Book Review: How They Made it in America

Fiona's bookSeven success values and the immigrant women who cultivated them by Fiona Citkin, due to publish in December 2018 by a Simon & Schuster affiliate

How They Made it in America is a welcome dose of reality amidst a very worrisome worldwide rise in nationalism and xenophobia. With 40.4 million foreign-born people living in the USA—one in every eight residents—this book is enormously important and timely, providing an inside look at the personal journeys of 18 women from five continents who emigrated to the USA.

The women interviewed represent all socio-economic origins, from some who grew up as daughters of government officials and business leaders, to those born into poverty, and everything in between. Some chose to emigrate; others’ lives depended upon doing so. Each has made her mark in disciplines as diverse as technology, development, business, education, journalism, and the arts; most of them are also philanthropists and community volunteers. The author’s choice of these specific women provides a broad and deep spectrum of experience in the book’s quick-reading 314 pages.

There are over one million foreign-born women business owners in the USA—that’s 13% of all women-owned firms in the country. This book offers an understanding of how starting a new life overseas not only changed these immigrant women themselves, but the economy and community as a whole—locally, nationally, and internationally. One woman’s impact comes from starting a company that has annual revenues of $3 billion, another developed a brand now sold at 10,000 stores in 68 countries, and another is changing the world through her micro-lending organization. We see how some immigrant women struggle to regain the status they had at home, while others begin on the ground floor and work their way up step-by-step.

Interview subjects include such well-known women as Chilean-born Isabel Allende and Ivana Trump, originally from the Czech Republic, to women I’d never heard of like social entrepreneur Alfa Demmellash from Ethiopia or Weili Dai from China, the only female co-founder of a major semiconductor company. By the end of the book most any US American reader will feel blessed to have such talented immigrants in our country!

We learn what these women love about the USA, what brought them in the first place, and what keeps them proudly living there. We gain insight about the effect immigration has on their relationships with those who stayed behind, with the children they birth in their new home, and with their American friends and colleagues. We hear about their struggles—from language, accents, and schoolyard bullying to the professional glass ceiling, assertiveness, and risk taking. Plus, we are privy to their hard-earned advice for others like them.

The author, Fiona Citkin, writes that she and her husband made the decision to immigrate because they wanted their 16-year-old daughter to “grow up in a country where she could fulfill her potential through her own efforts—not because of bribery, conformism, or her parents’ connections” (p. 7). Fiona’s first-hand experience informs the book deeply; she’s an immigrant who has had success as an academic, a corporate employee and executive, and an entrepreneur. “My own struggles in America have helped me understand what skills people need to develop in order to succeed in this U.S.—and the special set of challenges faced by immigrant women” (p. 8).

The book is divided into three parts, with two-thirds of it comprised of interviews with the women. From these interviews, Fiona distills seven “success values” that are explained in a second section, and the book concludes with an “Achiever’s Handbook” offered as a guidebook for immigrants wanting to succeed in the USA. Included is a Foreword by Cultural Detective extraordinaire George Simons and an Introduction by Carlos Cortés. The author has certainly done her research; the volume includes 15 pages of footnotes for those who wish to learn more.

Of particular interest and value to me was how the various women describe their blended culture experience. I most definitely wish I could share a copy of Cultural Detective Blended Culture with each of these women, individually and as a group! Most of the interviewees came across as “constructive marginals”—a term used to describe multicultural individuals who have integrated the positive aspects of their various cultural backgrounds into their identities.

  • “I am an eternal transplant… My roots would have dried up by now had they not been nourished by the rich magma of the past,” states Isabel Allende (Chile).
  • Verónica Montes (Mexico) tells us, “I had to reinvent my cultural practices in a different social and cultural context, and in that sense, I have consciously selected those practices that I find more significant and relevant to me. It is like becoming an orphan and needing to make your own cultural framework.” She sees herself as incorporating the best of American traits into Mexican culture, thereby enriching her world.
  • Alfa Demmellash (Ethiopia) shares with us a frequent theme among the 18 women: “I consider myself a global citizen residing in America.”
  • “Immigrants end up being hybrids with two hearts; two countries they love; two languages; and two cultures” is Ani Palacios McBride (Perú)’s take on the subject.
  • Raegan Moya-Jones (Australia) relates, “My children will be culturally richer for having parents from Australia and Chile. Life and work are all becoming more global; this is nothing but a good thing for me personally and for my children.” Her proudest achievement, like mine, is raising “respectful, unbiased, globally-minded children.”
  • Rohini Anand (India), tells us of her blended culture experience: “The U.S. is home, not India. I’m comfortable with my cultural mix and can navigate cultures comfortably. I love the sense of the extended Indian community and an associated support structure. If my family were here, it could change the whole dynamic for me.”

A couple of the interviewees, however, either shared more deeply and realistically, or perhaps have not yet found a way to make peace with the various facets of their multicultural selves. In the intercultural literature, this is called being an “encapsulated marginal.”

  • Irmgard Lafrentz (Germany), like most others, has felt her traditional values change since moving to the U.S. “I feel more American [than German], but as I get older, I long for more belonging somewhere. I am rooted neither here nor in Germany. I am not sure whether it’s possible to become totally integrated, and if it’s an emotional or intellectual issue. There is a social identity that unites all immigrants, regardless of country of origin.”
  • Elena Gogokhove (Russia), “My Russian brain does the speaking with my Russian friends and sometimes my daughter. My English brain takes over when it comes to writing. I write only in English. Like a spy, I live with two identities, American and Russian—two selves perpetually crossing swords over the split inside me. There is no bridge between the two lives.” Unlike most of the interviewees who discussed themselves as changing drastically after emigrating, Elena says, “Moving to America failed to make me a different person… Russia, like a virus, has settled in my blood and hitched a ride across the ocean.”

While references to feminism in each of the interviews are interesting, they aren’t very well-connected to anything larger and feel a bit out of place. That said, this is an interesting and remarkable work that offers valuable insight into the creativity and perseverance needed to be a successful woman immigrant in the USA. How They Made it in America would be a terrific holiday gift for friends and family, and for any immigrants you might wish to help. And, of course, the best gift of all would be to combine the book with a subscription to Cultural Detective Online!

Become a Certified Facilitator

Register now to learn to use Cultural Detective’s robust and personally customized online system to improve intercultural competence in your communities, organizations and teams—bridging the issues that polarize our societies and leveraging differences as assets.

We have two upcoming workshops, one in San Diego USA in October and the other in Vienna AUSTRIA in November. Proceeds from both events will support the respective SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) organizations. You will leave the workshop with a developmentally-sound set of tools in your hands and the knowledge and skill to use them. You will form meaningful, long-lasting relationships with leading professionals. And, as a certified facilitator, you will receive a 10% discount when you license our printed materials, a listing on our website, and one-month access to Cultural Detective Online.

Below is the flyer from SIETAR Austria, and following that is a video from SIETAR USA:

CD Vienna 2017 p1CD Vienna 2017 p2

Click on the link to learn more or secure your seat now.

Refugee Resettlement: Cultural Values in the Remaking

refugee coverThere are over 20 million refugees in our world, according to UNHCR. The AVERAGE length of time a refugee spends in a camp—in limbo, in transition, waiting—is 17 years; not months: YEARS!

Cultural Detective conducted a complimentary webinar on strategies for helping refugees and their receiving communities. It was conducted by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, herself a refugee, who has worked in refugee resettlement for several decades.

Tatyana

The webinar was so well received that we did a second one, for a different time zone. Then, SIETAR Austria and SIETAR Europa asked us to do a third. The next step will probably be a dialogue among seasoned practitioners. Interculturalists have crucial talent and resources to contribute to this crisis, and Cultural Detective is a tool that provides a remarkable service to both refugees themselves and their receiving communities.

There are several powerful learnings that participants take away from the ninety minutes. One is how complicated and confusing the entire resettlement process is. For example, there are so many different terms, which technically mean so many different things. The key component underlying the refugee experience is fear, and legally, refugees are those who travel across national boundaries. Those who are forced to relocate out of fear yet remain in their own countries are internally displaced.

termsThen there is the statelessness. Most refugees are forced to abandon their citizenship when they emigrate. Since, on average, they wait 17 years before finding a new home, that’s an awfully long time not to “belong” anywhere! Then there is the concept of time, of waiting, of living in limbo. If a child has been raised in a refugee camp, or an adult has lived in one for years, and now in a new home has to keep timely appointments and behave proactively, it’s a HUGE cultural shift we’re expecting. The countries that receive the most refugees are often not the countries in which the refugees will live long-term; they are transit countries. This means that the refugees go through waves of transition and re-acculturation.

There is the loss of everything that is familiar, everything the refugee knows and is comfortable with. They basically fall down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, losing self-actualization, self-esteem, love and belonging, in the quest for survival and safety. In the new country refugees often need to learn a new language, a new culture and way of life, at a time when they are nursing the wounds of loss and at their lowest emotionally. Members of refugee families experience and respond to these intense emotions in a diversity of ways. Grandparents may not adjust to new ways; parents may be insulted by children who adopt new ways and seem disrespectful; children may resent or feel ashamed of parents who don’t understand or who have values different than those they’ve learned to adopt.

A second powerful take-away from the webinar is an empathy for the loss that refugees experience. Several participants reported tears and crying during one of the activities, saying they felt sad, lost, desperate, a fear of the unknown, anger, resistance, shock, feelings of depression. The refugee experience demands extremely high levels of resilience.

exerciseACTIVITY
So, what was this exercise?

Objective: To establish empathy for the refugee experience.

Instructions: On a piece of paper, draw two intersecting lines, one vertical and one horizontal, to form four quadrants. Yes, sort of like a Cultural Detective Worksheet.

  1. In the upper left quadrant, list the names of the people who are your direct relatives: a legal spouse if you have one, and any minor-aged children.
  2. In the upper right corner, list the names of those you love: adult children, parents, grandchildren, dear friends, cousins. List as many people as are dear to you.
  3. In the lower left, list two to five small, portable things that are of value to you. These should be things the size of a book or so, something that fits into a pocket or a suitcase. They can have monetary or sentimental value, such as jewelry or photos.
  4. Finally, in the lower right, list the things you love about your life now that are too large or too permanently installed to move with you. This might be your home, car, heirloom furniture; or maybe it’s your ancestral grave site, a favorite park or…

Take your time. When you are finished:

  1. Take a good look at that last quadrant, the lower right. Put a big “X” through everything listed there. You won’t be able to take it with you. Let that sink in.
  2. Next, look at the upper right. One by one, draw a line through each and every name on your list. Unless those people are able and lucky enough to travel with you, you may not ever be seeing them again. You’ll have to say goodbye to them. Take a moment. How does that feel?

Debrief: Share reactions and feelings, and apply to real life.

We realized that refugees are expected to be grateful for their new homes, which most of course are; but that at the same time they are mourning losses that are beyond normal mortal capacity. Tatyana shared with us her own experience. Even as a trained social worker, as a relocated refugee she experienced anger, resentment and jealousy of her host, the very person who was helping her, and to whom she was so very grateful. The emotions are complex, intense, illogical, and very real.

The world is so focused these days on what to do with refugees—who to accept, how to ensure safety and security—that we often do not focus on what to do after the refugees reach their new homes. All too often we hear the world “assimilate,” which interculturalists know is a far-from-optimal adaptation strategy. Assimilation happens because a society is not accepting of those who are different, yet a refugee very much wants to fit in and be accepted. In the process, refugees can be successful, but they lose themselves, their heritage, and the receiving society loses the benefit of the unique insights and experience the refugees bring.

What are other options? Tatyana walked us through John Berry’s Acculturation and Adjustment Strategies. Along the “x” or horizontal axis we have how accepting society is of those who are different. Along the “y” or vertical axis we have how open an individual refugee is to change.

berry

From “Immigration, Acculturation and Adaptation,” in Applied Psychology: An International Review, 1997, 46.1, pp. 5-68.

The quadrant we of course want to avoid is Marginalization, which is where terrorism, both domestic and international, are born. This is where difference is not accepted by society, and the individual retreats internally, shutting down to and closing out from the outside world.

Separation is not an ideal adaptation strategy, either. While we may enjoy the good eats of a Chinatown or the salsa dancing of a Latino district of town, separation leads to segregation, pulling society apart and leaving its members vulnerable to discrimination.

We should of course aim for integration, which requires an openness on the part of society and on the part of the refugee or individual. Refugees learn, grow and change, as does society, transforming itself into a more innovative and inclusive community.

Tatyana used Cultural Detective Values Lenses to illustrate the worldview a refugee might start out with, the values required for successful adaptation, and what might be important to those of the receiving country. We can easily use the Cultural Detective Worksheet in Cultural Detective Online to analyze our interactions with refugees, or with those in our new home, and learn how to adjust in a more integrated, less marginalized, separate or assimilated manner.

If you like the activity here, I’d also urge you to look at Caritas France’s “On the Road with Migrants” game, which is now available in English and German as well.

Want to sign up for one of our webinars? You can find the full schedule here.

 

Response to Time’s “Yo Decido” Cover

I am blessed to have a comadre who is one incredibly intelligent, wise, and loving woman. Her name is Carmen DeNeve, and she is Mexican-born, living and teaching for decades now in Los Angeles California.

A day or so ago I posted this Time magazine cover to my personal Facebook wall. Many people shared it, as it’s exciting – that the voice of Latinos can be so strong in the USA!

Well, I heard very quickly from my comadrita. I find Carmen’s response so important and quite thought-provoking. It tells a tale that is true for countries around the world with new immigrant voters, I believe, and I’ve received her permission to share it with you here.

“Comadrita, I wish, but too many issues here. First, I wonder about the numbers who really vote and are well informed, even if the total figure is huge. I’m working on this where I teach because some Latino voters have called me the night before election day to ask me, ‘Who do I vote for?’ Or doubting if they should vote. Their thinking is if they don’t study hard about who they need to vote for, maybe it’s better not to exercise their vote — sounds almost sacrilegious.

I think we need neutral political education for new voters like many Latinos, but it doesn’t happen, unfortunately. I want us to be prepared to vote, not only exercise a right that is precious. That’s why later some people blame the victims! And, maybe rightly so.”

[Additional comment from Carmen the following day:] “Dianne, I started reading the article, but I don’t like that journalists give misleading information and manipulate facts, exaggerating such as YO DECIDO. Out of the 50.5 million Hispanic/Latinos they mention, or 17% of the total US population, not all of these can vote, of course. About 10.2 million according to the Census 2010 are not authorized in the U.S. (undocumented) and of course there are more in actuality. This brings us down to 40.5 million potential voters. BUT, from this number there are those under 18 years of age, which roughly I calculated looking at last Census data to be in the 18-20 million range. The recent Census data show roughly one in four children under the age of 10 in the U.S. are Hispanic.

So we don’t really have 50.5 million voting if we take out 30 million not able to vote! This leaves us with 20 million potential voters. Do all vote? Unfortunately not so. I’m trying to educate those who can vote from among these 20 million in my community. They are adorable, but not interested in politics rather focusing on survival. The education of these potential voters will take a long time.

On the other hand, the manipulation of numbers is unbelievable as we all know. I see it as a big scheme for what? I wish, I wish we could all vote and we could actually be 50.5 million and not for example only 13.7% possible voters in Colorado. So I don’t get how we will pick the next President.

We are as diverse in political issues as in religion and socioeconomics. The Miami Cubans seem to have little in common with the Sacramento Mexicans or the New Mexico Hispanics or the Chicago Latinos. But if they want to present us as a common strong block that’s their prerogative, but misleading after all.