What is the traditional immigrant story? Is there ever really a traditional story? For 26 year old Joel Insilo, coming to America really began after he left it. Joel was born in Rockville, Maryland, but he moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when he was 3 years old. The DRC is the second-largest country in Africa. It has vast amounts of oil, diamonds, gold, and other natural resources. By any measure, this country should be one of the greatest countries in the world. Joel has a lot of pride in his roots, but his story reminds us that no immigrant story is traditional. They are all unique and we must take each one seriously. Read what Joel had to say below:
Being from the DRC signifies power. You are powerful if you are from here. Think about our rich history. Think about our vast amounts of oil, diamonds, gold, and other natural resources. Consider all we’ve been through and where we are today. We are a resilient people. We are powerful people. To me, coming from that gives me strength and I never want to forget that.
I was born in Rockville, Maryland, but when I was three years old I returned back home. The DRC has had a lot of political instability, armed clashes, and human rights violations over the years and I happened to return during one of its toughest times. I lived there during the part of the civil war. I remember times when my mom use to hide my younger sister and I under the bed when there was shootings outside. I used to see dead bodies and people practicing witchcraft outside. I was young though, so I was able to still fall in love with the country. I try to remember that time for the nature aspect — fruit trees, wild animals, and more, but I can’t deny that the time was hard on us. Eventually, the war got too out of control and my parents knew for my sister and I to have a better future, we would have to leave. My mother and the rest of my family sacrificed a lot to get us back to the USA. At one point we slept at the airport for four days in Johannesburg, South Africa on our way back to the USA because they were not letting us on the flight.
I got so use to the trauma that surrounded me in the DRC that I really had to adjust to America. Now, i’ve been in the United States for about 20 years now and I am very grateful to be here. Things haven't been easy though. I've gone through things you wouldn't begin to imagine, but I am from a powerful place and I too am a powerful person. I've lost a lot over the years, but i've never allowed it to defeat me. I won't allow anything to slow me down from my goals because I know I meant for the things I am fighting for. I have two dreams today. The first is to make it to the NFL and the second is to build a charter school named after my late father figure James L bullock JR. He gave me a lot. Without him, I might not be the young man that I am today. I want to make sure I can keep his legacy alive. He always told me to do my best and let God take care of the rest and I will continue to follow that.
This journey has been very difficult but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Every hardship along the way has helped me build leadership skills, mental toughness, discipline, perseverance, dedication, and resilience. My story is a testimony and I love getting the chance to share it.
Joe Insilo is also a motivational speaker. He uses his story to inspire youth. In this video, Joel shares his journey with participants at the Pro Power Camp in Olney, Maryland.