threads of our fabric

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

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!

 

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

 

I am an alien… June 7, 2011

Last night while walking briskly to my Pilates class, I pondered about the day’s tasks yet to be accomplished…whether I would have the energy to do laundry even though it entails just dumping the clothes in a washing machine. Then my thoughts quickly switched over to my newly acquired ingredients for a recommended acne therapy (if successful I will share the recipe in a later post)…All these thoughts buzzing through my head, bouncing from one random thought unto another. All of a sudden I hear…”Excuse me ma’am, would you like to sign a petition to stop illegal aliens from getting tuition at University of Maryland?”. All the thoughts in my mind abruptly stopped and all I could think was “Are you serious?!?!…” I stared unbelievably at the sign on the ground and looked at a serious face extending a tablet that already had some signatures on it. Oh, I would have loved to have some choice words with him but everyone has the right to free expression even if it conflicts with other’s ideals…So I pleasantly smiled, casually and slyly replied “I am an alien…” turned and coolly walked away, but not before noticing the blank, stunned expression on his face.

 

As I walked away to my Pilates class, I was saddened by the thought that the man carrying out this petition will never experience the beauty of interacting with others from different cultural backgrounds. I felt sorry that he was not aware of the circumstances surrounding the difficult choice of migrating to new countries. Or that most students on visas have to pay full tuition as well as living expenses without the authorization to work in America. I would have stayed in Cameroon, it was home as a little girl. Alas, leaving was not my choice. I am nonetheless grateful for the opportunities and new life afforded me in the United States. As I continue working on the Threads of Our Fabric (TOF) Project, I have met amazing, inspiring individuals who have exposed me to new African cultures: Congo, Mali, Uganda, Namibia, Kenya, just to name a few… My life has been made so much richer and fuller with friends across the continent who are wonderful individuals.

 

Just another random affirmation why the TOF Project is needed to raise awareness, educate, and connect others to the immigrant’s experience.

 

QUESTION: Have you had any similar experiences or encounters that made you pause and think?

 

U.S. Gov’t Press Release:Cameroon’s Anniversary/Unity Day May 20, 2011

Filed under: Community — Sharon Asonganyi @ 11:12 am
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Not only did this week feature Secretary Clinton’s Global Diaspora Forum, but it also marks the 39th  Anniversary of Cameroon’s Unification as one. May the spirit that brought us together, guide us especially with the upcoming elections. May we learn lessons and strategies from our neighboring countries that can be peaceably and fairly implemented. Here is the press release below or you can visit the State Government’s website by clicking here: Cameroon’s Anniversary 

 

 

Cameroon‘s Anniversary of Independence

 

 

Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 19, 2011

 


 

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Cameroon as you celebrate the anniversary of your independence this May 20. Our two nations share an enduring partnership that reflects our long history working on behalf of common causes.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps this year, we honor the Peace Corps volunteers who have partnered with Cameroonians in rural villages and urban towns. Since 1962, more than 3,000 Volunteers have worked with Cameroon to help improve the quality of lives and empower individuals and communities throughout the country.

The United States remains committed to working with the Cameroon Government as it seeks to strengthen democracy, governance, and rule of law. We look forward to seeing the people of Cameroon exercise their right to vote later this year in a free, fair, and credible Presidential election.

As you celebrate this special occasion, know that the United States stands with you. We are committed to this enduring partnership to help build a more peaceful and prosperous future for all our people.

 

PRN: 2011/791

 

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

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

 

CARE 2011 – 10,000 Women Strong Project March 11, 2011

Hello – As I gather my thoughts from an inspirational CARE 2011 National conference that took place in Washington, DC, please enjoy one of the many featured highlights of the experience! More on my thoughts to come!

 

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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