By Jeanne Mariella Uwimana
For immigrants, in order for our culture of origin to remain relevant, we have to take into account the experiences and realities of the host world we live in. We cannot filter everything. Yet this poses many dilemmas for new immigrants. For example, when it comes to parenting, there are many choices to be made. I don’t think that it is possible to impose culture on children – you can’t compel your children to follow a certain approach to life. You can only inspire them, and show them what is good about your culture, and the advantages of following these life values.
Living in a new country is fun and exciting, but it’s also an adjustment. You might find yourself frequently asking “What does this phrase mean?” or “Why do Americans do that?” in response to some American habits you observe. As a new person in the host country, you will realize that America is one big ocean of cultures. You can swim nonstop, trying to reach from one side of the sea of understanding culture to the other side, where you hope to have an understanding of the cultural norms in this new country, or the new community you have found yourself in!
But the U.S. is often called a melting pot because its people come from many different backgrounds and cultures, and there is such a wide variety of beliefs, values, and traditions that there is no such thing as the typical American. In fact, that’s part of what makes it such an interesting place! Customs vary from region to region, and family to family. Now, that’s what I call diversity!
When it comes to speaking up, Americans are known for generally going after what they want, both within and outside the context of the workforce. Especially in the workplace, you may be surprised to find that Americans are not afraid to voice their ideas. While a supervisor is considered superior in many situations, who should always be treated with respect, it’s also considered OK not to hold back opinions and to ask questions if you have them. If an employee needs clarification on a project, the employer would prefer that an employee let them know. There is certainly a difference between speaking up and being subversive or rude, but it is OK to share thoughts and opinions. This is often not the case in the countries of origin of many immigrants.
Back home, in Rwanda, where I come from, the culture of speaking up is quite nonexistent for those who have never been exposed to ideas from foreign cultures. In the workforce, employees are more accustomed to obeying the supervisor, rather than sharing ideas out loud. This is also true in households, where kids rarely speak their minds to their parents or other elders. The way children are raised has a big impact on workforce culture, and can really have a negative impact on the development of a business.
However, all this is changing in Rwanda, as a result of people from different cultures now living there, following the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The traditional, conservative culture is changing somewhat, as people adjust to new trends. Rwanda is one of the African countries that are encouraging external investments. Big corporate organizations such as foreign-owned banks and construction companies are now working in Rwanda with their corporate cultures that challenge the local habits.
I believe parents should educate children about their traditional culture, so that when they are exposed to new ideas, they will be able to sort out what is right for them, while continuing the legacy of their parent. As an immigrant, believe that if children do not agree with their parents, our cultural norms stand to die out. But culture gives us our sense of identity and is what makes us unique, so development cannot exist without cultural values. Without them, we will lose ourselves. So it’s important to talk about culture with children.
Mariella is a native of Rwanda and a global citizen, having lived, loved, worked, and studied on three continents. She’s committed to living a deeply meaningful life and intentionally creates loving community and family connections wherever she lands. As an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, she hopes to be an asset for the community to build bridges between New Mainers and long-time Mainers. She is passionate about helping women grow and learn to live balanced lives.