Martine Kalaw '99 has written a memoir, Woman Without an Identity, regarding her journey through a seven-year battle as an undocumented immigrant without a family to becoming a senior level executive with an advanced degree, a father, and U.S. citizenship.
"I started to write my story because I was too afraid to speak," said Kalaw. "I felt invisible and the words I put on paper was the only voice I had. I was undocumented for thirteen years and in deportation for seven. I feared for my life and was at risk of being sent to a detention facility because I was also stateless. If something terrible was going to happen to me I needed people to know that I existed and that I wasn't just an 'illegal alien'."
Martine spent ten years writing an original memoir, a process she has described as "cathartic." After meeting with editors at Penguin and Random House she was frustrated with their opinions that she was too young to write her own story because it hadn't even started yet.
"A few years later I actually got my citizenship, my father found me through LinkedIn, and I went to Africa with one of my closest friends, another St. Anne's-Belfield alum, to meet my father," remembered Kalaw. "That was where the real story began and I wrote an entirely new manuscript."
Following her graduation from St. Anne's-Belfield School in 1999, Kalaw earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hamilton College in 2003, where she majored in world politics. In 2004 she was awarded a Master of Public Administration degree with a Certificate of Legal Studies from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Foreign Affairs at Syracuse University. Her area of focus in her graduate studies was immigration law.
On May 18, 2007, Kalaw served as a panelist and speaker to the U.S. House of Representative's Judiciary Subcommittee's hearing on Immigration Reform, where she shared her story and spoke on behalf of the DREAM Act. She has also been a featured speaker on immigration reform at various forums and rallies, including Senator McCain's Town Hall Rally on Immigration in New York City in February 2006 and her story has appeared in editorials in publications such as USA Today, Metro New York, and The New York Sun.
"I always knew that I wanted to become a writer but I didn't always believe that I was capable of excelling at it," said Kalaw. "I remember the first real story I wrote called The Bloody Finger when I was ten years old. I wanted it to be part of the Goosebumps collection. I thought that I wanted to be like Stephen King and writer thrillers. I spent three years writing that story by hand. It's so cute to read it now ... In 1997, when I was in eleventh grade I (came to) St. Anne's-Belfield School and I was introduced to Karen O'Neill, my English teacher. Mrs. O'Neill's passion for creative writing was addictive and she encouraged me to tell my story. One day she actually told me that I was a writer. I guess you could say that I wrote my first memoir that year and gifted it to my friends as a Christmas present. Little did I know that the story was just unfolding and that I would have so much more to write about years later."
Kalaw returned to campus in 2007 to serve as the kenynote speaker at that year's Convocation ceremony. Since then she has built and executed learning/training programs globally for fortune 500 companies and start-ups. She is also the sole proprietor of Martine Kalaw Enterprises, LLC a holding company that promotes her motivational speaking, books, and consulting work.
Kalaw was born in Zambia, but lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) until the age of four when she immigrated to the United States. Since her journey to Zambia in November 2014 to meet her father, she is proud to call both the U.S. and her native Africa home. As a recent U.S. passport holder, Kalaw's newfound passion is travelling globally and being a citizen of the world.
Woman Without an Identity will be published on April 12, 2018. Pre-orders are available via Publishizer through April 5, 2018.