I’ve always felt strange when someone asks me if I wanted to hear a joke when I really didn’t want to. I would always feel bad for saying no, so I don’t, but then most jokes I hear can’t get me to laugh anyways. They always contain some sort of crude language or stereotypical lies that make feel like I want to hit the person who said it with something really heavy. Something, like a Ford Heavy Duty Pickup Truck. But this time, I can’t help myself. So forgive me for telling you this one joke.
So here it is: Who is assumed to be a criminal, has a bad case of culture shock, and nothing truly useful to provide? Considering this is a refugee outreach blog, many of you would think that now I would be playing a very vulgar joke on the refugees, but no. Sadly, this “joke” is being played on me.
When I walk down the street, no one would point me out and presume that I am a criminal (hopefully!), but in actuality, I am a miscreant of the worst kind. I do not steal, cheat, kill, or frame others, but I am a successor to the crime of ignorance. Yesterday, my partner and I met our refugee family for the very first time in their apartment and I was humbled by how well adjusted they seem to be, even though they have only arrived here in America only months before. Not having to toil a day in my life, I can only imagine the difficulty they must have faced upon arrival here. And with this, I brand myself an ignorant being, but I am learning. Like this Nepali family who has come here to America, leaving all behind, in hopes of giving their children a better future, my parents left Vietnam. Like the Sudanese parents, and the Ethiopian parents, and the Burmese parents, and the Chinese parents, and the Iraqi parents, the list can go on and on. Being with this family, I now can begin to put my feet into the shoes of my parents and theirs as well.
Without any help, my parents quickly learned that in America, either you work to support yourself, or you end up on the streets. And they only had each other to lean on in this foreign land, but I was very happy to see that our Nepali family is well networked as family members, relatives, and friends constantly entered and exited the apartment like it were a communal home. As one of the many Meg’s we met yesterday told us, “in our culture, brothers and sisters love each other and are always there for one another, and young children, too, are always taken care of by family members.” I miss seeing that amount of affection and emotion between each other. As family-oriented as I am, I was also raised in the American way, and so I was taught to embrace independence and self-reliance at a young age.
Besides understanding more for the parents, I too, can understand for the younger adults and children who are here. The young children will adapt quickly because of school, but for the younger adults, they have plucked themselves from all they have known and moved here, to now work at Dunkin’ Donuts and a factory inspecting automobile parts. As Meg told me about his job, he bleakly added that he was a university student studying accounting and his friend, also another Meg, was studying science back home in Nepal.
As for the culture shock, as shaken as our family must have felt upon arrival here, I felt the same yesterday. I was not questioning their culture, but ours, the American culture. Meg (this is another Meg than the Meg previously referred to above, I must add), turned on their computer and showed us Youtube videos after Youtube videos of folk dances, songs, and popular Nepali music, while explaining to us that in their culture, excitement, joy, and relaxation is encouraged. Here in America, we take pleasure in excitement, joy, and relaxation as much as the Nepali does as well, if only we had more time in our day to pursue them after work, school, and other necessities.
Well it seemed that my piece is getting long, too long perhaps, but let me just squeeze in this little bit. The last stereotype I had in my joke was not so much as not having anything to provide, but as feeling helpless. I felt helpless in their situation. Even though they were adjusted quite well, I wish I can help them more with their English and somehow bring all the things they left behind here for them. But there is no way that I can bring back the academic air in a Dunkin’ Donuts or a factory for the university students or give the entire family a brain full of English vocabulary words, but at least I can be there to help them with what I can. I can be their friend, someone who is not a Nepali or a case worker, here in America.
I wish I could extend more upon the last two points, but I have an entire semester left and no more space to write, plus I know these points will come up again somehow sometime later.
TO BE CONTINUED….
So goodnight and farewell, cac ban (Vietnamese for my friends),
Until next time shall we meet…