I am Gujarati. As a child, my sense of family and community was really different than what I see here. In my home, cousins were as close as siblings. Aunts and uncles shared decision-making with my parents. Day-to-day life included having lots of people around, cooking together, running the household together, and sharing everything. Many of my friends who are immigrants or were raised in immigrant families tell similar stories.
Even though I have lived in the United States for 11 years now, I am happiest when I am with others who were raised, understand, or have created this type of community—whether they are Gujarati or not. I felt a lot of warmth, love, and affection growing up with my extended family all around, and I miss that.
However, there is a flip side to all of this. If you are experiencing abuse, and those in your close community don’t see it, acknowledge it, or offer support, it can be incredibly isolating. You can be surrounded by all of these people and yet feel totally alone. As an advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, I’ve heard heart-breaking stories of how immigrant survivors have had to leave their community—and all that love and support—in order to escape the abuse, while others were not able or willing to leave their community and were killed by the abuser.
Recently, I met a group of women that seem to have figured out how to find safety and community. The Mijas are Latina survivors of abuse who have banded together to start their own restaurant where they give each other job training and support. (And they make fabulous food while they’re at it!!) The Mijas have given me hope and inspiration that immigrant communities can and do use the strengths of their culture to respond to domestic violence. I’m sharing their story in support, and with the hope that others can see what is possible.
One thought on “Living in community”
My family migrated from Norway to Minnesota in 1868. They were farmers and family meant a lot. There were many family gatherings on Saturdays and Sunday’s and those are some of my fondest times. There would be 40 to 50 family members that attended regularly. Women brought various types of food and many of the women worked together preparing foods on an old wood stove. Kids of all ages were outside playing with their cousins and really getting to know each and every one of them.
Time to eat was organized confusion and everything tastes so good. Fried chicken, home made bread and rolls, potato salads, home made pickles, and some traditional Scandinavian foods like Lefse. This looks like tortillas but they are made with potatoes.
After the meal and everyone working to clean up and do the dishes in an old farm sink (no such thing as a dishwasher) the family moved to the living room and the musical instruments were broke out, fiddles, piano, accordions, clarinets, harmonica, castanets, and sometimes even spoons and an old washboard. They played a lot of old Scandinavian music and Polcas, Shadishes and music that would have made Laurance Welk proud. My mother played 17 different musical instruments and my father played six. Mom was all over the place filling in with what ever instrument was needed for the next sound.
After a while the kids were back outside playing. Swinging on an old tire from an old Oak tree, chasing fireflies after the sun went down, playing tag and kick the can. The squealing from the little girls and shouting and laughter were contagious.
My older brother Glenn caught polio and it was a miracle that he lived. The polio ate the muscles away in the upper portion of his body. It ate all of the muscles, arms, chest, stomach, the muscles that control your breathing. Glenn only had 1/3 of normal breathing capacity and the cold harsh Minnesota winters were just too brutal on him. My family was forced to move out of the cold country so off we went to Southern California.
You would think that that would have been the end of our getting together at the family gatherings however, we took a lot of summer vacations back to Minnesota and the good times continued.
At some point kids grow into adulthood, get jobs, married and start raising a family. At that point it makes it awful hard to break away and take vacations to a place so far away. It is also next to impossible that your siblings could pack it up and take vacations at the same time. The same thing has happened with the relatives in Monnesota. Many of the cousins moved away for their jobs and trying to get back to Minnesota on weekends was next to impossible. So family reunions were started and the family tried to get together at least one weekend out of the year. That turned into every other year and then every five years.
The foods were not the same, no more home made bread or pickles, no more playing of musical instrument and the old Scandinavian tunes.
I still have the memories of those old times and I cherish those wonderful times. I am sorry that my kids did not get to experience those times. They missed out on growing up with their cousins and bonding relationships with so much family love.
God I miss those times and so wish that there was a way to get them back.
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