threads of our fabric

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

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 🙂

Advertisements
 

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

SVG file, it's recommended nominally 550×550 i...

Image via Wikipedia

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

 

Status update: It’s complicated… March 28, 2011

Filed under: Community,Education — Sharon Asonganyi @ 1:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Globe icon.
Image via Wikipedia

Race and Ethnicity in America – By educating others about who we are and our cultural heritage, we are able to dismantle some commonly held stereotypes about us…The blending of racial and ethnic identities continues to challenge existing race classification systems used by the federal government of America: Asian, American Indian, Black, and White.

I have Cameroonian, Nigerian, and American cultural influences and ancestries. Now I really do wish that my parents had taken advantage of the opportunity to give birth to me in Scotland. Now that would have made for some great discussions! Regardless, I embrace all of me and how my heritage allows me more cultural sensitivity towards others. Enjoy a clip from Voices of America – Tackling this topic!!!

 

New AGE Project coming to Ohio!!! March 6, 2011

♥Click here for more info: Threads of Our Fabric Project in Ohio!!!♥

April 16, 2011

 

 

NPR Edition – Africans Making New Lives in America February 1, 2011

Filed under: Community,Reflections — Sharon Asonganyi @ 12:19 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Enjoy this brief yet informative interview with Dr. Wanjiru Kamau of the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation. Some of the comments on American social etiquettes certainly resonate with my past immigrant experiences. For example maintaining eye contact while speaking, difficulty with being on a first name basis with professors or supervisors, or superficial friendly attitude misperceptions also known as the half-hearted smile. What integration memories or faux-pas come to your mind as you reflect on your experience??…

Recording: NPR – Dr. Wanjiru Kamau (Kenya) and Tesfa Gemeda (Ethiopia)

Transcript: Africans Making New Lives in America


 

The vision behind my mission for African Girls January 20, 2011

So by now you have probably read my few posts and are asking yourself: “Where is she headed?”… Excellent question, so glad you asked!!!

As you are aware from my earlier posts, I am currently in the very early crafting phase of a development and integration program for African young ladies ages 15-24yrs. The vision is to provide a safe supported environment and opportunity where these young ladies can address important issues that come up during the transition process into America. Issues such as identity development, self-awareness, ethnic pride, cultural values and traditions etc. As I continue to review responses to the Threads of Our Fabric project survey that I had implemented in July 2010, most of the main issues identified in almost all of the surveys focused on the lack of information and a support network after entering the United States, and the rude awakening from pre-migration ideation.

I have always been fascinated by the latter. Let’s briefly talk about that migration fantasy that oftentimes morphs into a grotesque obsession, well for some of us who were lucky enough to have had time before taking the big flight. I had 48hrs from the moment I found out that I was leaving my first home to when I stepped on a plane headed for America. I like to call it my very own mini-operation “shock and awe”… But from what I have heard, the usual pre-migration story goes something like this…YAY! I am finally approved for a visa, but have to prepare big time before leaving. I have to go shopping for some necessities, there are school transcripts to gather, some personal properties to be redistributed, hearts to break and promises to be made during my extensive goodbyes. Oh America!…that land where I will make beaucoup money than I will know what to do with…I will return rich and successful!

Fast forward a few months, maybe years later to having taken the big flight…slowly reality drifts in…

You know…The “Is this the Promised Land?”…”What happened to the “Beamers, Benz, and Bentleys”, or the “Party Everyday”, that was guaranteed by expats when they came back with pockets full of money. The major, if not sole point of reference for preparing to migrate to America aside from popular western-world media. Sometimes it is the “I want to continue my schooling but the College Board’s evaluation report shows that my current academic credentials are not sufficient”

Constantly feeling as if you are stuck on a treadmill, running full speed ahead but in reality you are not really going anywhere… still in the same spot… Or do you find yourself using all your resources and strength scaling mountainous obstacles only to look-up once you reach the top into the horizon to see nothing but other mountain peaks in front of you? Feel free to insert your own “what happened to…” experience here. I know you have one…

Such scenarios are just a small portion of the number of challenges associated with immigration that can overwhelm anyone! The development and integration program is a personal commitment to invest resources towards the long-term welfare of recently immigrated young African ladies (15-24). Helping them explore this new world, understand the impact of the immigration process on their developmental processes, and successfully establishing themselves in America. I am looking for a counterpart seeking to implement something similar with young African men.

Personal Mantra: My problems are not my problems, but the perception of my problems.