INTERVIEW WITH JUNIOR MEKINDA.
By Celestin Ngoa Balla, US Africa News. Updated 2014-07-27
"I have the support of Ambassador Tommo Monthe of Cameroon"
Junior Mekinda: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about initiative. This book is a practical guide that helps those wishing to settle in the United States to learn the basics that will guarantee their successful integration into this wonderful country.
USAFRICA News: You had barely landed in the US when you launched into the writing of this book. What motivated you?
Junior Mekinda:I was motivated by the frustration that I myself went through on my arrival in the US. It should be noted that I received a grant from the U.S. State Department, and as such had the right to an orientation session before departure from Cameroon. Despite this, it took me almost ten days to be able to buy a cell phone and make local calls; and nearly a month to find the right company to make calls to Cameroon at a lower rate. What seems so obvious in our country takes a complete twist here. This difference is painful and you are uncomfortable to focus on it immediately on arrival. But as an entrepreneur, I know that behind a problem there is a solution, and very often a business opportunity. So I started working on this idea.
USAFRICA News: No doubt that you have faced a number of obstacles. What were they, and how did you overcome them?
Junior Mekinda: The first hurdle was the lack of good contacts. I must say that when you begin such an initiative in a foreign country, or if you’ve just recently arrived, you need you good connections. That’s what I needed as an international student. So the first necessary step was to build a network. I developed a written plan of my idea, and I started with a professor of business at the school. He found the idea very interesting and gave me some tips.
Then there was the problem of money. Ideas are good but without money you have a tendency to stagnate. In confronting this difficulty, I had to participate in several competitions where I had to present my project idea. Fortunately, here in the United States the business environment is conducive to the development of ideas. Holders of ideas are encouraged to express themselves and are awarded for ingenuity. It was in this context that I won a competition in which I participated and received $5000 to fund my project.
USAFRICA News: How are preparations going for your book launch event?
Junior Mekinda: I have to say it’s been pretty difficult. The standard was very high and it really takes a huge team effort to carry out within the time frame. Unfortunately we are in a time and a city where everyone is focused on their own business, and so I found myself all alone doing the work of a team of at least five people. Nonetheless, preparations are progressing well. I received the support of Congressman Charlie Rangel, who got get me a decent space for free. New York State Senator Bill Perkins is also supporting the initiative. But, above all, I have the support of Ambassador Tommo Monthe of Cameroon, who is the sponsor of the ceremony. We are going to have a very beautiful ceremony.
USAFRICA News: Do you envision offering your book in Africa? And are you planning other works to follow it?
Junior Mekinda: Yes of course. It must be said that the first target of this book is Africans. It is intended to be available to people in their country of origin, so that they can absorb the realities before even landing in the US. Other works will certainly follow in the same series, in order to update this edition, and why not produce other editions for other parts of the US, since this one is specific to New York City?
USAFRICA News: Apart from writing, you’re also now known as an activist here in the US for immigration reform. How did you find yourself in this field of activism, when the reflex of most young immigrants is to lay low and find some work?
Junior Mekinda: Activism is an area I’ve been involved in since Cameroon, where I was already President and founder of an association fighting against sickle cell disease. In the US, I was approached by a compatriot who has an organization which defends the rights of immigrants. She sought my help, and because the cause is noble, I threw myself into it part-time, while still working on my personal activities. Also I did not want to find myself in the routine which characterizes immigrants here. I am convinced that there are more kinds of opportunities around here than people actually believe.
USAFRICA News: On the issue of reform of immigration in the US. Is there hope?
Junior Mekinda: From the little as I know, there has been a lot of progress. It is a political game but I firmly believe that the reform will be effective very soon, especially as the President has decided to exercise his executive power to push Congress to act. This could be no more than a matter of days.
USAFRICA News: We have also seen you in the company of some people of note in American politics. When you talk to them about Cameroon, how do they respond?
Junior Mekinda: The majority are vague. They know better the countries of West Africa that have strong representation here in New York. But in general they want to discover and learn about our political system above all. My biggest surprise was to find myself in the office of a Senator who revealed that he had been to a Majoie Ayi concerta, and his Chief of Staff added that she still has the DVD in her collection because she had particularly loved it.
USAFRICA News: Finally, why do you walk around the streets of New York wearing shirts displaying the flag of Cameroon?
Junior Mekinda: Every Cameroonian must be the ambassador of their country, wherever they are. To strengthen this ideology, I launched in 2009, through my Cameroon social network, a concept for the promotion of Cameroon by image. The idea was to create a line of products showing Cameroon: to allow everyone to discover where it is located, to celebrate Cameroon, and to promote Cameroon. I happen to have some of these products in my wardrobe and I proudly put them on in memory of this ambitious project, which unfortunately failed to take off despite all the efforts undertaken by our young company. Our leaders should pay more interest to youth initiatives, as that also happens to be a recommendation of the President of the Republic.