Brown Girl Bosses: Meet Immigration Lawyer Nayomi Deen
Written by: Priya Balakumar
Nayomi Deen is an Indo-Caribbean Immigration Lawyer who uses her skills and platforms to empower and uplift her community. Nayomi was born in Trinidad and her parents, like many others, left her with her grandparents for a short period of time and came to the U.S during the migration period of the late 1980s. When her parents were able to bring her over to the U.S., Nayomi spent most of her early childhood watching her father work his way up in the hospitality field in Newark, New Jersey and learning reading, writing, and basic math from her mother who stayed at home with her. These early lessons jump started her love for books and her desire to excel in school.
Growing up, Nayomi proudly identified as “Trinidadian.” She explains, "The Indo-Caribbean identification actually came pretty recently. I have always identified as a Trinidadian, or a “Trini”--- and still do. I love my general Caribbean culture, but being from Trinidad and Tobago carries its own special feeling of pride because of how rich and diverse our culture is for such a small island.” Recently, Nayomi has started introducing herself as an Indo-Caribbean Trinidadian. As more conversations are happening about our unique history, culture and ancestry, she feels that it is important to embrace our identity. One thing that encouraged her to identify as Indo-Caribbean is developing a better understanding of how she can be an advocate and stand by her Afro-Caribbean friends and family members.
As Nayomi continues to educate herself and others, she aims to be a voice of awareness and hopefully change within our Indo-Caribbean community.
To Nayomi, being Indo-Caribbean means understanding and honouring the struggles of her ancestors who gave up their homes to go to an unknown part of the world. It means recognizing the generational trauma that comes along with this and being aware of how that has been passed down to her. She explains, “It also means being proud of their resilience and appreciating that because of their sacrifices, I was able to be born in a diverse, multicultural nation that allows me to share space with other races and nationalities, an experience that has prepared me to live as an immigrant woman among even more diversity in the United States.” As Indo-Caribbean women, we should always be proud of our culture, the colour of our skin and the strength of those who came before us. We should continue to uplift one another, knowing that when one of us succeed, we all do. Nayomi said that as a Indo-Caribbean woman, she is “Most proud of the tenacity and strength of the women who came before me and the personal sacrifices they made in their efforts to raise their families amidst so many struggles such as domestic violence, financial hardship, alcoholism, and psychological issues that they may not have been able to recognize or articulate. Because of those women, I am now able to use my voice vehemently.”
As a female Immigration Lawyer, Nayomi has faced various obstacles in her journey. In the law field, which is heavily dominated by men, there are often instances where you can be taken advantage of and undervalued. Now, being an Indo-Caribbean lawyer means that as a person of colour and a minority, you will sometimes be judged by your appearance. Nayomi shares, “There were many instances where individuals would mistake me for a client instead of the attorney, or verbally belittle me. This behavior came from both men and women.” She explained that to be successful in this field, it is important to maintain a work ethic and self-respect that people remember. As an Indo-Caribbean woman, it is important to always believe in yourself and never let anyone make you feel small. We have so much talent, experience and skills to share with the world, and we should not let anyone stand in the way of our dreams.
“The perspective I am able to provide to the clients and colleagues. I have my own unique story and an awareness and understanding of people of different backgrounds. Because I am able to see the beauty in diversity, I am able to use that perspective to practice my career with more empathy and meaning.”
While working in the immigration field, Nayomi comes across many people who are in similar situations that her family have found themselves in in the past. She explains “The immigration story is unique to every individual and family, but many of the themes are the same. It is easy to let emotions overcome you at times and this is something I have to be aware of.” Being an immigrant herself, Nayomi is able to understand the struggles and obstacles that minority immigrants are still facing today. She uses her experience to help empower and navigate these families.
Growing up, Nayomi was always someone who has been better with words than numbers. From a young age, she knew that she wanted to do something where she could use her voice, whether it be speaking, writing or both. She says, “I didn’t intend on becoming an attorney, but my passion for immigrant rights and the knowledge that I could actually make a difference in this field led me to law school. At first, my goal was to become a journalist and share these stories that often go untold. I then realized, through observing struggles within my own family and speaking to others in my community, how detrimental and life-altering it can be when a well-intentioned person is unaware of the law.”
During her time in law school, Nayomi became an Immigrant Rights Fellow and held numerous events and speaking engagements for the local community. She also participated in internships to better educate herself. As she completes the first couple years of her career journey, Nayomi continuously works to advocate and lead with empathy, confidence, and fortitude. Nayomi shares that “I now work in a position where I listen to stories of refugees and they tell me the most traumatic, heartbreaking things that have happened to them. I feel their pain when they describe being separated from their family members. I still believe that sharing stories is how we become more understanding and tolerant of each other and effectively listening – not just speaking – is in my opinion the best way to empower another person at any stage of their journey.”
Nayomi’s persistence and passion for helping others has led her to land some amazing learning opportunities in the law field.
As she continues to educate herself and others, she uses her platform to make a difference in the lives of those who can’t help themselves. Nayomi plans to continue to serve those less fortunate by eventually working her way up to a judicial position in the field of Immigration Law. Nayomi is a strong advocate for mental health awareness and oftens says “Any success in my career is only a factor of my mental and emotional wellbeing, which I have decided, in recent years, to make a priority.”
When we asked her what advice she would give to Indo-Caribbean women who are interested in pursuing a career in the Immigration Law field, Nayomi shares,“I would warn them against underestimating themselves. I feel that I spent a lot of time questioning my abilities, which held me back on many occasions. I built the confidence to overcome this by experiencing achievement, but I’d want them to know that it’s already there inside of them.”
The secret to success is believing in yourself even when no one else does.
Making mistakes is part of the learning process and it helps us grow and learn how to navigate the different obstacles that will arise in the future.Nayomi explains, “Although I am just starting out, I’ve already had many failures in my career, which have ultimately helped me. I am proud of my attempts at turning negative experiences in my life into lessons. I feel that these traits-- courage, empathy, determination, compassion – are what really makes a person a boss and defines their character.”