threads of our fabric

Reflections on navigating between two cultures and understanding the self-awareness process

Get connected and get married all via Skype? August 22, 2011

Filed under: Community — Sharon Asonganyi @ 11:04 pm
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I recently came across an interesting article through my usual random web browsing.  This situation occurred earlier this year and totally tugged my heart strings. Due to an unfortunate incident, a groom found himself in an intensive care unit at the hospital the day before his wedding. This is definitely on the list of the top ten worst nightmares for any bride. Families had flown in from different countries, contractors had been paid, everything was set for a magical experience and the only, but most important missing element was the groom. After considering the financial cost of delaying or canceling the event, both families decided to rely on an innovative use of technology – Skype. “Skype is for doing things together, whenever you’re apart” (  Well why not get married in time though separated in space? Imagine a stunning bride gracefully walking down the aisle and up the alter to meet her soon to be husband who is lying on his hospital bed in front of a webcam. Both bride and groom are connected via Skype. As for the rest of the wedding festivities…well…you know how the plot usually goes…

So I got to thinking…If I was marrying an African man who respects the values and traditions of culture but all our families are spread across continents. “Would Skype be an option?, What would it be like if I had my traditional wedding ceremony with the aid of technology?, Has an African ever done this before?” I know a number of friends who have flown to Africa to perform their marriage ceremony duties. The costs often associated with these proceedings are typically astronomical especially when the accompanying entourage is factored into the traveling equation. The alternative is a marriage by proxies, whereby representatives from both sides of the families perform the traditional marriage rites in Africa on behalf of the couple who reside perhaps in America.

How would the use of technology impact or redefine how marriages are conducted? Does it devalue the intimacy and weight of the formalities involved? In the case of African traditional weddings, will the elders, some of whom have never been exposed to video chat platforms, be comfortable with its use or feel that tradition was being disrespected?

For most Africans, the union between a man and woman is typically conducted in a unique fashion. Usually couples will perform a combination of traditional, religious, and legal weddings. The traditional ceremony often centers on the formal recognition by both families that their children have pledged to live and grow old with one another. This involves a series of rituals between both the families and couples. Each African tribe has its distinctive nuances but overall the traditional ceremony is quintessential in most African countries and is a ceremony wherein the union is blessed by elders. Additionally, both families pledge to support the new couple as they transition into a new stage in their lives.

Personally, when I think about “I do” occurring virtually, as exciting as the ease of using technology to bring families together regardless of geographical location may be, I am still flooded by personal questions… Does it take away from the intimacy of holding your special someone’s hand, lovingly gazing into her/his eye,  eagerly awaiting to hear the final bonding words -I now pronounce you husband and wife?

Technology has indeed infiltrated many aspects of our daily lives. Sometimes circumstances as the instance in the introduction may necessitate the use of technology to facilitate the bonding of two lives. We rely on various gadgets and gizmos to live such as monitoring security systems in our homes via phone, conducting day-to-day banking transactions, grocery shopping, automatic car starters, gps navigation, online courses etc…So why should marriage be an exemption? The world is always coming up with new and creative ways to use existing technologies. Sometimes these innovative uses have societal changing implications that may be a blessing or a curse.

What are your thoughts? Does the use of technology violate the sanctity and uniqueness of a marriage ceremony?


Welcome to America – Themes in the life of an African Immigrant August 11, 2011

The American Psychological Association recently held its 119th Annual Convention in Washington D.C. As an African immigrant woman, I am also very excited because one of APA’s new directives this year includes an Immigration Taskforce charged to examine the intersect of psychology and immigration on a number of levels ranging from individual mental wellness to policy implications. I was privileged to attend one of the APA Convention sessions: “Humanizing the Dehumanized: Psychological Implications of the Immigration Experience”. Yes, I was thrilled to be in the midst of others who were passionate about this subject. Dr. Suarez-Orozco (Immigration Taskforce team  lead) opened up the plenary session with a quote that reminded me of the paradox of our times when it comes to the contention around immigration in America:

“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest – lost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Statue of Liberty – USA)

What are your thoughts about this statement? How does this compare to your initial or present experience in America?… Sounds quite like an open invitation with a promise of freedom and refuge doesn’t it?…

To most, however, the warmth of such an invitation is rarely a reality. The immigrant experience in the United States is filled with isolation, language barriers/communication issues, loneliness, culture shock, limited access to resources, and loss of identity. The experience is often ripe with psychological distress and sociocultural barriers which can last for years. 

Relocating to and navigating a new environment/new world is never easy. My personal story is uniquely mine but it has universal themes that reflect the common immigrant’s experience. Immigrants are one of the fastest growing populations in America. In 1990, 8 million children had 1 immigrant parent compared to 16.6 million in 2006. Further, 1 in 4 school-aged children are predominantly second generation, english as a primary language learners, and have foreign-born parent(s). With this shift in the demographic fabric of America, there are increasing myths, stigma, and misperceptions about immigrants. My goal is to write from a personal perspective as I discuss various topics related to the immigrant girl and woman’s experience. I invite you to also comment or share your experiences. My posts will pull from interviews and surveys that I have conducted over the past year as well as personal anecdotes.

I have identified some themes that I will touch upon in a number of upcoming posts (just for starters):

  1. Impact on Family
  2. Education/Academia
  3. Employment
  4. Mental Wellness/Resilience
  5. Culture/Ethnic Identity Categorization

Do you have any other suggestions of topics that I should tackle? Please comment and I will be sure to discuss them. Thanks!