How We’re Celebrating Refugee and Immigrant Women This Black Friday
November 24, 2019 | Filed in: Your Brain
Here’s something we are very guilty of at M.M.: We tend to put certain “remarkable” women on a pedestal. We love to celebrate women who start their own companies, smash glass ceilings to smithereens, and rise to the top of their fields despite the inherent challenges of sexism, motherhood, and just being a woman in 2019. We see these women as heroes, and assign them adjectives like “badass,” “girl boss,” and “queen.” We want to know all their secrets, from what time they wake up in the morning to how they do their taxes. And it makes sense—these women do deserve celebrating (and we all need someone to look up to these days), but we also know that only focusing on a certain type of woman can distract us from seeing the other women all around us who are doing so much, despite catastrophic circumstances, to better their lives and the lives of their families and their communities.
In this time of political turmoil, when, according to the United Nations, over 70.8 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes, and debates about immigration and nationalism have impacted almost every major government, it is essential that we recognize the real remarkable women who are surviving the crisis and trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. That’s why M.M.LaFleur is doubling down on giving back to our long-time partners, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nonprofit organization that helps people devastated by conflict and disaster in over 40 countries adapt to their new lives in the U.S. The IRC is particularly devoted to empowering women and girls by improving access to health centers, developing programs to help girls stay in school, and supporting women as they achieve financial independence by helping them find housing, education, and employment opportunities. From now through 12/3, we will be donating 100 percent of the proceeds from ten of our most loved black dresses to the IRC’s New York and New Jersey resettlement efforts, so they can fund programming and services, and more women can receive the resources they need to achieve their dreams.
And, in keeping with our word, here are four women who, with the help of the IRC, are working to defy some of the most tragic odds—genocide, war, and extreme loss—in order to give themselves and their families the opportunity of a better life. We truly believe they are as deserving of our support and our praise as any female CEO or powerhouse out there.
Fatoumata, 37, originally from Burkina Faso; now settled in New York.
Before moving to the U.S. in 2014, Fatoumata was working as an actress and spent the last ten years traveling and performing throughout Europe. She had hopes that in the U.S., and especially in New York City, she’d be able to take her career to the next level. Unfortunately, she quickly found that the American theater world does things quite differently. “I started to knock on door after door, but I couldn’t get any door to open for me because I wasn’t doing things the way they have to be done here.” But she is still hustling, and has not given up on her dream. When she’s not driving for Uber or caring for her young daughter, Fatoumata is meeting with studios and other professionals in the acting community in search of a mentor who can guide her on the right path. And for now, she is proud of what she has accomplished—including being a single mother. “I’m very proud to be in this country alone, to have carried my baby alone for nine months, to have my baby alone,” says Fatoumata. “The day I brought her home, my apartment felt so big, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to this?’ But I didn’t sit there and cry. I got some energy and told myself that I needed to work hard, find a way to pay the bills, and keep pushing and fighting every day. Every morning when I wake up and see my daughter in our apartment, I am proud.”
Liudmila, 27, originally from Russia; now settled in New York.
Liudmila came to the U.S. almost four years ago in search of better opportunities, and she describes the experience as “entering a new world.” The people, the culture, and the fast pace of the city were occasionally over-stimulating for her, and she says at first she felt vulnerable and suffered regular panic attacks. But she also felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be here, to start over, and to live with a big community in Brooklyn. She currently works as a barista and loves that she gets to meet different people every day. “The coffee shop helps me,” says Liudmila. “Everyone drinks coffee, so you can meet any person you can ever imagine.” With the help of the IRC, Liudmila is adapting well to her new life here, though she finds some of the cultural differences a little frustrating. “I think that Americans should be a little less pushy about the shows that they’ve seen,” jokes Liudmila. “A lot of people joke to me, they’re like, ‘You haven’t seen Seinfeld ever?’ Well, Seinfeld didn’t make it to Russia yet. What can I do about it?” Liudmila says she has goals of becoming a “girl boss” so she can help her mother and sister back home.
Paulina, 37, originally from Burkina Faso; now settled in New York.
Paulina came to the U.S. three years ago and has worked a variety of jobs in that time. She’s been a cashier, a babysitter, and is now diving into a new passion of hers—jewelry design. But this is something of a second chapter for Paulina, who has a Master of Science in Sociology and was working as an academic and consultant before she came to the U.S. Her degree and experience don’t translate in the states, so she has been forced to start over. “It’s really hard to come to a place and start a whole new life to become independent—it’s basically like being a baby again,” says Paulina. “All my life, I have worked in front of a computer, and now I have to do manual work. I really have to start from zero.” Despite these setbacks, Paulina is using her skills to give back to the IRC, helping other immigrants and refugees navigate difficult paperwork and processes, and sharing information with other women in her community.
Carolina, 40, originally from Colombia; now settled in New York.
Carolina and her teenage daughter moved to the U.S. this summer, after the death of her son. The grieving process, coupled with being in a new country and not speaking the language, put Carolina in a particularly difficult situation. But while it is hard for her to find joy, she sees it all over her daughter’s face. “After my son passed away, I kind of became cold and not as excited about things,” says Carolina. “But one thing that is really the engine of my life is my daughter, who loves meeting new people and is always smiling. She brings me motivation.” And it’s that motivation that drives Carolina to keep going. “I would really like to see myself living well,” she says. “That means just having a job and seeing my daughter triumphing, seeing her graduating, and of course, also being in good health. And I’d like to become a citizen.”
From now through 12/3, we will be donating 100 percent of the proceeds from ten dresses to the IRC.
Photos by Takahiro Ogawa
Styling by Nyjerah Cunningham