“Every March is Women’s History Month. And every March since I can remember I have reflected on the greatest woman I have every known – my moomie. She has been my strength. My rock. My inspiration for my entire life. This March feels different. My mother died this past December, the day after Christmas.” – Dionnie Wynter, 2005 WMU-Cooley graduate
Leaving home and our homeland
My mother, Gloria Iona Wynter, immigrated to the United States in 1987. She left our homeland, the island of Jamaica. She went alone. The decision to leave was not easy, but the family understood that it was the only way out of poverty and into freedom. The family also knew that mom was the strong one. The decision was made. My mother got her American Visa, the cow was sold, and the airline ticket bought. You see, my family did not have the money to get an airline ticket, so my father had to sell the family’s prized cow.
Moomie unselfishly undertook the journey abroad to help our family. My father, Roy Wynter, selflessly stayed behind on the island to “raise” the children. I was the last of the seven.
I remember the day my mother left Jamaica. It was a bright Sunday afternoon. It felt like any other Sunday. We woke up as usual. We had breakfast. We got dressed. This Sunday however, we didn’t attend church as a family. You see, we were all going on a journey into Kingston to the Norman Manly International Airport to bid my mother goodbye.
The journey into the city was the longest trip I had ever taken. We hired Mr. Bennet, a family friend, to drive us into the city. My mother sat in the front seat, while my dad and the rest of the family sat in the back of the pickup. We did not want my mother’s clothes to get wrinkled. After all, she was going abroad. We bade my mother farewell at the airport. The tears flowed freely. I still feel the emotions we felt that day today.
Life without Moomie
We returned to our home and tried to resume life as we knew it. Needless to say nothing felt the same. My mother’s absence was a clear void the moment we walked back into the house.
Who was going to prepare breakfast? Who was going to prepare dinner? Who was going to make sure we got out of bed on time? Who was going to reassure us life was going to be okay? Who, Who, Who?
I was 13 years old.
The next time I saw my mother.
I was 19 years old. Moomie lived in New York City for six years before she ever made it back to the Island. She missed funerals, weddings, and birthdays. She visited for two weeks. By then I was a mother myself. And my mother was now a grandmother.
I saw her again when I was 21 years old. This time though, my mother had come back to the Island to accompany me and my daughter Danielle back to the United States. My mother had assisted my older sister Sharon to the United States before us. For the next two decades, my mother assisted all her children, one at a time, to make it over to the United States.
Opportunity, education and the law
While my mother took on the task of systematically shuttling her children across the ocean over a period of time, I took on the task of taking advantage of the opportunity she afforded me and the entire family. I knew that getting an education was the most important thing for me to do, and immediately enrolled in college. To date, I have obtained several degrees, including a Juris Doctor degree from WMU-Cooley Law School. I am licensed to practice law in the states of Michigan and New Jersey, plus, in 2013, I was admitted to our highest court, the United States Supreme Court.
The high point of my life was April 19, 2002; the day I became a naturalized citizen. That day, I obtained the right to vote, the ability to apply for a federal job, and the right to proudly say I was an American. My mother was by my side. I stood next to her, along with over 1000 individuals from dozens of countries, while we all took our Oath.
On January 16, 2016, I laid my mother to rest on the beautiful island of Jamaica. Four days later I departed from my island home in Jamaica to return to my home in Tampa Bay, Florida. My mother was leaving me all over again; but this time I am armed with her loving spirit, her generosity, and most importantly, her eternal strength.
RIP Moomie: May 3, 1944 – December 26, 2015
Naturalization Ceremony during Women’s History Month – March 2016
The reality is my story and these kind of decisions are made by many families, every day, around the world. Women especially face this challenge. Who will stay; who will go? Over two decades ago my mother was bold enough to navigate the United States Immigration system to give opportunity to her family. I know that my successes, my dreams fulfilled, are a direct result of a woman making an unselfish decision to leave her family behind to create a new home in a better place. It was an absolute honor for me to share my story at the Naturalization Ceremony during Women’s History Month. Thank you to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School for hosting this event. I know that all 75 women, representing 36 different countries, also had to make hard decisions and they have their own story. I hope my story, in some simple way, brings a smile to their face and brings strength to their heart and souls.