threads of our fabric

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

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

 

World Pulse

 

CAMEROON: Lessons from the Kitchen | World Pulse

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LeThee’Ma Week 2: Home Sweet Home March 2, 2011

I began LeThee’Ma week 2 discussion with this Akan quote (Ghana): The family is like the forest, if you are outside it is dense, if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.

In reading this week’s thoughts that were so generously shared, I could see evident elements of this proverb. Undoubtedly, the foundational development of a sense of self occurs in the home. Who you are is shaped from a very early age by what occurs, is allowed, or disapproved. It seems as the skeletal core is established over childhood and becomes one’s support and framework for perceiving life. The cultural aspect is typically transferred through observation, questioning, and participation. Our mothers had a prominent role in shaping us and demonstrating various cultural values through food, clothes, stories, hair styles, or language. It is amazing how modeling extrinsic features helps build an internal sense of self and a sense of belonging in relation to a group of people.

As we grow and evolve in relation to other family members, we are still uniquely shaped by our “other” environments such as school, work, friends, or hobbies.

As for me, home is defined as wherever and whenever family is present. Although shared memories may give special meaning to physical places, there is nothing much better than the understanding smile of a mother, the hug of a father, or bantering with siblings. By them accepting, encouraging, and nurturing my true self, I am emboldened to freely express ME as I venture into different environments.

In the shadow of my fabric

 

My Blended Story February 23, 2011

File:Cameroon COA.svgAs I continue work on the Threads of Our Fabric Project, I find myself spending a significant part of time reflecting on my own immigrant’s story. My childhood was left in Cameroon and my identity as a young adult developed in America…  What began as an ongoing personal quest for self-understanding continues to evolve into a life project.

During my interactions with the many young women I have interviewed over the past 7 months, it is as if spirit recognizes spirit at every encounter.  Particularly for those considered the 1.5 immigrant generation, like myself. We instantly bond over shared difficulties and experiences. Over the course of a 30-45 mins conversation (sometimes longer!), we recognize a shared core, a mirroring of souls. Understanding beyond words the journey that brought us to a new country, the many trials and successes of  integrating. Most importantly, the weight of not fully belonging to the land we emigrated from or the one to which we now belong. Though connected in our new communities, there are often feelings of isolation because of how intimately our unique identities become tied to the overall experience. Over time, I have personally found that I have been able to preserve some of my culture. Thanks to my family and being part of the Cameroonian community in various states. However, I had to adjust over time to accommodate my identity that emerged in the context of American society.

The United States

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Threads of Our Fabric February 19, 2011

It is still quite surreal seeing my name in print…Here is an article from the Silver Spring Gazette on a part of the The Threads of Our Fabric Project…Enjoy and thank you for your support!

Silver Spring woman hopes focus groups will connect female African immigrants

Focus groups will connect female African immigrants

by Alison Bryant | Staff Writer

Sharon Asonganyi considers her life a vibrant tapestry.

Threads of childhood in Cameroon weave through fibers of adolescence in the United States. A strand of a career crosses another of family. Femininity knots up with friendship.

“My fabric is so diverse,” Asonganyi said. “It’s the influence of Africa and America in one. When we start adding all these fibers of my fabric, it’s very diverse.”

And it’s this colorful cloth — the events and experiences that shape a life — that Asonganyi wants to help African females living in Silver Spring unfold through focus groups. Threads of Our Fabric, a program Asonganyi founded, will bring together African females between the ages of 15 and 24 to discuss themes such as identity, roles, family expectations and tradition.

Groups of about 10 young women will meet every other week beginning in March to network and connect, Asonganyi said.

Asonganyi said she emigrated from Cameroon to the United States at 13 in 1997 and found herself struggling to embrace a new culture while holding on to that of her home country. Upon first arriving, Asonganyi wanted to blend in with her American peers, she said.

“I didn’t want to braid my hair,” she said. “I didn’t want to be identified with African. I didn’t want to be different.”

But over time, she said she learned to find a balance between her identity in America and her roots in Africa. A balance that’s not necessarily easy to find.

“You’re negotiating all these things … in a new country,” Asonganyi said. “Figuring out who I am, what’s important to me and trying to understand, somewhere in between, their culture and tradition.”

The struggle prompted Asonganyi to form the focus groups that will help other young women experiencing similar emotions to talk and reflect. Sitting together, she said, African females can openly and honestly discuss the challenges with identity and negotiating young adulthood in a new country.

“Our relationships are very important to us,” Asonganyi said. “In periods of stress, women tend to default to relating, and I think that would be something really good in this group — to promote the culture of relating. This is African to African or recent immigrant to recent immigrant.”

Asonganyi said she has reached out to churches, African restaurants and stores to track down women who might be interested in attending a focus group.

Fijoy Fisiy, a friend of Asonganyi who also emigrated from Cameroon, said she met Asonganyi through a mutual group of friends from Africa. Asonganyi, she said, had been talking about starting a program for more than a year and a half.

“I said, ‘Well, go ahead and do it because you’re so passionate about it,’ ” Fisiy said.

Fisiy said she did not have the luxury of connecting with other immigrants when she first got to the United States. But she provided emotional support for her younger siblings, she said. And the focus groups will offer females a similar sense of family.

Asonganyi’s success will lie in her passion for developing strong networks for African immigrants, she said.

“I listen,” Asonganyi said. “I think that’s something that’s very rare because everyone is so busy and on the go. I’m not going to judge you. I will listen. And with youth, I think it gives them that sense of value that their opinions and thoughts are important.”

 

The Kitchen February 12, 2011

Filed under: Reflections — Sharon Asonganyi @ 8:38 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

One thing that is central to my culture is cooking. Not just the act of skillfully putting together ingredients and composing a delicacy that utterly tickles the pallet…but what goes on with all those involved. For example, today, Grandma (Big mami or Ma The) woke up and made breakfast for the kids who typically rise with the dawning of the sun. This is a blessing to the 9 to 5’ers of the week who can get some extra hours of rest. Once my aunt and I woke up, the day’s activities really began. Frying of fish, cooking of egusi soup to be accompanied by water fufu. Everyone always has a task which is assigned by the eldest in the kitchen – Ma The.

As the dishes were being tended to with our hands, our hearts and voices shared news from the week, memories from home (Cameroon), and offered solutions to the myriad of personal challenges in our lives.

Cooking is a life-giving force from the physical nourishment it provides to the spiritual bond of generational sisterhood. In the kitchen sorrows and joys are shared, juicy gossip is exchanged, but most importantly values and tradition is transferred. For example, in today’s story – respect and teamwork.

 

He said what?!?…The other side weighs in! January 29, 2011

If you search in facebook African Girl Development you will land on the page I have been managing since the beginning of 2011 – African Girl Development in the U.S. Everyday I pose thought provoking questions geared towards one of the following themes:  the African woman’s identity, engaging the youth in African Affairs, and my current initiatives to empower young African ladies.

One of the discussion topics in my kitchen was “Definition of an African Woman”. Who is an African Woman? What comes to mind when you hear these words?

Here is the response from an African brother:

“What comes to mind is a very hardworking woman, with a very powerful caring gentle spirit for the family. My mind sees a woman who sacrifices much for her family and the society, unfortunately with very little say in the happenings of her environment, almost totally controlled by reasonable and sometimes unreasonable men. Despite their work, courage, intuitive common sense, some African cultures still prevent them from going to universities, sell and force them into marriages, and do not acknowledge any reasoning and opinions from females about family and societal development.

What comes to mind is a strong woman with little to no say in world issues.”

What is your response? Do you agree or disagree? What has been your experience? Have we acquiesced with this popular definition or is  it changing?

Who am I?