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Angel in America:
Interview with Ivania Inyange

By Carin Chea

To write an adequate introduction for activist and author Ivania Inyange is impossible. It’s darn near impossible.

How does one present an individual whose accumulated life experiences have the power to transform both the individual and the system?

In an age where anyone and everyone can profess allegiance to a cause via social media, Inyange’s message is clear: Change cannot be achieved through pretentious mediocrity.

Inyange, (whose memoir will be available August 5, 2022) carries not only her personal narrative, but also the struggles and history of a nation on her back.

There are memoirs, and then there are memoirs. Inyange’s book is the latter.

Far Away From My Roots by Ivania Inyange

Tell us about your background. Are you primarily a writer, or do you have other careers as well?

I have a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from the National University of Rwanda. From here [United States], I have a master’s degree in public health from Southern New Hampshire University.

I’m currently working on a project in the public health field. I want to write about public health issues in a book format.

People mostly don’t like to read when it comes to health articles unless someone has an issue that they have to look for an answer for.

What was the impetus to write your memoir Far Away From My Roots: I ventured into The Land of Plenty, Pleasure, and Prejudice?

My memoir’s my first book and it follows my journey after graduation from the University of Rwanda. I won an American Diversity Immigrant Visa and came to America. It was a dream come true because I wanted to achieve further education.

I landed in Ohio and was hosted by one of my friends from back home who had been here for several years. I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to explore.

The next morning, I couldn’t even step outside because it was so cold. It was a total shock. I came from a country where, even when it’s raining, you don’t need a jacket. I had to learn how to layer jeans and leggings and gloves!

I was hoping to step outside and discover the area, but I’d get lost every time. That was the second shock. After a year, I moved to California, and I bounced from job to job. I was trying to earn money for school. There were many challenges. There was racism and the challenge of not being able to assimilate into the culture of the country.

One day I went to a hotel in Los Angeles. I sent in my application for an interview. They were looking for someone who spoke another language and was fluent in French. While I was waiting in the lobby, an HR representative saw me. Now, this was a 5-star hotel. When he saw me, he said, “Oh, I thought you were from France.”

I didn’t exactly understand what he was saying. What he was basically saying was, “I thought you were a white girl from France.” While my mind was spinning, he went on to say, “How do you speak French?” I explained where I came from, and that my country speaks French.

Unfortunately, he didn’t give me the job. You could see the intention – he wanted a white girl who spoke French at the front desk. These are one of the stories I shared in my book.

Dating – now that was also challenging. I met this one guy who was interested in me. We exchanged numbers and from there we texted, we spoke for a while. I showed up for the first date; it was a nice time. It was at a fancy restaurant in West Hollywood.

When we finished eating, he insisted on driving me home. I told him I drove myself, and he said he should follow me home to make sure I got home safe. I thought, “What a gentleman!”

When we got to my place, I parked on the street. He got out of his car and came close to me. I was expecting a hug. But, then he said he’d like to come inside. I told him I had work in the morning.

When we were at the restaurant, I didn’t order a dessert because I had told him I was full. When we were in front of my door, he said, “Maybe I can get a dessert now.”

My mind went immediately to the Cookies and Cream ice cream in my freezer.

[Uncontrollable laughter]. I’m sorry. Please continue.

I was so naïve. But, once inside, he began touching me. I told him, “No. I have to go to bed.” He asked if he could lay next to me. I said no, and he was pissed.

The next morning, there was no “good morning” text as usual. I sent a message and he didn’t reply all day. In the evening, he sent a message saying that if I wasn’t ready for what he was looking for, then we shouldn’t waste each other’s time. In my mind, it was only a first date.

I thought: Is this how I have to assimilate to this country? For example, the second guy I went out with was very successful. But, after a few dates, this guy wanted me to move in with him. I said no. In my culture, that doesn’t exist. This idea of moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t exist in my culture. He said, “It looks like you don’t know what you want. You should go back to your country.”

I remember wondering, “Would he react like that if it was an American girl born here?”

Yes, he would. He would’ve reacted the same way. I speak from experience.

Oh, really?

Absolutely. Yes.

Well, I’m still learning, but sometimes I feel like I’m in between two cultures. It’s exhausting.

Regardless, there are so many things I like about being in this country.

I got a chance to go back to school. Now I have my master’s degree in public health.

I enjoy the optimism of all Americans, this feeling that you can achieve anything. It drives me crazy, but in a positive way. That’s why I’m pursuing my goals. Otherwise, I wouldn’t try to write a book about a cause that I am passionate about in public health.

The third year I was here, I was invited to a Thanksgiving celebration. There were many immigrants there – Indians, Middle Easterners, West Africans – everyone was so happy. The spirit of being American was strong.

On the following 4th of July, I was with friends, some of whom did not have their legal documents yet. Watching the fireworks with them, we felt, “This is our country.” We have been made to feel so included. There are challenges, but there is also “plenty.”

Ivania Inyange

What was the process of writing your memoir like? What did you learn from that experience?

It took me almost 3 years to finish. The stories are from when I arrive to when I received citizenship, which took 5 years. You know, if I traveled to Europe, they’d call me an American there. But am I? I still have a lot to learn.

I wanted to share these experiences with other people. Sometimes I’d laugh.

This one time, when I had just moved to LA, I was trying to network with different people. I met this girl who invited me to go to her house because she had an invitation to a private party. I got all dressed up.

When I got to her apartment, there were 2 other girls there. The girls were in their shorts and track suits. I was thinking, “None of them are dressed for a private party.” A few minutes later, a man arrived.

But, when the guy arrived, he kissed Sammy (my friend) on the lips. Then, he came in and he slapped the other girl’s butt. I thought, “Why would Sammy’s boyfriend do that in front of her?” Then they kissed too. They asked me, “Do you want to go to the party? Or can we have a party here?”

The third girl said, “I’m so tired from last night. Let’s stay here and enjoy ourselves.”

I didn’t know what “enjoy ourselves” meant. The guy went to pick up the food and that’s when Sammy and the other girl started kissing too. They started taking Tequila shots and said, “Let’s have a good time.”

I remember one of my friends had told me about what a threesome was, but I never, ever thought a threesome would be unfolding right in front of my eyes and that I would be invited to join. I thought, “I have to get out of here. What if the guy comes back? What’s going to happen? An orgy?”

While I was thinking, Sammy asked me to take a shot. I tried to keep it cool, but I was trying to figure out how to get out of that place. I said, “You know what, I have to add some money to my parking meter.” I stepped outside, and when I got outside, I ran like crazy and drove away. When I was writing my book, I was laughing at these memories.

Oh my gosh, I hope you have trustworthy friends now!

Now I have friends that I can trust from all genders and all orientations, but I remember how it was in the beginning.

I also have to know which story to choose. Every day came with a story, but I had to choose something that would be helpful for others.

For instance, how many other girls are out there trapped in that kind of “friendship” where friends will make you do whatever they want without even considering you? Which stories would be most meaningful to the people out there?

I’m an American now. But, the same questions remain: Am I an American? Or, do I still have to adjust and transition to adapt to this country?

There’s still something to learn every day. That is why the last part of the book is called The Transition Never Ends.

What message do you hope to convey in your book?

For immigrants, the main message is: You have to know good things are not easy to obtain. Whatever you want, you can get it, but you have to earn it in this country. It’s okay to keep your standards. Be alert; pay attention. That’s the main message to my fellow immigrants.

Some of them think that they’ll arrive in America and the next month they will be rich. That will never be the case. I had so many jobs. I delivered food. I was a caregiver. You have to work hard, but also remember that it’s okay to keep your standards.

For Americans: they have to learn at least a little bit about other cultures. You know that once a man told me, “You have such an exotic beauty, and accent. Where do you come from?” I told him I was from Rwanda and he asked, “Where is Rwanda city?” I told him it wasn’t a city, but a country.

I couldn’t believe that this man, who also held a master’s degree, didn’t know anything about the rest of the world.

If you could travel back in time, what is something you would say to your younger self?

I would tell my younger to take advantage of the opportunities I had in front of me. And I would love to come here younger.

If you had, your story and the message would be different though. There are so many people who need to hear your story.

That’s true. I am a stubborn woman, though. I don’t regret any standards I have. I would just say to my younger self, “You go, girl!”

When I came here, I didn’t speak any English. My academic background was in French and Kinyarwanda. Learning everything from scratch and going on to achieve a graduate degree. I’m proud of myself.

Are there any upcoming books or projects you’d like our readers to know about?

I am co-authoring my next book with a very good friend of mine.

There are many problems around the world: War, poverty, lack of education, human trafficking, sexual assault, etc. Initially, I was looking for a job in public health. I thought, “Do I really want to work on an office project? Or I can do something that can benefit the rest of the world?”

There are different global health crises, and we are trying to advocate for one of the emerging issues. Specifically, the cause very close to my heart is women's issues.

My [The sorrow of Forgotten Pearls] book will be about the different women who want to share their experiences as sexual assault survivors. It’s the worst thing. It destroys their dignity.

With many of these women, you can’t even call it just “rape” because it went beyond that. We are compiling these testimonies. There are many young girls, some as young as 8, some of who got HIV. Some got pregnant.

And now, we want the world to see this, and do something.

Hollywood, CA

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