Journey from South Africa to Southern California

Jacqui can still remember when her brother Mark came home one day in June 1976 and told her parents that South Africa had no future and that the family should leave together. Jacqui was 8 at the time, but Mark was ten years older and had recently entered into the police force due to South Africa’s compulsory military service. It was in that job that he witnessed the injustices of Apartheid, with his breaking point coming in the form of the horrors of the Soweto riots. Mark’s declaration started rumblings among the rest of her family that didn’t come to fruition until 7 years later.

During those 7 years, however, Jacqui was able to enjoy all the benefits of being white in South Africa during Apartheid. She received her education at a segregated school, where corporal punishment was still legal and uniforms were required. At school she learned both Afrikaans (a Dutch dialect and one of the official languages of South Africa), and English, which helped her greatly in her transition to the US. She spent her weekends visiting her gigantic extended family, including twenty aunts and uncles on her dad’s side and ten more on her mom’s. Her family even had a maid, Maggie, who lived in a small house in Jacqui’s backyard and was there for the family every day of the week except Sunday. Jacqui remembers that clearly because “Sundays were the days that my parents had to cook, or buy, food”. She was very young at the time, so didn’t really see the injustices going on around her.

Once in college, she would begin to comprehend what Apartheid really was, and it was then that she realized many new things about her childhood, such as the fact that Maggie’s daughter, who she sometimes played with, only got to see her mom once a week, on those Sundays. Unfortunately, a couple years before coming to America, in preparation for the move, Jacqui’s family moved into a smaller house and completely lost contact with Maggie.

When Jacqui was in Standard 8, the equivalent of 10th grade in the US, her school required her to pick the 6 specific subjects she would focus on for the next three years. After a few weeks, she discovered that she had made the wrong choices studying history, geography, and accounting, as well as the mandatory math, English and science. This and her upcoming class trip to veldt school (wilderness survival training), which Jacqui was decidedly not looking forward to, gave her a gloomy feeling whenever she thought about the rest of her year. However, her parents’ surprise announcement that they were moving to America changed all those feelings into ones of happiness. It was a quick turnaround for her family, just a few goodbyes to friends and Jacqui and her other brother, Gary, were off to the United States.

“It was miraculous,” Jacqui later said. After a few weeks of discontent and dreading the upcoming veldt school, she was suddenly on a plane to a new country, new people, and a new life. She was excited, even though her parents wouldn’t be making the journey until a few months later.

The plane ride over to the States was easy for her, even though her parents weren’t with her and she was traveling to a new country. The only moments of anxiety for Jacqui came when she had to walk through customs with chocolate boxes that were secretly stuffed full of cash. Due to laws that limited how much money people were allowed to bring when they emigrated from South Africa, her parents had taken out the bottoms of chocolate boxes, filled them with money, and then put the chocolates back in and resealed them. Through this and other methods that her parents and Mark devised, the family was able to keep most of their money and savings through the move.

Jacqui and her family settled in Irvine, California, which is a suburban, mostly white, middle class neighborhood where there was already a large South African population. It was similar to her home in South Africa, and immediately put her at ease. Very quickly after the move Jacqui met her new best friend, Mandy, the daughter of her family’s real estate agent, who had made the same journey from South Africa a few years earlier. Mandy was at the same school as Jacqui, and showed her the ropes of navigating the American school system, which, in comparison to South Africa’s, was much superior. There were kind teachers, no uniforms, and classes that taught you how to learn and think, rather than just memorize. The only things that Jacqui really struggled with in school were bits of knowledge that you would only know if you had grown up in America, namely, US history. In addition, Jacqui has a specific memory of there being a question involving money on her math placement exam, and she had to go up to the proctor and ask, “Excuse me, can you tell me how much a dime is?”

The rest of her transition went just as smoothly, especially because she already knew English from her schooling in South Africa. Her accent, however, was one aspect that differentiated her from her American peers, as she was at times barraged by people telling her to say one thing or another so they could hear her strange pronunciations. Another beneficial change to her life after the move was that Irvine was much safer than Johannesburg. This meant that Jacqui was allowed to ride her bike around, opening up a whole new world of possibilities and freedom. And if that was a new world, then the fact that she could get her learner’s permit to drive at 15 instead of 18 was like discovering entire new galaxies.

Since then, Jacqui has completely assimilated into American culture (including losing her accent), and she has only been back to South Africa a few times, mostly just to visit her extended family that is still there. She went to college at UC Santa Barbara, and from there she went on to study to become a teacher, which she has made her profession at multiple schools in the Bay Area.

She married her high school sweetheart and now has two kids, aged 17 and 20. Jacqui loves her life in America, as it has given her a family, job, and life that she would not have been able to obtain if she had stayed in South Africa. She has almost no connection back to her home country now, and to avoid the shame of having lived there during Apartheid, she often doesn’t even tell people that she was born in South Africa.

This story was written by Evan Kandell, the son of Jacqui, and a student at Palo Alto High School.


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