RICHMOND, Va. — He’s in the biggest film in the world right now and he’s undocumented.
Bambadjan Bamba, an actor from the west African country of Ivory Coast, is just one of nearly a million young immigrants who came to the US as children and received temporary status under the Obama era policy called DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“When the administration says they wanted to cancel DACA, that’s when I decided I couldn’t stay quiet anymore,” Bamba told CNN in a recent interview.
That’s why the 36-year-old, a son of immigrants who sought and received asylum, is now speaking out about his status. A working actor for 10 years, Bamba has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “Suicide Squad.”
“I needed to use my voice as an actor to try to humanize this issue and try to put a face and a voice to who DACA recipients really are,” Bamba said.
Bamba spoke French and the Mande language Jula when he arrived in a South Bronx school as a frightened 10-year-old, but he didn’t speak a lick of English. Teachers put him in an all-Spanish class, where, he recalled, he felt more lost than ever.
“The African kid who spoke French was tricking me all day,” Bamba said with a laugh. “I asked him, ‘Hey, I want to go to the bathroom. How do I say that?’ And he goes, ‘Kiss my butt.'”
Bamba’s family eventually left the South Bronx and settled in Richmond, Virginia, where they opened up a hair-braiding business that they still operate today.
Eventually, his parents were successful in their application for political asylum and have since become naturalized US citizens. But by the time they got asylum Bamba was 21, too old to share in his parents’ newly won status; underscoring how lengthy and complicated the immigration process can be, even when would-be legal immigrants follow the rules.
“We’re hanging on in the balance,” Bamba said. “We’re being forced to make a choice: are we willing to take a [legal] path to citizenship in exchange for our families being torn apart?”
Bamba’s uncertainty is rooted in whether Congress and the President will eventually decide that “Dreamers” like Bamba will have to leave the country before reapplying to return legally.
Married ten years, Bamba and his wife had their first child just over a year ago. His lack of permanent status hangs over his family like a cloud, Bamba said. He has incorporated the stress of not knowing his future into his daily life. Bamba puts his faith in his Catholic religion, he said, and sees his own daughter’s birth as a sign that the status of “Dreamers” will eventually be resolved amicably.
“Doctors told us it was impossible, there was no way you all are gonna have kids. She’s a miracle baby.” Bamba said. “If she was able to happen, then I believe this immigration thing is not as big a miracle as she is.”
Bamba’s role in “Black Panther” is small. His character, not prominent enough for a name, is credited as “Militant Leader.” When he spoke to CNN the week before the film opened, Bamba wasn’t certain if he made the final cut of the film.
But he did. He even has a line.
A small role, maybe, but for a son of immigrants fleeing political strife, who didn’t speak any English when he arrived, it’s a star-turn of Oscar proportions.
“I’ve gotten very lucky. I have a lot of grace,” Bamba said. “I still believe in the American dream and I am an example of the American dream.”