25 to apply for their citizenship. The fee is now over $1000. Many people who want to become permanent residents and citizens simply can’t because they can’t afford the application fees.
2. The process is too long. It’s highly inefficient. Most people have to wait several years to become a legal resident and several more years after that to become eligible to apply for citizenship. Yes, there are people who abuse the system, but this is not the majority of the people who apply, and we can’t generalize and group everyone in the same category.
3. People who come here on student visas for school and have proven that they want to contribute positively to this country shouldn’t have to go through all the steps currently required to become a permanent resident and a citizen. This should actually be true also for those who have lived here for years crime-free and can show that they have been productive parts of their community. There are people who came here as infants that I know who are still not able to complete their process. They are educated, they are a productive part of their community as much as they can be without citizenship status, but it is hard for them to complete the process of becoming a citizen.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Continue to dream: If you dream it, you can be it!
2. Push through difficult times: All things are possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise just because you’re from a different country or speak with a foreign accent or lack the financial backing that others have. Endurance is more important than speed in this race.
3. Get around like-minded individuals: Stay away from excuses and those who make them. Find people who want to succeed and who will support you on your journey towards success.
4. Take advantage of technology: Resources for bettering yourself are literally at your fingertips. There are a lot of things you can learn for free from the comfort of your home. Research topics of interest and connect with people. Get moving!
5. Know your past: Remembering where you’ve come from and what you’ve overcome should serve as an eternal fuel to light your fire as you chase your dreams. The joy of living in the United States is that everyone has ancestry from outside this land. Whether their family have been here for generations or not, you will hear them talking about their ancestry. Don’t lose your heritage so that you can prove that you are only an American. You can be a proud American and still love where you came from and what’s helped you get to where you are now. It wasn’t until my late 20’s to early 30’s that I started to realize this.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. As bad as it seems like living in the US is right now, especially when viewed through TV and social media clips, it has made more minorities bond together than ever before. I grew up in the 90’s and if you told someone you were from Haiti, you would probably get cracked on. In the last 30 years and specifically this decade, people are aware of the challenges that some individuals face in this country and are now open to conversations about changing those things. They are more supportive of each other and I’m loving it!
2. Young people and minority groups are taking the lead and demanding change. The resolve that the younger generation has now is so amazing to me. Young people in the 90’s, immigrants or not, were not like this group of young kids today who are not afraid to tell you if you are in the wrong. We need that, people who are not afraid to tell the truth.
3. The US is more diverse than ever before, which is making it a little easier to reach the American dream. Meaning, your skin doesn’t have to be a specific color or shade to be successful. More opportunities are available than ever before which gives me hope of what’s to come.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Oprah! Girl, you’ve been and continue to be my inspiration!!!
Funny story is that I got tickets to go to the Oprah show in 2010. It was my husband, myself and 2 of our closest friends. I was so excited because I had been watching the Oprah Winfrey Show for as long as I could remember and knew that I wanted to be the boss that Oprah was. Well our tickets happen to be right after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti occurred and I just knew that the show was going to be about the earthquake (rightly so) and I was correct. Where we sat, Oprah came over to stand next to us and I was just screaming inside cause I so excited, but I felt that the show was a somber one and I could not look at her and beam with a smile. I wish I could do it all over again. I would have at least whispered “I love you girl”. Although Oprah’s humble beginnings were not outside of the United States, she is a great example of persevering through the obstacles of poverty and traumas to be the giant that she is today. Oprah is proof that the American dream is possible!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.