Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Crossing Cultures Weekend Whirlwind

Q: What do you get when you combine a brother and a sister, and a brother and a sister? What do you get when the sisters are the oldest children and the brothers are second born? What do you get when both families have more than 5 children? What do you get when both of their fathers turn 50 this year? What do you get when their fathers were both pastors and are no longer? What do you get when the girls love missions and the boys love music? What do you get when one of the girls is taking the mission class "Perspectives" that the other girl did last year? What do you get when the girls and one boy went to Africa together? What do you get when one sister and one brother are homeschool graduates and the other brother and sister are soon to be homeschool graduates?

A: Jaclyn and Ben; Shannon and Caleb!

Part One
Little Mexico in Denver: A Struggle with Prejudice
Shannon and Caleb arrived at our house while the sun was rising (7:00am) on Saturday morning. We loaded the car and embarked on a grand adventure! The adventure? A seminar, of sorts, called Crossing Cultures. We found the host church, on the other side of town, with 15 minutes to spare! We were the first ones to arrive... and the last ones to leave. (Once a pastor's kid, always a pastor's kid... always early whether you want to be or not! Always the last one to leave because you HAVE to talk to everyone, you know?)
Crossing Cultures is a one day class that encourages, teaches and challenges people (mostly "Americans") to cross cultures in their own sphere of influence with out ever leaving "home." The morning of the class is information and traning. The afternoon is hands on in the community. You spend several hours walking the streets and talking with people of different ethnical backgrounds, asking them questions about their home country, languages and any stories they want to share.

Anyway, the seminar started and we eagerly soaked up the information. Most of the material was basic, but the activities were fun and the people were friendly. I learned that the fourth language spoken in the Aurora Public School District here in Colorado is a dialect from Ethiopia called Amharic. English is first, Spanish second, (cannot remember the third... Russian?) and Amharic. Amazing! I also learned that there are 60,000 Mongolians living in the Denver Metro area. There is one small, but thriving, Mongolian church.

Most large cities in America have become the home to hundreds of different peoples (nationalities). Close your eyes and picture the people you see on your drive to work. List the people you interact with at work or because of work. Who do you see in the grocery store? Walmart? Dry cleaner? Here is my list of people who I KNOW are first generation in America that I interact with on a regular basis: Hispanic, Ethiopian, Ghanaan, Polish, Swedish, Irish, Kenyan, British, Australian, Iranian, Korean and French.

Our location for the hands on assignment was a small Mexican bus station in downtown Denver. First, finding this place was quite difficult. One because it was in a rough part of town and two because some city streets were blocked for the St. Patrick's Day Parade. I found it eventually. None of us had been to this part of Denver before. My guard was on high as we stepped out of the car. The four of us looked around and glanced knowingly at each other. Where were we? Where we in Denver, Colorado or Juarez, Mexico? The streets were dirty; the buildings were run down. The people stared at US like we were out of place. And we were. We were white and young.

We stood across from the Guadalajara bus station and stared. We confessed to each other that we felt a slight tinge of prejudice rising from somewhere within us. Why did we have a desire to talk with the African, the European or the Asian? Why were we, four pretty outgoing people who LOVE different cultures, finding this so hard? We walked by the bus stop and, not seeing anyone in there, went instead into what I thought was a Mexican grocery store. It was not. It was a restaurant. They stared. You could almost hear them thinking, "What are they doing here?" We stepped out and walked over to a run down store. The same question was obvious on the faces of all the people inside the store: "What are these young, clean, white Americans doing in our Mexican shoe store?" Shannon and I talked with the young girl at the counter while Ben and Caleb approached some teenage boys. The girl was about twelve years old and had been in the United States only four months. She learned most of her English by reading Harry Potter. She was shy and struggling to communicate, so we courteously bought a treat and said farewell!

The "treat" we bought was what we affectionately titled a "candied yam." It was sweet, sweet, sweet, stringy inside like a squash and sweet! We couldn't have chose the pink fluffy treat or the cookies, huh? We had to pick the most unfamiliar looking one. Well, what got what we asked for by doing a thing like that! It was edible, but I would not spend a $1 on another one!

We decided to complete our "assignment" and go in the bus stop. I cannot explain what I was feeling and what I was sensing were the feelings of my brother, Shannon and Caleb. This was hard. I do not think it would have been difficult if I was in Mexico or Brazil, but why was it here? We walked across the street, took a deep breath and ventured inside. Besides one man reading a newspaper, who did not look interested in company, and the man at the counter, the bus stop was empty. Ben enthusiastically greeted the man. He was slightly handicapped and appologized for not knowing English. Ben tried to sum up our mission in simple words but the gentleman did not understand. We waved goodbye and made our exit.

We stepped out onto the street and all sighed. What made that so difficult? Feeling frustrated with our attitudes of prejudice and "unsuccessful" journey we headed back to the car. We discussed our feelings and what we would like to differently next time. Why were we nervous and why did these people throw up a wall when we appeared? We finally agreed that there are definately different cultural barriers to cross with Hispanic immigrants. First, there are a lot of them in Denver. Second, many come illegally and are nervous when asked questions. (The immigration service has spies to do the exact thing we were doing... but for a different purpose! Part of our training was how to ask questions in a way that sets the person at ease and exlains what we are doing. We are wanting to learn about their culture NOT see if they have a vaild green card or visa!) Third, many Hispanics, not all, are prejudice against Americans because of racial discrimination. Fourth, many do not speak English. All of these reasons are real and cause cultural barriers when trying to talk with them!

We all agreed that we were not expecting to face the emotions we had experienced. We all agreed that we would like to break down those walls- for the Hispanic and for ourselves. We all agreed to head back towards our class and stop at another place along the way! We prayed and drove off...

Sample Introduction:

-Example: In a store, "Hi, my name is Jaclyn. I was curious about this (imported product). Where is it from? How is it used? I am learning about different cultures today, do you have time to answer a few questions?

Sample Questions:

- Where are you from? (If they say Kansas or something, ask about family heritage!)

- What language(s) do you speak? Can you teach me how to say "hello" and "goodbye" in that language?

- How long have you lived in the United States?

- What types of food do you eat in (country)?

All of these questions are good ice breakers. The more open-ended the questions the longer a conversation will last! Most foreigners are anxious to talk about their home country that they miss! Try it sometime and see what people say! I specifically seek foreigners out for cashiers. It seems to brighten their day when you take personal interest in them! I have even said, "Glad to have you in America." The girl, from the Ivory Coast, Africa, smiled with eyes bright!

....Crossing Cultures Weekend Whirlwind TO BE CONTINUED.....

Part Two Preview-

International Food Market: An Interview with a Muslim

Part Three Preview-

Chinese Sea Food Restaurant: A Lesson in Chopsticks


BenZ said...

Great depiction. Could you have been more accurate though? Just Kidding. Great memories. But what about the 4th part, Laporte Colorado!!!?

Jaclyn said...

I could add a fourth part... I think I need to get the other two done first, though....

Spanish Morning said...

Wow...after the immigration conversation we had the other day, this was a good post for me to read. I fully agree with the reasons why the Hispanic cultural barrier is so hard to cross. Those were eye-opening.

And when I pondered the various peoples I see around me...I honestly can only say Hispanic. I do know one African American from church. But honestly, Jaclyn. You'll see when you get here just how Hispanic-ly populated Salinas is.

Oh wait. Just remembered our downstairs neighbors are Indian or Middle Eastern. But their neighbors? Hispanic. :-)

Jenni Kaessner said...

Very fun to read in more detail your Crossing Cultures experience. You guys learned a lot; I think all of us did by stepping outside of our comfort zone.