For decades now Fort Wayne has seen a flood of refugees from all over the world – Europe, Africa, Asia – and many brought with them strange customs and a lack of understanding of American customs.
The result, at times, has been culture clashes that were aggravated by language barriers.
Saneta Maiko, the executive director of Crime Victim Care of Allen County, a non-profit, has been trying to overcome some of these problems by holding what he calls cultural competency seminars. The events are aimed at safety officials, health and social workers, criminal justice workers and anyone else willing to listen.
What Maiko believes is that while immigrants have to learn American ways of doing things, we, too, have to be patient and understand where immigrants came from and what was standard practice in their homelands.
At times, it can be a life and death issue.
For example, when stopped by police in the U.S., youre supposed to stay in your car and keep your hands in sight. In another culture, Maiko said, when stopped by police the standard practice might be to get out of your car and walk to the police.
Some immigrants come from countries where, if confronted by the police, it is standard practice to pay police a bribe. Some immigrants dont understand that you cant do that in America, Maiko said.
A police officer is talking to you and youre going through the car looking for a $20 bill or a $50 bill to give to the officer, Maiko said. He thinks youre looking for a gun.
Mistakes like that can get you shot, Maiko said. The police might try to explain to a person to keep their hands in sight or stay in the car, But what if you dont speak English?
These culture clashes take place in many different aspects of life, Maiko said.
Some people might discipline their children physically because thats how its done in their culture, but it can be a crime here.
In Burma, they may spank a different way, but it becomes a crime here, and an immigrant doesnt understand why, Maiko says.
You have to explain that you have to follow the law, Maiko said.
The issues can be complex, and Maiko said he sees them all the time.
A family might leave their children in the car when they go to the store. Someone sees children left alone in a car and calls the police, then other agencies get involved and a family might end up in court charged with neglect.
Everyone suffers and nothing is accomplished, Maiko said.
The attitude of a lot of people is that immigrants need to assimilate, Maiko said. They should learn to speak English and learn our way of life. But you dont just start speaking English, and it can be particularly hard for an immigrant who is illiterate and who speaks a language that has no written version.
The key is to let immigrants integrate and find a healthy way for them to transition, Maiko said.
The next cultural competence training event will be Aug. 3 at IPFW.
Well be giving examples and bringing in people from other cultures to tell stories of their experiences, Maiko said.
The session, which costs $40, is 10 hours long and participants will qualify for 1 continuing education credit.
Participants must register online. The web address is a mouthful: https://learn.ipfw.edu/CourseStatus.awp?&course=12UBUS589.