The distance from Trinidad-Tobago to Roanoke is 2,172 miles, that is the distance that Kris Ramsingh traveled to find his own American dream. Kris was born and raised in Penal, Trinidad-Tobago. Seventeen years ago he met and married his American wife Linda and almost seven years ago decided to move to America. They and their six year old son Taylor live in Roanoke City.
When he landed in Miami on his first day in America, he got his green card and his social security number so he would be here legally. His wife’s daughter sponsored him, so he was able to pay his fees, get the necessary vaccinations and go through Homeland Security screening. He came with $300 in his pocket and got immediately to work.
In Trinidad-Tobago, he had worked for a boat builder repairing fiberglass and designing upholstery and interiors for mega yachts. As part of the job he sailed all over the world to work with clients. When he was a child, a “white man came to my school and paid for me to get my seamans license and gave me my first break,” said Ramsingh. He learned all about boatworks, fiberglass, custom upholstery and more.
Trinidad-Tobago is actually two separate islands which are made up of mostly native Trinidadians and Toaogans (depending on which island they are from) which align with the Christian leaning political party PNM, and Indians which align with the Hindu and Muslim PPL party. He didn’t feel he fit in with either party and says he hated the politics of his country. Even though he grew up Hindu and Muslim, he has since converted to Christianity.
His first job in Roanoke was at local furniture manufacturer where he ran a training line. He said that he soon realized that most people did not want to work, they just wanted a paycheck. Ramsingh said, “The welfare system in America is unbelievable, there is no motivation to work.”
About a year ago he opened his own business, Dominion Custom Upholstery, located on Williamson Road. He had no money, so he spoke to his landlord, who agreed to accept one month’s rent and no deposit just to get them started. All he owned were his tools and a strong desire to tap into the American dream.
“I know that comes from working hard. [The new venture] put my family in jeopardy, but I prayed about it and felt the time was right,” said Ramsingh. He attributes his success not to himself, but to God, church, his friends and relatives.
Recently he helped with the remodel of the Regency Room at the Hotel Roanoke, re-covering 90 chairs. He did all the furniture for the Steadman House in Florida and some of the Homestead remodel. His work is steadily growing – all by word of mouth. He has one full time and two part time employees, as well as Linda, who he credits as his “backbone.”
New Life Christian Ministry is the family church they belong to. His pastor, Tony Atkinson, has guided him through many hard decisions over the years. Three times he has had the opportunity to move from Roanoke and three times his pastor counseled him that he needed to stay. He wanted to be on the water, so as a compromise, he opened a second business, Boat Works & More, where he does fiberglass work on boats at Smith Mountain Lake.
He is considered a “permanent resident” now, but is saving his money to apply for citizenship. “I want to be a part of the community, I want to salute the flag,” says Ramsingh. He is a conservative and a Republican, who likes to make fun of himself and what people consider his “minority” status.
He said that trade in America is dying and most kids “don’t know what a nail is or what it is for.” He is in talks right now to open a third business, an industrial arts school to teach boat building, upholstery, fiberglass, photography, welding and more. He says his greatest love is to teach and he feels kids need to learn a trade, have faith in God, and be involved in their community.
“My goal is to see kids proud again, proud of what they can do. I was given a break at a young age and I want to give a break to a kid,” a sentiment his wife echoes. Some day he hopes a kid can look back and say, “Kris gave me the break I needed.”
Kris can be reached at email@example.com.
- Carla M. Bream