immigrants

Friends from Faraway Places

World to the Wise Podcast

Welcome to the first episode of Season 2 of the World to the Wise podcast. I hope you’ve had a chance to catch up on Season 1 during our break, because we have a whole set of new and fascinating people and stories for you in Season 2.

We’re also excited to tell you about our partnership with Patreon, who makes it possible for you to become a sustaining patron of this podcast. The truth is, we believe passionately in what we’re doing here at World to the Wise, and it takes quite a number of hours to put each episode together. When you choose to partner with us, even if it’s just $10 a month, you are helping to ensure our being able to provide great content that continues to challenge, inspire, and inform. You can find us at patreon.com/worldtothewise. We won’t wear you out with pitches like this, but we do want to ask you to seriously consider becoming part of the patrons’ circle. You can read more about what that looks like on the website, which again is patreon.com/worldtothewise. Thanks so much.

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And now — imagine that you were born and raised in America’s heartland. You’re a white male, and your world is pretty much white Americans. Then your world is rocked when you start meeting and developing friendships with people from all over the world — without even leaving the shores of your own country. Meet Stuart Stokes, a film maker and vlogger, originally from the Missouri Ozarks, now living in Nashville. I hope you enjoy listening to his stories and find yourself challenged like I was.

You can find Stuart on Twitter at Skip Stokes, and on YouTube under the same name. If you’re interested in his documentary on the life of Ken Rideout, you can follow the film’s progress on Facebook at Rideout: One Last Summit or at rideoutfilm.com.

American Subcultures: Indian-Americans

World to the Wise Podcast

If you’ve been listening for any length of time to this podcast, you know it has a decidedly international flavor, and unapologetically so! Today, however, I’m excited to announce a new series that comes closer to home — to my home, that is — the United States. The American experiment is comprised of dozens and dozens of ethnicities, we all know that. It is also a vast nation, each region with its own distinct flavor. But the effects of globalization are being felt even at home, as our media-driven culture takes us more and more toward homogeneity.  Is this is a good thing? Or should we work to preserve the things that distinguish each particular group. Today we begin a look into the different subcultures of the United States. A subculture, by definition, is “a group having social, economic, ethnic, or other traits distinctive enough to distinguish it from others within the same culture or society.” (dictionary.com) So we’re not just talking about ethnic or geographic subcultures — there are lots of other things, such as common interests and passions, that bring people together. You might be surprised by some of the subcultures we’ll visit.

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Today, we begin this learning adventure with a glimpse into the Indian-American subculture. No, I don’t mean Native American, I mean Indian as in from India. (The US Census Bureau uses the term "Asian Indian" to distinguish this group from the indigenous peoples of the Americas, but we’re trying to encourage the move AWAY from calling Native Americans Indians.)

There are over 2 million Indian-born immigrants who now call the US home, and in 2014 they were the largest group to immigrate to the United States with over 147,000.

I’d like you to meet Pravin Philip Cherukara, a senior software engineer, and his wife, Fiona Dsouza Cherukara, a freelance bookkeeper. I sat down with them this week via Skype to hear their story and learn a little about the US through the eyes and experiences of an Indian couple. You'll hear them tell of their initial impressions of life in these United States, as well as debunk some common misconceptions about their homeland and the Indian people.

As always, your feedback is welcome. Just email us at podcast@daviddurham.org, including any suggestions YOU might have of a specific subculture in the United States that you think we should learn more about.

Pickpockets and Perspective

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pickpocket

It happened to me. Again. I was planning on keeping this latest incident to myself. Part of it was embarrassment, which really means pride. I should have seen it coming. I'm a seasoned traveler. I just published a podcast episode on being a wise traveler, for crying out loud.

The first time was in Lima, Peru, when my cell phone was pickpocketed. Then a few years later, a major incident in Amsterdam, where a brand new video camera, our credit cards, and passports were all taken in a split second. (Some time I'll have to tell that story -- pretty amazing how it turned out.)

On a tube train in London, my wife actually caught a pickpocket with his hand inside our son's backpack and thwarted his attempt.

In this case, we were on a metro (subway) train in Athens, headed to visit our new refugee friends at the port of Piraeus. It was already the most crowded train we'd been on here, and at one stop a group of guys got on at the same time. Amidst all the jostling, Becky and I got separated. I keep a hand on my "murse" on crowded trains and buses, but all I can figure is that during the pushing and shoving (orchestrated, I now realize), I must have been pushed off balance just long enough for a skilled hand to unzip my bag, reach inside, and pull out my wallet.

I looked down, seconds later, and discovered my bag was open. I immediately reached in, first felt my passport with great relief, but kept feeling for my wallet. Not there. I of course knew right away what had happened. I'm fairly sure the group got off at the next stop, and Becky and I decided to do the same in order to call and cancel our credit cards immediately.

I was so angry, especially because I realized how it had happened. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to hurt someone. But as much as anything, I was angry at myself. I should have seen it coming. There was only about 30 euros in cash, but two credit cards, a debit card, and my driver's license, which I will need to rent the car we're planning to rent in Paris later this week.

I'm at least grateful to have learned some lessons along the way, and part of being a wise traveler is keeping the phone numbers of all your credit card companies in a separate place. I was able to cancel all the cards and find out that none of them had yet been used by the perpetrators. We then asked my son's girlfriend to FedEx my newly renewed driver's license, which had providentially come in the mail at home, along with another credit card I hadn't taken with me, to a friend's house in Paris for me to pick up once we arrive there.

After that little incident I felt like going home. You really do feel violated when you've been robbed. I quickly realized, though, that going back to the apartment was the worst possible thing to do. What I needed most was perspective, and I knew I would find that at the camp. So we got on the next train, and sure enough, while talking with our friends who have lost everything and whose future is uncertain at best, my petty problem(s) quickly faded away.

Sure, it's been a bit of a hassle reconstructing our infrastructure while on the road, and yes, it's embarrassing for me to admit that this happened to moi -- again. But I'm actually almost grateful for the headache because it reminded me once again how much I have to be grateful for.

We are now in Berlin, where we are gaining a different perspective on the refugee situation in Europe. Be sure to tune in to the podcast this weekend to hear about it.

Postcard from Switzerland

(Note: see below for a correction of an error in this week's episode.)

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This episode comes to you from beautiful Switzerland, where I am currently doing a short series of concerts with my old friends and partners in crime, François and Christine Reymond. As I've mentioned earlier, the primary purpose of this trip to Europe, however, is to observe and document some of the enormous changes the European continent is going through, and I couldn't resist the urge to check into some of the developments in Switzerland along these lines. I was all the more interested since I've spent six years of my life in this country.

Here's a table of contents of this episode:

Chapter One - a crash course on Switzerland, just to make sure we're on the same page and that you're tracking with me

Chapter Two - walking the streets of Lausanne (where I lived in two different stints) with a good friend, who happens to be a policeman

Chapter Three - the changing face of Switzerland through the eyes of a high school vice principal

Chapter Four - an encounter with some refugees in Switzerland

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Join us next week, when we'll be coming to you from Athens, Greece!

Correction: if you listened to the segment on my interview with Lionel the policeman, you heard me mention drug dealers on a Lausanne city square at night. I mistakenly understood Lionel to say they were Eritreans; they are instead of other African nationalities, but rarely Eritreans. I apologize for the error.

The Unfinished Bridge

Photo: Andrea Schaffer
Photo: Andrea Schaffer

I've seen it so many times.

As I'm sure you do, I know quite a few people who are second generation immigrants to the US. Many are Hispanic, but there are lots of other ethnic and linguistic groups represented. And one of the saddest things I see is when the children speak only English. For whatever reason, the parents stopped speaking their native tongue with the children at some point.

Few would question, of course, the necessity of learning English in order to succeed in the US or any other English-speaking country. But how many parents have unwittingly deprived their children of an entire dimension of their cultural heritage by not raising them bilingually. A bridge unfinished. This is poignantly depicted in this story from PRI's The World in Words. I encourage you to take a listen.

Of course, it's easy for me to judge these people from the outside looking in. I've never felt the extreme pressure to fit in that prevents so many from speaking their native tongue. Many immigrants my age and older came over with parents who were determined that their children would assimilate into mainstream American culture as quickly as possible, so they even stopped speaking their native tongue at home. (In more recent times, it seems the parents tend to maintain their mother tongue more than in previous generations, in such a way that a native Spanish speaker can live an entire lifetime in the US without learning English. That's for another post.) Or sometimes it happened more naturally over a longer period of time. English began to replace the original family language because that's what was happening just outside the front door.

Take my sister-in-law, for example. She is a fourth generation Mexican American. Her parents were both perfectly bilingual and spoke mostly Spanish to the older children. But by the time the younger children came along, including my sister-in-law, the family conversations had morphed into mostly English, with only occasional Spanish words thrown in.

As a result, my sister-in-law was not confident enough in her Spanish to speak it with her own children, who she and my brother would have liked to grow up bilingually. Her two children, my nephew and niece, both look Hispanic, with piercing dark eyes, so many Hispanics address them in Spanish, only to be told they don't speak it.

But the PRI story doesn't stop there, laying the blame squarely on the parents for the fact that their children are monolingual. The child also has choices, as the narrator recognizes at the end. So he goes from saying, "OK, Dad, why did you kill Spanish in our family?" to "OK, I'm the one who killed it." So began his own journey to learning the language of his ancestors.

Do you have a similar story? Or a variation? Tell us about it!