A day in the lives of refugee and other immigrant families settling into new cultures

In this text, I have borrowed from myself.  I was attempting to write a white paper to help educators better understand the students in their classrooms.  I think it’s always best to back up and start at the beginning to understand a journey.

Why do people emigrate?  That is, what makes a family leave its own country and venture into an unknown land, in many cases, across oceans?  In most cases, this movement is considered a “Forced Migration”, which is displacement because of persecution, armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations, natural or environmental disaster, famine, ineffectual government, or lack of financial opportunities (Baker, 2014; Goetz, & Rupasingha, 2007).  Often times, the process of migrating is dangerous and may take up to 10 years with many stops along the way (Salgado de Snyder, 2007).  Humans have always migrated, and it, likely, never will stop because of constant changes in governments and other political policies, food supplies, societal mainstream notions, and religious views.

For the past 25 years, immigrants of all statuses, have been part of my daily life living in Southwest, Kansas, both professionally and personally.  I’ve worked with Southeast Asian and African refugees.  I’ve worked with immigrants from all of the Americas (Meso, Central, South and North (I call them economic refugees), and with immigrants who come with professional careers from India, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, China, Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, Canada, and different parts of Europe.  It is an enriching experience to learn from those who come from other backgrounds.

All the immigrants who have come to Kansas in the past 30 years have one thing in common. They’ve come to the United States to seek better ways of lives.  Lives without conflict and strife.  Lives filled with hopes for their futures.  While their stories of how they arrived on the shores or across the borders into the U.S. vary, there are common denominators in the challenges of which they face.  The greatest challenge, possibly, is that of acculturation.  That is, fitting into a new land, learning the folkways and mores of the people, and understanding how their own cultures either blend or clash with the “mainstream”.  They do all this while trying to learn a livelihood for their families’ survival and hoping to move to a place of thriving in their lives.   There are many struggles and challenges of acculturating to new lives in new cultures. Granted, the Canadians with whom I’ve worked don’t have as many challenges because of a common language and European ancestry as the U.S. mainstream. However, the most obviously “different” immigrants do have challenges. For example, these are some of the question and comments that I hear along the way:

  • How and where do our children go to school?
  • Is there a place for me to learn English?
  • Where do we get an identification and address immigration status?
  • What are rules for driving a car?
  • Where do we get the foods of our traditions?
  • What are the rules for schools regarding age of entry, immunizations, school readiness?
  • Where do we find child care provider for our children?
  • Where do we find a doctor?
  • Is there public transportation?
  • Are we safe to walk to where we need to go?
  • “We are starting all over, and I need to purchase items for my home, again, and I don’t know anybody, so I have to make new friends, too.”

 

The United States is heading toward a demographic where there will be no one majority of population by the year 2040 (World Bank).  My observation is that this notion strikes fear in people.

After nearly 30 years of living, working, and playing alongside the immigrants who have come these past three decades, my observation is that they have not come to colonize these lands and the mainstream.  They (immigrants) have come for better lives for their children.  Historically, most are the victims of colonization on their lands of origins.  If you get the opportunity, hear their stories, share their foods, understand their laughter, and most importantly, empathize with the fears that pushed them out of their home soils.

Thank you for reading.

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