immigration

Immigrating to America, Take 2 (Season 2 final episode)

World to the Wise Podcast

You may remember hearing in the news about a family from the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq, who were on their way to make a new life in the United States when they were turned away at the Cairo airport as a result of President Trump’s executive order, in February 2017, banning immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries. Fuad Sharif Suleman had been employed by the US government, through a third party contractor, as a translator and interpreter in Northern Iraq, and was traveling to the US on a perfectly legitimate Special Immigration Visa.

Thanks to the work of a number of organizations and TN congressman Jim Cooper, Fuad, his wife, and three children were finally cleared to set out once again for their final destination of Nashville, where a crowd of around 200 were waiting for them at the airport with signs and chants of “Welcome home.” My wife Becky and I were in that crowd. A couple of months later, after numerous attempts to track them down, I was able to sit down with Fuad and all but one member of his family. I know you’ll enjoy meeting them.

This is the final episode of Season 2 of this podcast. We’ve had a great time taking you to people and places near and far, and look forward to much more in Season 3.

In the meantime, in just over a week, my wife Becky and I will be leaving for the Greek island of Lesvos, where we will be leading a team from the US to work for a week in a refugee camp run by the UN and the Greek government. After that, we will be welcoming the 2017 World to the Wise cultural tour group in Rome for an unforgettable cultural feast through Italy, Paris, and Amsterdam. You can follow our experiences on the World to the Wise Facebook page (have you liked that page yet?) and here on my blog.

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.

wedding

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.

Following the Stories to Berlin

Abu Ahmad
Abu Ahmad

If you've been following us the last few weeks, you know we had quite an eye-opening and moving time in Athens, Greece, where thousands of refugees are suspended in a sort of no man's land, hoping for a life where their own lives are not threatened. Most of them have lost friends or family members in one of the many conflicts in the Middle East; many have family members already waiting for them in Germany. Although we were there less than two weeks, we will not soon forget the warmth with which we were welcomed every time we visited one of the camps. Most of the people we met were Syrians, but there were also Afghanis, Iraqis, and Palestinians.

Since we were planning on Berlin as our next stop on this European odyssey, we offered to visit the fiancee of one young Palestinian man who grew up as a refugee in Syria. His fiancee is in Berlin with her family -- one of the few intact families we've met. We also arranged to visit the 17-year-old son of a Syrian father (pictured above) of nine in the Athens camp, who is in Greece with another son and two daughters while his wife and other children are scattered across Germany. (We still don't fully understand why family members are so often split up in different cities in their host country.) In this account, we are using made-up names to protect the identities of the people involved.

Yara
Yara

Adara, a 19-year-old Syrian girl with large brown eyes and long, beautiful hair, lives with her parents and two sisters in a plain apartment building in a southern suburb of Berlin. I had reached her father by phone to arrange the meeting, but he was away visiting his brother in the hospital when we arrived. After handing over my passport to the guard at the entrance to the shelter for asylum seekers, Becky and I waited until a young man in his thirties arrived to welcome us. With a kind manner and very good English, Abdul introduced himself as Adara's uncle. He took us to the family's small, no-frills apartment, where Adara greeted us at the door. She was not wearing a hijab (head scarf). Abdul and Adara led us to a bedroom, where we sat on twin beds facing each other, with a small table in between. This was the only room we saw in the apartment. But it was an apartment, complete with plumbing and electricity -- not a tent. Becky gave Adara the card written by her fiancé, Jalal, along with some chocolates and flowers we had picked up in Berlin. She fought back tears after reading Jalal's brief note, and went on to offer us glasses of water -- even though it was Ramadan, and neither she nor her uncle would have a drop of water or anything else until after sundown. She then brought us glasses of some kind of tasty grapefruit soda. (We've learned by now that it does no good to say no, thank you.)

We spent the next few minutes in a trilingual chat with the two of them -- speaking German to her and English to him, and he sometimes translating into Arabic for her. She was warm, poised, and gracious, just like all the other Syrian women we had met. She spoke of her intensive German language study, never letting on that this is probably the biggest ordeal she's ever been through. (Note: this week's podcast will include the aspect of German language learning as an important part of new immigrants' cultural integration.) Abdul, whom we took an immediate liking to, talked mainly about how grateful he was for the option of being safe in Germany.

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After 30-45 minutes, Adara's parents arrived from the hospital. The dad was much larger in every way than his brother-in-law, Abdul -- more outspoken, more demonstrative -- a big teddy bear of a man. His wife was young-looking, all smiles, and wore the traditional hijab. Our time, by then, was unfortunately growing short, as we had to reach the opposite end of the city for our next appointment.

After photos, we said our goodbyes a little earlier than we would have liked, and headed back for the train station. I had set up our meeting with young Nabil with one of the social workers who staff the group home where he lives along with other under-age immigrants. It is a fairly nice-looking building in a quiet northern suburb, although we didn't see the inside. Not seeing a main entrance, I rang a buzzer and was answered by a male German voice, who said Nabil had gone out to run errands or do some shopping -- even though it was now the agreed upon time of our meeting. A little discouraged, we walked a few feet down the sidewalk and discovered an entrance we hadn't seen, and there was Nabil taking his bike out. Although his father had shown us a photo of him, we needed no photo to recognize him. He had much the same handsome face as his younger brother (pictured at the top) whom we had befriended in the Athens camp.

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Nabil has been in Germany about a year, which means he was sixteen when his parents sent him ahead to find some kind of new life for himself, and hopefully his family would follow. This is an apparently common strategy. As we talked with this soft-spoken young man with broken German, I could only imagine what it was like to come to a completely foreign land as a sixteen-year-old, not speaking a word of the local language and entirely dependent on survival skills and the kindness -- or not -- of the German staffers who handled his case. It turned out that the staffer I had spoken to, a young man named Robin, who joined us a few minutes later, was indeed kind and works for a private nonprofit to integrate under-aged immigrant arrivals.

Nabil was reserved, and because both his German and mine were limited, our communication was not great. I was frankly not even sure he was glad to see us, although his father had told him to expect us. He did manage a weak smile from time to time. God alone knows what this young man has been through and the survival mechanisms he has had to put in place. As we parted ways after no more than half an hour of chatting and trying to understand more of his story, Becky and I came away with more questions than anything else. How long would it take for Nabil to be integrated into German culture? How long before he could be reunited with his mother in the eastern German city of Leipzig, not to mention his father and siblings still in Greece? Coming from a group-oriented culture and then left on his own for so long, how would his eventual reunion with his family go? No one knows. Again.

The refugee situation in Europe, and indeed on other continents such as North America, is so complex that it is pretty much impossible to get your mind around it. What we can get our minds around is stories -- stories of families and individuals whose lives have been permanently altered.

Stay tuned for the next post, where we share a song that captures much of this tumult and uncertainty, written by our son and his brother-in-law/bandmate.

Ethno What?

refugees
refugees

The Pew Research Center has just released a report stating that the foreign-born population in the United States is increasing so fast that the record set in 1890, percentage-wise, could be broken within the next decade. I'm not here to discuss the number of illegals versus legals, nor am I in a position to put forth an opinion on whether we should slow the influx of immigrants who continue to seek a new life on our shores. I do know the number of Syrian refugees the US has agreed to take is far less than proportionate to its population and far inferior to the number requested by the UN. My question is: what is at the heart of much of our reluctance to accept more immigrants? Yes, a large number of new arrivals at once could stretch our resources and strain our infrastructures. But if we're honest, there is something else at play here.

In his recent visit, some of Pope Francis's first words in addressing the American public included the fact that he himself is the son of immigrants. (His Italian parents left Italy when Mussolini came to power when Francis was four years old.) We all know that we are a nation of immigrants, so where is the disconnect? Who decided enough was enough, and when? What's more, I can only imagine what Native Americans are thinking.

Question: would we be reluctant to accept "new Americans," as some are calling the recent immigrants, if they were English, Irish, Scottish, or Dutch, the Europeans who initially populated the East Coast? Yes, many others followed: Spaniards, Scandinavians, Italians, Eastern Europeans...not to mention the African slaves who had no choice in the matter. And now fully 47% of recent immigrants to the US are from Mexico and Central America, followed by 26% Asians. But what language won out as the national language in this so-called melting pot? Seems the other languages melted away...to the point where Slavic and other Eastern European immigrants would change their names at Ellis Island to more English-sounding surnames in order to blend in better.

Is it possible that we Anglos are so used to being the majority that the ever-increasing number of minority immigrants threatens our position? And then what will happen? I believe it is this fear that is driving much of the rhetoric flying around in the immigration debate. It's not fun to admit to being ethnocentric, but I'm ashamed to say I see traces of it in myself.

Do you?