I’ve recently been reflecting on a trend I’ve been witnessing more and more over the past few years; I’m labeling it the silent “My Culture is Better Than Yours” attitude. During these years, the refugee community where I live has continued to grow and I have been active in advocating for the various groups that arrive from other countries. Originally, my advocacy was in the area of simply providing information that I have learned about the populations entering the community to help others to be better informed during their interactions. For example, when a group of educators was visiting a Syrian family, I explained that they would be offered chai (tea) and that it is respectful to accept the offer. Since I was familiar with the family’s beliefs, I also suggested that the educators only make physical contact with family members of their same gender while greeting everyone. In my opinion, these were simple pieces of advice that were given by people within the non-American culture that would then help to respect both cultures while hoping for unification between the groups. My efforts were not guided towards changing one’s beliefs, nor changing their way of life. Instead, it was bringing awareness to that which a group may not know about another group in a way to help them to understand one another while building a new community together.
On the contrast, I have witnessed other actions from groups throughout the city that leave me frustrated, angry and heartbroken. In an effort to keep costs low and perhaps develop empowerment, some groups have begun to work with interpreters from within the refugee community. From the outside, this sounds like a good idea. However, one needs to keep in mind the differences in cultures. Does that culture view privacy rights the same as the American culture? If information is heard about a family, will it lower their class in the community due to a shameful stigma that is associated with a trait viewed as a weakness to others? Using interpreters that are not woven throughout this community would help to greatly decrease those negative possibilities. There are also groups that help with the orientation process to life in a new country for many refugee families who move here. This is an opportunity for a wonderful blessing and provides both sides with the chance to develop unforgettable friendships. However, if individuals are offering their help with certain stipulations, or in an effort to change people’s identities, then it is not what it appears to be on the surface and that devalues the beauty and power of the actions. If we truly wish to welcome others and help them to adjust to life in a new country, then we should do it with open minds. People are coming from experiences that not even Hollywood movies can accurately portray. They have lived lives that lead to memories which are never fully forgotten. They come with beliefs that have been developed over tens or hundreds of years. As a welcoming community, we should not simply expect people to change who they are because they step onto American soil. Yes, we may have different views, beliefs and opportunities, but that does not make us better. It also does not mean that we are “right” because it is the way we do things in our culture. A small example, a Congolese boy may “play” with peers very differently than an American boy. It does not mean he is violent, nor that he was poorly raised by his parents. It is just a difference in culture. Not all cultures focus on “being fair,” or “gentle” the way the American culture may be currently structured. Another example, some cultures believe in children playing together while adults sit separately and converse about adult topics. This does not mean than members of the American culture should view these parents as “negligent” nor “bad parents.” It is just a cultural difference, and from my experience, many children from this type of parenting format are very well rounded children. Perhaps observing other cultures’ parenting styles could help some families in America to re-evaluate their parenting styles and make some positive adjustments for the betterment of their children.
You see, part of the beauty of America is that we are a country full of diverse people. We literally have people from all over the world living in this one country and from that we can either choose to see the positive, or the negative. We can look at others and say that their culture is wrong and their beliefs are wrong. Or we can embrace that which makes them different and learn from them. This does not mean that our culture must change; perhaps we will even learn some things that strengthen our values. It simply means that we get to genuinely know one another and grow together. That we can draw on each other’s strengths and become better from our interactions with one another. We can learn to view things in a new light. We can swallow our pride and acknowledge that perhaps our culture does not do everything perfectly right. Instead of judging which culture is better, perhaps we could learn from the positive aspects among all of them. Living in America opens so many doors to beautiful possibilities. The question is: will you embrace the opportunity, or miss something truly special? The decision is up to you.
Ahmeli… that we will encircle refugees entering our country, not to reshape and change them, but rather to discover what we can learn from one another as we create dynamic futures as a united community.
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