Immigrants and Fitting In Socially

May 7, 2013

Immigrants Fitting In Socially


This is a part of the series, “New American Stories” produced by Erika Lorentzsen for Prairie Public. An immigrant adjusting to new life in a new country has many challenges including how the community accepts them. Immigrants may feel they are on the outside.  


Susan Brown is a volunteer with the Ishkashitaa Refugee network in Tucson Arizona. She recently came to Fargo for a Bhutanese wedding, and she says immigrants here have found it very hard to make new friends.


They aren’t treated particularly badly but they are received with a lot of indifference. They said it was very difficult to find a place to live to rent, a place to live and felt they were being discriminated against. And they just see that people seem to stick basically to their own kind. I saw that there was very little diversity. We did meet a Somali woman, and proprietors of several Somali businesses. She did henna for people. It was all as if we had known each other for a long time. But we noticed after having visited where they worked. It was all Somali people and all of them said there was very little mixing. They kept to their own, habited each others business, but didn’t feel particularly welcome by the American, white population in Fargo.


Some Fargoans are trying. A community garden projected called “Growing Together” mixes Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Katy Christianson teaches immigrants at the Adult Learning Center and volunteers at the community garden.


Interestingly enough, I had always been interested in Africa, even though I had never been. When I moved to Fargo, ND that’s where I got to meet a lot of people from Africa. Our community garden started with families mostly from Liberia, and it had already been going for a year before my husband and I got involved. In Fargo, ND of all places, I got to work alongside families from Liberia, and that has expanded to Burundi and Rwanda, and to some Asian countries as well. I guess I enjoy what I do. First of all I enjoy working with people. I love hearing other people’s stories. And so getting to work with people of other cultures, whether at the garden or school, I get to hear their stories. I’m struck by how similar they are to mine, even though we grew up in different settings, and how their experiences are different. So I appreciate Fargo becoming a more diverse place.


Brown says immigrants could use someone to show them the city, or welcome them and become a friend.


It can be anyone that’s what they said. Just an American friend you can ask a question to. Should we do this or do that. What’s considered normal procedure? They’re afraid of going against protocol. In most cultures things manner more than ours. There’s informal and formal way of doing things. It’s considered impolite you know if you did the wrong thing. As opposed to no you don’t know about it don’t worry. They are very worried about offending someone and doing the wrong thing.


Yadav Nepal works at American Crystal Sugar and says he has many friends through work. But he says it’s hard to get to know other immigrants of other nationalities, and he says that his mother may be a bit isolated, because she doesn’t have a job.


In that case, many of the people who are uneducated are a little bit frustrated because they don’t have a job and they can’t get in touch with many different people. They wish to make friends in different communities, because we grew up to make friends. And we like to make friends.


Jack Wood is a leader with “Growing Together.” He says the garden can offer a sense of belonging to an immigrant struggling to fit in.

Jack Wood-

Well I think definitely some of the dangers would be if they don’t fit in is probably suffering from depression, staying inside the house and just growing old. I think that our community gardens bring those people out into the community to work that you know 3 to 4 hours, which is definitely good exercise. What we’re seeing in a lot of people coming from like Bhutan and Africa, where basically they just lived on garden foods, are now drinking lots of pops and eating lots of cookies. Just getting them good garden food also the exercise is very important to their health.


Gardening is a way to share common plants, stories and recipes without losing sight of the culture of their homelands. Find friends, fitting in, avoiding discriminatory or awkward situations are all a part of what immigrants face when moving to a new country. Brown says getting to know other Americans can help in the process. This is Erika Lorentzsen for Prairie Public.


Next we’ll hear a story about the journey taken by Bhutanese refugees, and why they were forced to flee. This series was made possible by the support of the Humanities Council and FM Area Foundation.