Immigrant Family and the Unknown

Immigrant Family and the Unknown

by Vivi Wandji

Introduction

I made an unplanned trip, an impromptu decision. I had to make it to escape for my life after years fighting a cruel government of my home country, Cameroon, a small and poor country from central Africa. I fled a night of December 22nd, 2015, leaving behind me my wife and our 4 kids that I could not kiss for the last time. I just escaped another brutal ambush: the one that really took out my guts. This is difficult to explain. You know, when you must flee for your life, leaving behind you the human beings that matter the most in your life. You can call it cowardice or what ever. It was the toughest decision of my life. I had one shot. I had to take a decision and I picked one: the uncertainty. In the summer of 2016, I ended up in the United States of America: the land of dreams, opportunities. The next two years, I suffered severe post traumatic stress disorder. In a letter to the USCIS to advocate in favor of the reunification of my family, Dr. Michael O’Sullivan, my psychiatrist, represented me as one of the “most exceptional” patients of his entire career. Almost 3 years later, in the summer of 2019, my family and I had the privilege to be reunited under a political asylum status. Being finally reunited was certainly one of the happiest moments of our lives. The people of this land, strangers, so different to us, offered us shelters, foods, hope, security, education, the right to live and dream!

We did not really care about anything else than us. We wanted to appreciate the moment being, place behind us all the pains endured these last years.  We wanted to begin a new life’s chapter. Like starting over, like being born for a second time. We had to redo everything, everything in our life; that was the beginning of a navigation with no clear and predictable path. Any successful integration in this unknown territory will certainly produce a happier end.

 I knew no more than my personal stories about this research topic. As I started to think I realized the troubling significance of the unanswered questions that I face: What is the impact of immigration/diaspora on family life? How do existing laws and regulations impact immigrant families? How do immigrant families can add value to the society? What must a family go through in the process of migration? What are the education and economic challenges that immigrant families face? What is the experience of immigrants from central Africa, particularly from Cameroon in the United States? It is important to understand how we get there, to share my story. More importantly, it is important to learn how we can evolve, adapt in our new environment.

Preliminary Research

It took me a few seconds to find my topic. Although I did not have any knowledge on how to conduct such project, that was easy. That might be due to the impact that the subject of immigration, identity has on my daily life.

My very first challenge was to adapt to the current situation that we all face as humans: The COVID-19 pandemic. I choose a person to person class and I ended up with an online class. More significantly, I had to adapt with all my other 4 classes and the anxiety related to what we are going through. As for the adaptation of the online classes, I had to rely mostly only on myself to navigate trough the flourish of materials given by the instructor.

 Afterward, I realized that I did not know where to start. I had no experience whatsoever in library or academic research. From where I come from, I graduated from high school without getting in a library. Libraries? I knew what it is but in dictionary, books, movies; evidently, I got my first challenge. I had to learn what seems natural to others. At least I knew how to look at things in Google, YouTube, Yahoo, and other search engines. But going around all the recommendations of Libby Merrill, the college’s librarian recommended by my instructor, I learned that it was the last place to begin with. Thereafter, I made a tentative post on the online class discussion to share my topic and my first question. Fortunately, my instructor gave me some precious recommendations like some questions to start with. More significantly, she gave me a lead: the Normandale College Diaspora Project. I never thought about diaspora as something that can be part of my research. Moreover , I was not conscious of the challenges and power carried by the word itself until I found this clear definition as “a way to understand not only the impact that immigration has on the receiving community but also on the homelands that people leave behind” (Normandale Diaspora Project, 2020). As I wanted to learn more about how Diaspora can play a role in my life, I found on the Normandale Diaspora Project site a link to the Migration Policy Institute which publishes an article by Steven Vertovec about “The Political Importance of Diasporas” (migration Policy Institute, 2005). This resource was significant in that sense that it gave me some etymological insight of diaspora that helped me to understand various misconceptions, definitions of the word over centuries. In addition, I learned that by being a member of a diaspora, I can contribute to the development of my new home while taking part at a whole movement to develop Cameroon.

As I was digging, I wanted to know more about the experience of immigrants from Central Africa, particularly from Cameroon, in the United States. I used the Gale Virtual Library. I found in the Journal of Pan African Studies an article published by Oluwatoyin Adenike Akinde about “Acculturation of Nigerian immigrants in Minnesota” (Journal of Pan African Studies, 2013). Akinde studies the acculturation of young immigrants from Africa, particularly from Nigeria, living in Minnesota. The source exposes the importance of the topic in “cross-cultural psychology” as it relates to how people adapt in unknown environment.

Another meaningful concern that I had was our education. Education because as a family, we made education our top priority. In multiple conversation with our kids, we came out with the idea that we cannot miss the opportunity to be in this great country and not having a outstanding education. In my further researches, I found an article, “K-12 education Outcomes of Immigrant Youth” of Robert Crosnoe and Ruth N. López Turley in the online library Academic search premier. In their scholarly article, Crosnoe and Turley analyze the challenges that face immigrant youth from K-12 (Crosnoe and Turley, 2011). The relevance of this essay to my research relates to the fact that as a parent, I care so much about the success of my children. More than ever, I want to be there for them. I want to make sure they have the support they need to succeed, and I will work tirelessly to make sure that this happen.

As I said before, the nature of the project, the materials studied, the circumstances surrounding this project were incredibly challenging. For example, I found myself being unable to think, to apply all the writing’s techniques that I learned the last 8 months. Fortunately, I was reinvigorated by the flourish of new informations that I gathered from my sources. As I studied my sources, it became clearer that any finding will impact my future decisions; Evidently, more questions emerged. How can I be part of a diaspora while actively being part of the society both in the US and back home? How can I avoid the trap of acculturation? I mean, how can my family and I stay who we are, gain personal enrichment without loosing our values? During this transformation, how can we take advantage of our strength and weakness for a successful education: a prosperous life?

Further Research

In my further research, I wanted to know more about how I can avoid the trap of loosing the good I have, learn new culture while having a successful integration in my new environment. I wanted to know how I can add value from my experience. Akinde talks about acculturation in “cross-cultural psychology “as it relates to how people adapt in unknown environment. Akinde goes on to define acculturation as the process by which someone with a different cultural experience adapts in a totally different sociologic environment. At some point, the source seems to suggest that immigrants become “successful” because of their firsthand goal to have a better education and improve their economic situation (Akinde, 2013). They will do that at the first place with the intention to go back in their home country to improve the socio-economic situation of their left behind people. Unfortunately, Akinde finds that only a small proportion of these immigrants achieve their goal. The source attributes the causes of acculturation in Minnesota to religion, marriage, and other sociological factors. This study is useful to draw a parallel with our future expectations. For example, Belvanie, my daughter wanted to write on the wall of her bedroom “never forget where you come from” the very first day she dropped her bags here. What did she really mean when she said that? Was she conscious of the power carried by her declaration? For myself, it worried me in that sense that at the end of the day, I would gain or lose something: But what? How can I balance this to be fully integrated in my new land? How do I balance this to create the kind of equilibrium that I need for the state of my mind, to create some king of self comfort? For my four children, I feel it is more challenging. Being a parent give you some worries about the education you want those kids to have. What, who, do you want them to become? Again, the difficult challenge is to find the right balance between what to lose and what to gain: how can I help them?

Given the central role of education in my life, given that it is my family’s top priority, I wanted to learn more from my sources. In my further researches, I learned from Crosnoe and Turley’s analysis of the challenges that face immigrant youth from K-12. Studies demonstrate that despite the “disadvantage and other barriers” that those youth face, some immigrants’ groups have used K-12 education to improve their social and economic prospect (Crosnoe and Turley, 2011). The sources outline a mystery among K-12 immigrant students: “The immigrant Paradox” (Crosnoe and Turley, 2011). The myth is that immigrant youth usually edge their native-born peers academically. They are helped by their socioeconomic circumstances, family’s ties, native language or second language skills. This will be useful to learn how my kids’ can be successful academically.

It was important to learn from Cameroonian’s experience in Minnesota. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that is paralyzing the word, I could not have a direct interview with someone who claims to be fro the the Cameroonian diaspora. Fortunately, I found from my journal a conversation that I had in 2016 with Paul Sindze, a Cameroonian who migrated in Minnesota more than a decade ago (personal communication, 2016). Sindze (2016) shared with me the challenges that he faced when he migrated here. One example is the many barriers that he faced with his Asylum status to pursue his education. Another example was his struggle to keep focus on his goal to build a new life, build a family, and go back in his home country of Cameroon to contribute to the country’s development. This interview is more relevant today given the relationship between Sindze’s (2016) experience and my finding on Diaspora and acculturation. For example, Sindze is an active member of the Cameroonian’s diaspora community that is actively engaged to change the dictatorial power in Cameroon. According to Sindze, being part of an engaged diaspora “creates some kind of self-proudness and accomplishment” (personal communication, 2016) Sindze’s experience helped to project myself in a diaspora and philanthropist movement that I had never thought of.

Findings

Coming at the end of my research, I felt overwhelmed by the work done by a flourish of talented and intelligent people before me on the challenges that must face immigrant’s families in the US. These families in some case, because they have no more home, come here involuntarily looking for a home. Some others come here voluntary on a quest of the American dream. Certainly, they have no idea of what the final outcome will be. I learned from Crosnoe and Turley how American’s policy makers hoped in the late century that immigrant from Europe would perform well at school while “Americanizing” them (Crosnoe and Turley, 2011). Does this mean that this country will use all its tool to culturally drain our brain? This is certainly a cross point with Akinde’s representation of acculturation: one that is empowered at the state level to drain your brain from any cultural identity you might carry (Akinde, 2013). This is a significant point given that from my own experience at home, we had to recognize that we landed in a totally unfamiliar environment. One example is that from where we come from, wisdom is seen differently. Another example is that families’ ties and social life are experienced differently. Therefore, immigrant families face several hurdles and challenges in the new society that welcome them (Akinde, 2013).

In her article, “Acculturation and Health Behaviors of African Immigrants Living in the United States: An Integrative review” publishes in ABNF Journal, Kafuli Agbemenu suggests that in order for acculturation to exist, There should be “interaction of a minority culture with a dominant one” (Agbemenu, 2016).  Does the idea of minority vs majority imply that one should always be in the resistance? Should one always fear to be completely absorbed if not destroyed by other? These interrogations are themselves scary.

Reflection

Having conduct a research project for my first time ever, I felt overwhelmed and amazed by the flourish of information that I collected. The worries and unanswered questions that I had are now turned into hope for a brighter future. I discovered how important research projects are to understand and to advance sciences. More specifically, I was able to learn from intelligent people’s researches related to migrant families and the challenge the face. All these finding are shaping my views and will help me to project myself in the future. One example is that I never thought about diasporas’ contribution to their host and origin countries. By being part of a diaspora, migrants play an “increasingly significant “role in developing nations (Vertovec, 2016). By doing so, they regain some kind of self satisfaction and equilibrium. Another example is about acculturation’s impact on migrant families. Acculturation looks a lot like a rigged game at the beginning; one which you will always end up loosing or gaining something. But there is hope that with strong commitment to individual goals and family’s ties, any loses might be diminished by education and economic benefits. Finally, the success “paradox” of migrant youth in education bring a more confident assurance of a brighter future (Crosnoe and Turley, 2011). But this is possible only if youth migrants continue to believe that great achievement can come only with hard work. Specifically, their family’s ties is an unbelievable strength that they should also rely on to stay strong.

References

Agbemenu, Kafuli agbemenu@buffalo.edu ABNF Journal. Summer 2016, Vol. 27 Issue 3, pp 67-73. Academic search premier, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ndcproxy.mnpals.net/ehost/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=0b4d7d36-61c1-4f5f-930a-296c6ce48b7b%40sessionmgr4007&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d

Akinde, Oluwatoyin Adenike. “Acculturation of Nigerian immigrants in Minnesota.” Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol. 6, Issue 6. Gale Academic OneFile,https://go-gale-com.ndcproxy.mnpals.net/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=T002&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&searchType=BasicSearchForm&currentPosition=1&docId=GALE%7CA356354188&docType=Report&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=ZONE-MOD1&prodId=AONE&contentSet=GALE%7CA356354188&searchId=R1&userGroupName=mnanorman&inPS=true&ps=1&cp=1

Crosnoe, Robert; Turley, Ruth N. López. Future of Children. Spring2011, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p129-152. 24p. 1 Chart, 1 Graph. DOI: 10.1353/foc.2011.0008. Academic search premier, http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=60115710&S=R&D=asn&EbscoContent=dGJyMNLr40SeqLY4v%2BbwOLCmsEiep7ZSs6q4SrWWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGut1Gzr65KuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA

Normandale Community College Diaspora project https://nccdiaspora.com/