Tuesday, August 3, 2010

All families are "Broken" and then "Blended"

"Marriage customs bring together two people from different lineages and place them under a common roof. By definition, marriage is a joining of unlike elements. Even when the bond is strong, a seam both connects and divides husband, wife and the web of in-laws they bring to the table. A couple’s biological offspring really are a blend, but the rest of the family is patched together."  - Ellen Lupton, "In Praise of the Broken Home", New York Times, August 2, 2010

     Imagine, that in addition to joining the "unlike elements" under a common roof and then blending the family through the birth of several children, this blended family now emigrates to the United States from a country like India, Uzbekistan or Japan and settles in the County of Queens, City and State of New York.

     To complicate matters, the older husband has a hard time mastering the language and his younger wife is able to go to school, get a job and succeed financially.  "Over there" he was an important man, who provided for his family, but "over here" life is different.  As his wife works and becomes more independent, he begins to feel worthless, while his children become Americanized and "disrespectful."  Sounds familiar?

     Unfortunately, such is the plight of many families with strong traditional ties who "uproot" themselves and move to a new country.  The rift between parents and children and husbands and wives widens and the extended family members seem unable to comprehend that sometimes adjustments must be made. "In the old country people did not divorce, the husband managed the money and the wife managed the household.  The children knew 'their place' ".

     One can only imagine the complexity of emotional and cultural issues that such a family must experience if the couple faces a divorce or a separation.   However, divorces happen more and more often and have become a regular fact of life in such courts as Queens County Supreme Court in New York City.  Queens County is the most multi-cultural county in New York State. It brings together and "blends" hundreds of nationalities into a flavorful stew of small neighborhoods, which usually peacefully interact with each other. However, when the family dispute overtakes them, many members of the extended family find fault with the national original of the other party: " I told him not to marry a girl from ____ city, they don't make good wives".. While everyone is looking for a unique reason why a divorce is inevitable, in reality it is often the unfortunate consequence of too much "breaking" and not enough "blending" in a family of recent immigrants.

      In any event, it is imperative to find a culturally sensitive solution for the separating couple and their family, - the type of a solution that would work as they struggle to preserve their national identity and, at the same time, adjust to their new American way of life in a positive way.

1 comment:

  1. While I can't speak to the specifics of the immigrant experience (Queens being what it is, my daughter was sometimes the only child in her class with two U.S.-born parents.), I do know how wrenching divorce is for all concerned, including the extended family. One can only imagine how much more difficult it is when faced with cultural differences and the trauma of dealing with an unfamiliar legal system.