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” (Skype.com).  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?

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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!

 

Welcome to America…Now What? July 31, 2011

Filed under: Education,Reflections — Sharon Asonganyi @ 9:59 pm
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I have had some interesting conversations and speechless moments this past week with friends and families about “Making it in America”. All of which have inspired me to begin a new series posting on the first experiences typically encountered by immigrants in new environments like unintentional jaywalking or attempts to bargain every price in stores.  I always laugh as I recall my early experiences of adjusting to life in America. I often wonder if such experiences are comparable to those of little children when they are exploring the world for the first time. Staring, curious, inquisitive, and experimenting…It is difficult having to fully function in a new country and making timely decisions with no frame of reference or any prior encounters with situations that would have given you wisdom for the future. Imagine moving from a rural villages in Fontem to New York City. One would have to learn all new rules of social interaction based on a different culture, which can be intimidating and scary. I hope that as you read some of my postings, that you will post your thoughts and comments, sharing your unique experience adjusting to life in a new country. Enjoy!

 

 

Value of words July 25, 2011

I just got off a phone call that has me thinking how easily words are used, written, and exchanged without any concrete value or meaning or intent. Especially conversations with service providers that often feel scripted especially when I have an issue with a product.

Imagine the frustration and headache for new immigrants who must navigate the countless multi-tiered systems in America. There is no such thing as “simple”. For example, if you are a victim of fraud. Someone steals your bank card and goes on a shopping spree. Naturally, one would expect a phone call to the bank which would lead to a freeze on the account and begin an investigation. In a couple of weeks you would have your restored funds because they are FDIC insured and a new bank card… WRONG!!! After getting through navigating the 1-800 automated system, you may be fortunate to reach a life rep who will make promises only to appease you and get you off the phone. Followed by an email with forms and further instructions…and the headache continues…words…

Photo courtesy of AEGEE Alicante

Promise “make a declaration assuring that something will or will not be done” (Dictionary.com)…Words that create expectations.

My Grandparents often told me stories that demonstrated the power and value of one’s word. Land was bought and sold by verbal agreements. Even today traditional marriages reflect this custom, two families agree that two people are married.  One can imagine how coming from this way of thinking and acting, it is natural to believe and trust the words that are spoken.

My time here in America has taught me quite a number of things. I believe that one of the most important lessons has been to use my words wisely, speak up, ask questions. Silence is not golden, in America it is deadly. Sometimes you may encounter unfair situations that would make you want to …

Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson

And sometimes you have to be assertive and aggressive to get what you want…it may not be my nature, but I had to adapt to survive.

Have you encountered similar situations where you had to adapt to new ways because your beliefs and cultural expectations were a handicap for you? Please share your thoughts 🙂

 

Me?!?!…Proud to be African?!?!…Abeg!! June 22, 2011

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Pride – Dictionary definition: “A feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired”

I always wonder where this deep affinity and sense of connectedness with anything African developed. Quite a puzzle… I cannot pinpoint the date, time, month, season, or event that was the catalyst for my African Pride. 

During my early immigrant years, I tried extremely hard to be not-African. The wardrobe change was the first effort to assimilate and become identified as an American. Matching was a big faux-pas. This was followed by working on rolling my R’s by watching all-American TV shows to absorb the culture, thought processes, and lifestyle. Over the course of high school, parts of me slowly faded into shadows, hidden from my peers not out of shame, but because it was much easier than having to explain me. Transitioning from a society and culture where I did not have to explain who I was or how we as a people do what we do, was very hard. The norms were drastically different. I found myself constantly answering many trivial questions such as “No, we do not live on trees” or “Africa is a continent and not a country” or “Yes, I learned english in Africa”…It was easier to develop a whole new persona and live a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy when interacting with the outside world. Ajong was kept for the home and family.

But once I arrived the university, I found myself living with a mini-UN. Women with varied ethnic and racial heritages – Albanian, Native American, Lebanese, Trinidad, Italian, Cameroonian – all in two-neigboring rooms. That was an amazing college experience and we are all still good friends today, celebrating marriages and births. Maybe it takes encountering others who are different to appreciate and value one’s cultural inheritance. It certainly did for me.

I continuously find myself in the mix of diverse cultures. Perhaps the pull and appeal to connect stems from the mutual understanding and similarities of our immigrant’s experience. Learning to create a home in a new world by integrating African origins with present surroundings. I entered the United States through D.C., as a scared, homesick, quiet little girl and have now cycled back to D.C. as a purposeful, driven, and confident woman. Just thinking about my social connection to many different parts of the world always brings a smile to my heart. Life truly is evolution and change. I feel very international with a strong tie to a global community, which is why I am thrilled to be part of the DC Mayor’s 2nd Annual African Festival…”One City: Many Voices” on July 16th (Takoma Recreation Center, 300 Van Buren Street, NW, Washington, DC)…if you are around…stop by, I would love to connect!

There’s a blogger’s village too for fellow insightful thought-provoking word junkies comme moi! So to close, I love my African heritage. Cameroon gave me values, family, and a foundation upon which to grow as a person. America dared me to explore and soar.

 

Enjoy one of my favorite clips about Africa

 

Visit Africa for FREE!!! June 12, 2011

Filed under: Community — Sharon Asonganyi @ 5:49 pm
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One does not necessarily have to travel to Africa in order to experience the myriad of cultures, ethnicities, vernacular, and cuisines. If you are in/around Washington D.C., JULY16th 2011 from 12-6pm at Takoma Recreation Center, the Mayor of DC’s Office on African Affairs will be hosting its 2ndAnnual African Festival!!! Come and enjoy the many rhythms and soul of Africa. Do not forget to bring your flag for the unforgettable “Parade of the Flag”.

The Threads of Our Fabric (TOF) Project is one of the event organizers (Check out the flyer). Please come out and show your support for showcasing the cultural and economic contributions of Africans in D.C.\

 

CAMEROON: Lessons from the Kitchen | World Pulse June 10, 2011

 

World Pulse

 

CAMEROON: Lessons from the Kitchen | World Pulse

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