Sofia Aldinio

Immaculee Basiluaeu Ntutu

Immaculee Basiluaeu Ntutu, with her husband, Vincent, and their three children, arrived in America from the Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2016. They landed in Arizona and boarded a flight to Boston one week later. They could not pay the checked baggage fees required for the last leg of the achingly long journey, so they left behind a bag of their daughters’ possessions. Though it upset them at the time, Immaculee laughs about it now. It is not the bag that required safe-haven. They continued on by bus to Portland, Maine.

In Arizona, a state that receives one of the largest percentages of refugees in the nation, someone assured Vincent that, “Maine is a good place for new people coming to America.” For Immaculee’s family, it was. Shortly after arriving, she discovered a cousin living in Portland. It is an astonishing coincidence, although Immaculee is not the only person to tell the story of an unexpected reunion. While Maine received less than half of one percent of all refugee arrivals in 2017, refugees making a second migration to Maine is a common thread.

Of her new home, Immaculee says, “I like the neighborhood and people in Maine are very kind.” Immaculee speaks joyfully, stopping frequently to coo at her two year-old son, Yohan. In Congo, Immaculee bought bracelets with each family member’s name spelled out in alphabetic beads. Yohan’s is his only momento from a country he escaped as a newborn. Immaculee dons one too, but her most sacred possession is her bible. It is bound in worn, butterscotch leather, a fitting symbol for her enduring faith.

There is an ebullience about Immaculee that buffers the world from her struggles, and from the instability she fled. In Congo, Vincent participated in opposition party protests against the brutally violent government. This endangered their family. While the country is a Democratic Republic, Immaculee jokes, “I can say the democracy is only a name.” In the United States, they are free to criticize the ruling government. Back home, such subordination is a death sentence. “In Congo,” she says, “there is no safe place.

There is an ebullience about Immaculee that buffers the world from her struggles, and from the instability she fled. In Congo, Vincent participated in opposition party protests against the brutally violent government. This endangered their family. While the country is a Democratic Republic, Immaculee jokes, “I can say the democracy is only a name.” In the United States, they are free to criticize the ruling government. Back home, such subordination is a death sentence. “In Congo,” she says, “there is no safe place.” 

Although they arrived only two years ago, Immaculee reflects on their early days as though it has been much longer: a testament to how quickly she has adapted. “At the beginning, it was difficult, because you left everything when you came here. You have to walk even if it’s very cold. You don’t know English. Yes, the beginning was difficult. But now it’s ok. Now I can say I feel good in America. I’m integrated. We can even find Congolese food.” The smell of Congolese cooking brings her back home. In her Portland kitchen, she makes traditional meals from beans, cassava leaves, and salted fish. She laments that her children don’t like it. Like most young children in America, they prefer pizza and cereal. 

Immaculee misses her extended family, but she does not expect to return amidst the continued violence. She and her husband grew up in Kinshasa, a large city she compares to Washington D.C. They spent nine years in Lubumbashi, a city rich with cultural landmarks and tourist attractions. She studied there but her degree does not translate in America. Immaculee dreams of studying communications and journalism in Maine. For now, she is raising her children, their names spelled out on bracelets from a country that they no longer call home.  


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