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My Turn: A conflict of culture, not of community

Last modified: 10/15/2015 12:24:52 AM
I feel concerned with the discontentment generated due to the religious ceremony in the Heights neighborhood of Concord (Monitor front page, Oct. 7).

As a member of the community in Upstate New York, I wish to express my personal viewpoints with some background information.

We the Bhutanese people of Nepali ethnicity have come to the United States after persecution and eviction by the absolute monarchy of Bhutan from 1985 to 1995. We have spent more than 18 years in crowded refugee camps of Nepal in uncertainty when Nepal was undergoing political metamorphism.

The refugee camps strengthened family and neighborly bonds with higher interpersonal interactions, which has become a community culture. What we see and do shapes our ways of life – our very culture.

We primarily follow the Hindu traditions, and for a family a lengthy religious function is once or twice in a generation. In case of Rudra Timsina, the function was a way of sharing joy with the community after buying a house – the achievement of a dream. Most invitees attend the discourses and cultural activities at least once in seven days as this is also a method to socialize among people with cultural and language barriers.

Such people constitute more than 50 percent in our community – illiterate in English and unaware of the American culture and traditions. We have never lived with people of totally different culture. Hence, this is a case of “conflict of culture and outlook” and not a conflict of community.

The International Organization of Migration, the agency responsible for bringing refugees to the United States, provides just three to four days of orientation, which focuses on accessing jobs and American work culture. It is hardly adequate for people not exposed to other cultures. By the time of arrival in the United States, most people except the elites (10 to 15 percent) would have forgotten about it.

The culture and technological shock our people experience here is extensive, and the resettling agencies hardly provide a detailed orientation on culture and American way of life. Our people need socialization due to our origins from society-oriented culture rather than individual-oriented culture of the Western world.

However, there is a need to adapt our social systems and cultural activities so that we don’t trespass on physical and social boundaries in the Western culture, thus ensuring neighborly amicability and communal harmony.

Having had Western education, I understand a lot of American culture but still do not know it fully after more than two years, though I interact daily with people from various strata of the American society. Thus, in my opinion, the resettlement agencies with local community organizations should initiate at least a month of group orientation on the various aspects of American culture, such that a “conflict of culture” can be lessened.

This is applicable for most new immigrants. Possibly the first immigrants to this great land on the Mayflower had to adapt to parts of the Native American way of life and farming. In the case of a conflict of culture, the media could also help negotiate an understanding that becomes a win-win for new immigrants and the dominant society helping diminish misgivings and on both sides, as we need to move on amicably toward the American Dream.

(Praja Shapkota is a third-generation Bhutanese who left his country after the negative fallout of the human rights and democracy movement in Bhutan that began in 1988. He sought asylum in Nepal in 1992 and worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as an incentive volunteer for four years during the early phase of refugee rehabilitation. After more than 20 years of refugee life, he moved with his family to Syracuse, N.Y., in May 2013. He is currently a doctoral student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.)


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