Cultural Connections: Almost all of us trace ancestry to refugees 

Mike KnaakPrint St. Joseph, St. JosephLeave a Comment

Tani waa kuu muhiim adiga.  Fadlan aqri.

Ogeysiis!  Importante para Usted, por favor léalo. Please read!

Announcements brought to you by Cultural Bridges of St. Joseph, a committee of Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization. We are dedicated to ease your transition into our community.

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by Juliana Howard

The recent decision  to change the name of this column from Refugee/Immigrant News to Cultural Connections got me thinking and doing a little research. One definition of refugee is “a person forced to leave his or her country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.” Unless we are Native American, we can all trace our roots back to immigrants and in many cases, refugees.

My heritage is Norwegian on my father’s side, and Scotch Irish on my mother’s. My father’s mother Anna came to America when she was 5 years old. Her mother died aboard the ship. Like many Norwegians, they were fleeing agricultural disasters that had led to famine. In other words, they were refugees. My maternal  great-grandparents were escaping from the potato famine and cholera epidemic in Ireland. They too would  qualify as refugees.

There were cultural differences my parents faced in their marriage. My mom learned to make lefse and lutefisk but she balked at going to the Lutheran church because they only spoke Norwegian! Thus, I grew up Methodist but became Catholic when I got married, to fit in with my husband’s heritage. He is half-Chinese and half-German so I have learned to make his favorite rice and smoked herring, as well as dumplings and sauerkraut. 

Because of my white skin, I have been  privileged in many, many ways I have taken for granted all these years. Waking up to this privilege is painful and embarrassing. How can I be racist when my children’s spouses are Jewish, Chinese, Venezuelan and (now divorced) East Indian? Sad to say, and hard to admit, but white privilege has kept me in denial. But recent events have forced my eyes open. For starters, I just ordered the highly recommended book “White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism” by Robin DiAngelo.

Cultural Bridges has as its mission to increase understanding and build relationships with our neighbors who have landed here from another country. Some are brown, some are Black, some are white. All are welcome! says Cultural Bridges. We hope that changing the column’s name to Cultural Connections will broaden our mission. Because many new arrivals come from Africa, I suggest reading the excellent book by Joseph Mbele, “Africans and Americans; Embracing Cultural Differences.” Mbele, a Tanzanian, is a professor of English at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The book is at Amazon and you can explore his website and see the work he is doing at www.africonexion.com.

contributed photo
Juliana and Jerry Howard trace their ancestry to Scotland, Ireland, China, Norway and Germany.

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If you have any questions, contact Juliana Howard at 715-791-8976 or Jamal Elmi at 320-310-2351.

Author: Mike Knaak

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