Interview with an Immigrant
This week, I challenged myself and decided to complicate the task by interviewing a stranger. For me, it was a leap of faith in many ways, but first and foremost, in faith in myself. Armed with curiosity, positive expectation, and regards on my behalf, and expecting communicativeness and amiability from the object of my mission (Factors, n.d.), I approached various people near a university with a request to participate in my project. After receiving about five rejections – which would be morally difficult to survive if not for the positive mode into which I had tuned myself – I finally found a person who expressed willingness to help me. Quite unexpectedly, that person was a female representative of the Arab world, a group of countries which are typically considered culturally closed and reserved in terms of interactions with the Western culture. The fact that the girl easily established a contact with me may be regarded as a reason to call the aforementioned perspective as outdated if not stereotyped or biased. The girl’s name was Sabah, and I had to apologize and ask her to spell her name for me. It appeared that my concerns and advance cautiousness were not groundless, because if I wrote the name without the last letter, Saba, it would be correct, but it would also be a different name. As Sabah kindly explained, her Muslim name meant “morning” or “dawn”, and the name Saba meant “east wind”.
I asked if Sabah underwent cultural shock when she came to the USA. She answered that American cultural realities were not entirely new to her. She was from Bahrain, Abu-Dhabi, a place which has been one of the world’s tourist attractions during the last decade.
Thus, at first, American tourists brought their culture to Sabah’s native country, and then she came to the U.S. to “submerge” into the western culture. Another helpful factor was that in addition to the official Arabic language, people also speak English in Bahrain.
I believe that, in a way, this preliminary introduction to American culture dampened the overall cultural shock any immigrant experiences in an alien cultural environment. At the time of the interview, Sabah was already at the stage of the final adjustment (Oberg, n.d.).
She was not fully assimilated, because she preserved her cultural origins, but definitely felt comfortable in the American cultural surrounding. To my mind, it means she has found a way in which her original inner culture could peacefully coexist with the outer culture.
She used the English language freely. She was dressed rather moderately, in a long skirt and a blouse which covered her chest, but was far from the traditional Muslim hijab. I hesitated to ask about her outfit, but when I did, “the need for explanations” (Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p.262) arose. Sabah explained that she was a representative of the young generation and, thus, was not as conservative as many of her compatriot women or even her family. Carefully and politely, I asked whether Muslim women were comfortable wearing black burqa (paranja) or hijab or whether they felt discriminated in this regard.
Sabah explained that wearing burqa or hijab had nothing to do with gender discrimination or subservience.Rather, it was the way males and females lived within their centuries-old cultural, religious, and social roles;not necessarily, the role of females was bad or minor.
In fact, many women regarded it as a privilege. Nowadays, she said, one could see a woman in paranja or hijab wearing golden jewelry and visiting boutiques, even in the homeland.
In regard to my mentioning the color of hijab, Sabah smiled and corrected me. It appeared that hijab exists in various colors ranging from white and orange to patterned multicolor, and it does not necessarily cover the whole face.
Sabah accentuated that women who are very religious put a deeper meaning into hijab viewing it as a tribute to god and faith; thus, they prefer it to be black and cover the lower part of the face.
In this respect, I reflected upon a quotation from the textbook: “the hijab provides a shroud of protection”, thus shielding women’s bodies from men’s stares so that everyone could see woman’s “real identity as a religious person” (Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p.183). Within this part of the interview, Sabah informed me that if I were to visit Bahrain, I had to choose clothes which would cover my shoulders, chest, and legs; otherwise, I would not be able to visit public places even metro.
She said that knowing basic rules of conduct related to Arabic traditions and religion was the important thing most tourists ignored and, by doing so, showed disrespect and aroused dissatisfaction among the locals.
My last question to Sabah pertained an element of the U.S. culture which surprised her the most. Unexpectedly, Sabah did not mention cuisine, religion, or attitude toward immigrants. Instead, she said she was surprised at how children in America easily lose their connection and contact with the family, the vitally important thing in her own culture. She said the very role the old people play in the U.S. society was unusual and odd to her. Indeed, aging is perceived as something negative in the USA. Old people feel detached from the society, undervalued, and lonely in their houses after their children leave them for college or marriage life. In the Arab countries, Sabah said, old people are respected and praised, and children keep in touch with their parents, grandparents, and even distant relatives during their whole life instead of just paying random visits on holidays like New Year (a holiday in both the USA and Bahrain). Some live in their parent’s houses and never move out. Those who do move, pay visits to their families on a weekly basis and call their parents and relatives almost every day. Sabah’s family, she said, was what she missed most while being in the USA.When asked what she would miss the most if she left the USA, Sabah mentioned the freedom of self-expression.
Despite my reasonable fears about this assignment, I experienced no culture shock on my own. I believe this is a good sign for my comfort zone which, apparently, is growing. It may also mean that the COM-315 course I am now participating is working its magic.
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