In her 44 years, Senait Mesfin Piccigallo has traveled more, experienced more and prevailed over more than most people even hear about others going through, making her the quintessential author for a book about living as an immigrant in the U.S.
Born and raised in Ethiopia, the Livermore resident has lived in multiple countries, made trans-Atlantic moves, and raised a special-needs child – all in addition to working for several international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), completing a mandatory military service, and becoming an author after moving to the U.S.
“I worked for different international NGOs in the areas of gender equality, HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation (FGM) and projects connecting youth globally through music. In 2003, my son, Aaron, was born with some complications, which led to him being hospitalized,” Piccigallo said. “I then traveled to China with Aaron when he was only 2 months old, in search of a diagnosis and possible treatment. I ended up staying in China for two years, teaching English as a second language, while figuring out my life with my son’s disability (cerebral palsy). Although I fell in love with the Chinese culture, I decided to return back home.”
Back in Eritrea, her family’s country of origin, she worked with the United Nations (UNDP and UNFPA), as a local consultant, while finding a way to get her son either to Europe or the U.S., since services for him weren’t available.
“I came to the U.S. because I wanted a better life for my special-needs son and myself,” she said. “I tried many ways, including applying for a visa to the Netherlands and England and filling out an application for the USA Diversity lottery with a nudge from a friend. Getting a visa to come to the U.S. isn’t as easy as people who are born here think it is, especially for people who live in developing nations.
Luckily for Piccigallo, she won a green card lottery in 2007.
“I traveled by myself to Kenya, where I had to stay for a month to get my visa processed by the American embassy,” she said. “From there, I came to the U.S. in December 2007. After six months of hard work here, my son Aaron (who was only 4 at the time) and my dad, who accompanied him, joined me here. We’ve been living in the Bay Area in California since then.”
Now married with two more children, Piccigallo has turned her attention to helping people through writing, putting together a book that has been described as an asset in making the lives of immigrants easier to traverse.
“When I read Senait's book entitled, ‘You are in America, Now What? 7 Skills to Integrate with Ease and Joy,’ my first impression was that I wish I had this kind of resource before moving to the U.S. to make my cultural integration a lot smoother,” said Yonas B. Keleta, Ph.D., an associate professor of behavioral neuroscience. “I have never seen or read a book that is so well written and well thought out to make the life of an immigrant simpler. I highly recommend immigrants from all corners of the world to use it as a reference to make the process of their cultural integration a lot easier and joyful.
“The author walks you through many essential topics that the immigrant needs to know to make their life journey more successful. Included are several themes on maintaining a positive attitude, managing and controlling one's emotions, how and where to obtain your support system, and eventually building self-confidence, allowing one to integrate within a sea of diverse communities easily and freely where they live.”
Through writing, Piccigallo has found yet another way to fulfill what she sees as her goal – improving the lives of those around her.
“Since I announced this book, people tell me it is important and timely with things that has been happening with the last administration,” she said. “New immigrants have been scared and felt unwelcome, and to make matters worse, (there’s also) the COVID virus situation. New immigrants need to learn a tremendous amount of skills to adapt to the ever-changing culture of America. My work has always given me purpose and fulfilment. Whether I am working as a court interpreter, being a CEO of my nonprofit, or coaching immigrants to integrate to their new home, all these activities have something in common – serving people, helping others, and making an impact. This is very fulfilling to me.”
According to Piccigallo, immigrants to the U.S. can find American culture and government bureaucracy confusing and unwelcoming as they strive for the American dream. With her work, she hopes to support them and help them adjust to their new lives.
“Without support, these immigrants could be overwhelmed by American culture, falling into depression or resignation, as they become bitter and unproductive, thinking the American dream is unreachable for them,” she said. “If we can support these new immigrants by giving them the confidence to quickly and easily learn the skills to navigate and integrate into American culture successfully, they’ll be able to achieve their vision of the American dream, not only becoming productive members of society themselves, but also giving hope and opportunity to others. My book has the purpose of guiding new immigrants into navigating American culture, by giving them the skills and vision to experience their version of the American dream.”