Miami Stories

Miami Stories: An arranged marriage, a fulfilling life

Elaine Rampersaud and her husband Neville in 1986.
Elaine Rampersaud and her husband Neville in 1986. Courtesy

In 1986, Miami International Airport was pretty scary for a first-time traveler coming from Guyana, a small country in South America.

The escalator comes readily to mind when I think of that overwhelming experience. Although I saw others stepping on it, I was deathly afraid of this incredibly long, moving staircase. I just stood there, my fear weighing me down and keeping me rooted in place. The gentleman behind me gently suggested that I step on and he would stay close. I made it down safely and have been living in Miami since that beautiful July 4th day.

I came to Miami by way of marriage. Whenever anyone wants to know how my husband Neville and I met and I tell them that we had an arranged marriage, many of them balk and I can see the questions tumbling around in their minds. Most times, it’s a high-pitched, capitalized, one-word question that is punctuated with endless question marks, “REALLY????” A smiling “yes” will always be my response.

In the course of the conversation, I would often get this one, “Do you guys fight?” Of course, we do! Which marriage is without its ups and downs? As we continue chatting, the million-dollar question comes out, “Were you forced into this arranged marriage?” It is at that point that I have to explain that not all arranged marriages are forced. In my case, my husband’s parents met with my parents and marriage was discussed. I made the final decision.

I met my husband in February 1986 when he visited Guyana for a week. I gave him a resounding “yes” the day after I met him. He returned to Miami and we got to know each other through our letter writing. He came back to Guyana in June of that year, we got married, and he returned to Miami a week later. I followed on July 4th.

My husband and I lived in West Kendall in a condo on Southwest 157th Avenue and Sunset Drive. There were only fields west of 157th Avenue. Today, that area is a vibrant, highly populated neighborhood; it is hard to believe that it was once quiet and tranquil.

My first year of marriage was the “dating” year — it was the time my husband I and got to know each other. We went on a lot of dinner and movie dates, sometimes catching a double at the theater. We were frequent visitors at the Don Carter bowling alley. Not knowing anything about the sport, I cheered myself on even when a single pin fell. Often, we were tourists — enjoying the sights, scenes and recreation of Miami. Many Saturdays we got up at 5 in the morning to make the drive to Key Largo to fish. Sometimes, the catch was abundant and other times we returned home with an empty bucket.

My first job was at Eckerds (now CVS) as a cashier. I have many fond memories of this first U.S. work experience. A few months into the job, a customer referred me to the manager at Amerifirst for a teller’s position. That job also offered a few “firsts” in my early years in Miami. I took a taxi for the first time ever to the interview. I had my first lie detector test. I wore my first skirt suit. I earned my first “big” paycheck, and I drove my first car.

Keeping with firsts, by our first wedding anniversary, I was pregnant with our first child. Over the next nine months, we took our first Lamaze class. I had my first C-section, and I held my first-born in my arms. Six months after we welcomed our baby girl into the world, we moved into our first home in the Hammocks area.

Over the next five years, we were blessed with two more children — a boy and another girl. Our children have grown up and made warm, fond memories in this same home since 1988.

At the age of 26, I decided to go to Miami Dade College to pursue an associate’s degree in elementary education. Two years later, I transferred my credits to Florida International University and graduated with a B.A. in December 1998. In January 1999, I was extremely lucky to start my teaching career at an elementary school close to my home.

In 2002, I was granted a full scholarship to pursue an Urban Master’s degree at FIU. I took classes in the evening and some Saturdays. At FIU, I interacted with many brilliant professors and students who continue to have an impact on me. Miami has bestowed upon me the wonderful opportunity of education.

Miami has also blessed me with beautiful gifts of friendship. I have great memories of being welcomed warmly into the hearts and homes of my husband’s friends and relatives. My husband and I meet often with those same friends and some new ones for fundraising for charities, cricket games and religious and cultural activities.

Some of our most cherished memories with our friends are of the marathons we completed to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My husband ran his marathon in 2001 and I walked mine in 2010. In 2011, a group of us participated in the Disney Wine & Dine half marathon to mark our 25th wedding anniversary. My husband slowed his pace so we could cross the finish line together!

Miami is my home. I love the cultural, flavorful diversity here. I love it that nobody notices our Guyanese accent! Miami and all those with whom I’ve come in contact have nurtured me into the woman I am today. I’m glad that my marriage was arranged with a wonderful man in Miami.

Today, although I am no longer afraid of escalators, I must admit that navigating Miami International Airport can still be a challenge.

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About Miami Stories: This project is a partnership between HistoryMiami, Miami Herald Media Co., WLRN and Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship.

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