Monday, August 10, 2009

Response to Domestic Violence and refugees comment.

Okay, I confess. I'm not really that tech-savvy. In fact, I actually own a record player and do not own an MP3 player. That's how non-tech-oriented I am. (And I thought I was doing so well when I actually taught myself HTML back in the late '90s, but, alas, technology has passed me by once again.)

Sometime ago, I wrote a blogpost about dometic violence among refugees. I wrote this because I stumbled into a case of domestic violence among refugees. I have since been working to get this fixed but, alas, domestic violence situations are not easy to fix.

Essentially if the victim, usually a woman, is not "empowered" and does not know what she wants out of life and this relationship, then often she will go straight back into the situation and the result is that things will start all over again. Therefore just charging into the situation and slamming the guy against the wall and threatening him is not going to fix things.

[And, for the record, although this is usually women, men are just as stupid. There was a six month period once in which three men I knew had incidents where their girlfriends tried to stab them or assault them with knives. In none of these three cases, did the man break up with the woman. Curiously, it was one white woman, one black woman and one Asian woman involved and two white and one black men. Make of that what you will.]

Essentially, and this is my brilliant insight into the world that I learned from all this so treasure it please, it was hard earned, getting involved in a domestic violence situation is like walking into a potentially if not actually violent situation, a situation that if not handled right involves a very real risk of danger, and then taking the absolutely most confused, scared least qualified person present (i.e. the victim) and putting them in charge and hoping it will somehow turn out okay.

Among refugees these cases are actually more complicated than among non-immigrant Americans because of cultural and language barriers as well as a lack of awareness of what is expected behavior and what resources are available and what can actually be expected from these resources. Not to mention the fact that refugees often, quite frankly, live their lives in a haze where they just do not know things like the names of the cities three hours away and would not consider going there anyway unless there was a community of people from their ethnic group there who they could talk to and interact with. So it gets extra complicated.

Interestingly enough, the post got some unusual attention for reasons that really had nothing to do with the post itself. However, in it I mentioned that a program was put on in large part by an intern named Una Hardester. Apparently Hardester, 22 year old, female non-refugee, felt that the refugees needed anti-discrimination training. On hand, however, was a 43 year old male former refugee attorney named Artan Serjanej who felt that what refugees needed first were guidelines on how to behave in America, including lectures on the importance of not beating their wives. Hardester and the other women involved accused Artan Serjanej of not understanding refugees' true needs (!!!) and despite being a refugee himself of being insensitive.

So naturally they drove him out and refused to let him run programs anymore.

After all that's what we do in America when someone more experienced than ourselves does not share our idealistic view of the importance of advocating for people's rights.

Then, due to the high turnover at the refugee center, Hardester herself disappeared and I don't think they run this program anymore at all. (Well that solves . . . er . . . I don't know what that solves exactly but I'm sure it must solve something I guess. Otherwise, it would just be stupid, wouldn't it? )

So, in response to my posts Una Hardester is now calling me insensitive.

Of course, she is correct. I am insensitive. I am also, as I said, technologically impaired.

Which means that I am putting my response to her response which is at the bottom of this post here way up here because I just don't know any other way to do it.

Anyway, here goes . . .

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Una, seem to be three things mixed in here.

First, Thanks for clarifying the differences between what you and Artan Serjanej and you and your buddies considered important. However might I suggest that a middle aged former refugee male might have some perspectives on the way middle aged refugee males think and act that a 22 year old, politically correct, non-refugee woman such as yourself might benefit to learn from? Might it be a valid point of view to say that the behaviors of some refugees when placed in a new foreign environment might make them a bigger threat to themselves than the police are? Particularly if they are engaging in activities that are accepted where they come from but will get them in big trouble while in this country? Activities such as smacking one’s wife when she acts disrespectful or wishes to handle her own finances?

Current thinking in cross-cultural education is that if you wish a person from another culture to model a behavior that he has not been taught (i.e. not seeing his wife as a piece of property but instead as a partner) then you need to identify where his or her current level of understanding lies and work from there. If you skip steps and assume knowledge that does not exist then learning will not take place.

The world does not work in a politically correct fashion. And the more you see, the more a lot of harsh realities are going to appear insensitive. As I‘ve mentioned more than once on this blog, I lived in Asia for four years and spent other time working for the ambulance, And one thing I’ve learned is that it is a mistake to try to work with young PC college women if you wish to actually make a difference in the world. You know why? Because the world is an insensitive, politically incorrect place and they don’t yet know it. Therefore they get angry when people casually make references to situations that do not fit their pre-conceived, ethnocentric, not the least bit truly multi-cultural paradigm of how the world should work. But someday you’ll understand what I mean, at least if you pay attention.

If you really believe that all ethnic groups have the same propensity for crime and domestic violence as all other ethnic groups (i.e. "Though the resettlement process is extremely stressful, refugees are no more likely to commit crimes, against their family members or anyone else, than citizens born and raised in this country.") then you are a very ignorant person. As stated, multi-cultural means *ACKNOWLEDGING* that different cultures behave differently, not ignoring it. However, I will give you the chance to offer statistics to back up this very important statement. But, I bet you can't.

If you actually go out and visit refugees, you’ll see that they have much bigger needs than anti-discrimination in housing training. (Some day I will write about all the problems refugees have with housing and a lot of them stem from the fact that the refugee center makes promises to landlords it cannot keep . At least one landlord asked me if he could come to me after I straightened out a dispute between him and his tenants and said the refugee center never returns his calls. I advised him to speak directly to his tenants and they could come to me if they wished. )

Second, you are exaggerating or mis-stating some things. You were, I believe, an unpaid intern at the refugee center. You said you left in September, I assume to go back to school. Jen Barcam is now the volunteer coordinator. But it was on January 27 that her hiring was publically announced. This is one reason that the refugee center was such a mess. There was a four month period during which the refugee center had no paid volunteer coordinator. During this time a volunteer did much of the duties, and although she was great, being a volunteer she could not do all of the duties that needed to be done to keep things running smoothly. Although during this four month period one person was hired, he quit after one day, as he found the place frightful. (I believe his quote was “This is not the experience I wish to have had in the future.”) Because things were such a mess the director was unable to keep her scheduled interviews with candidates for the position and they often sat for hours in the waiting room looking confused, surrounded by unhappy refugees and doing their best to force a smile when people spoke to them. (I am sure there are several of these people out there now talking about “the crazy interview I had last year at the refugee center.”)

During the interim, Eh Eh Cho taught several classes. From what I understand the refugees like her classes, at least they tell me so, but these focus on nutrition and inter-personal communication. I think I'll go out on a limb here and argue that these classes are based on the assumption that refugees have important things they need to learn if they are going to live well, behave right and stay out of trouble in America and Eh Eh Cho does her best to teach them these things.

When I worked at the refugee center, I often had to recruit my own volunteers and when I didn’t I often found myself stuck. In fact, being the intensely multi-cultural guy that I am, I often recruited them from among the refugees and, believe it or not, worked well with them and treated them in such a way that they got a lot out of the experience. (Some day I hope to write more about this.)

And now, because they helped me, I try to help them and take care of them. And sometimes I try to help them and their friends.

Thirdly, as for my comments on the Nepali-Burmese (Ghorkakhali), again we have the problem of a 22 year old woman who is trying to impose a PC view of the world on a non-PC reality. “You’re not supposed to say that!” you cry. “But it’s true!” I say. “But it can’t be true because it’s not the way things should be,” you say. “Sadly,” I say, “It is true, Una. This is the way things are.” )

Una, there are at least nine Nepali-Burmese (Gorkhakali) people in Albany. I know eight of them. Of these eight people, two are guilty of domestic violence, three are guilty of tax evasion, others work off the books and receive benefits, two drive regularly without a driver’s license and a third also did so, actually hitting a parked car, before she finally got her driver’s license, and another one is alleged to frequently walk up to women and tell them how big his penis is. Is this typical behavior among Nepali-Burmese? I have no idea, because these are the only eight that I have ever met.

As for consequences to me for speaking the truth about them, well, I guess they will have to find someone else to offer them free English and driving lessons, writing job applications for them, teaching how to change light bulbs, trying to get them to put bread in the freezer before it turns green and puffy and helping them out in a thousand little ways. Fortunately there are many other, much more decent refugees out there who also need help (including the wives of these losers who are currently being domestically abused. Hey, Una, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you go out and try to help them? I’ve been working on this problem for a while in several ways but so far haven’t gotten the results I’d like to see. Maybe you can do something about it. Of, if you’d prefer, I think I can give you a lot of suggestions on ways to help refugees. They’re not glamorous but they surely could use the help.).

12 comments:

  1. Peter,

    This is Una again. The views expressed below are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of USCRI.

    As before, I will address your arguments point by point.

    1) You wrote: "Apparently Hardester, 22 year old, female non-refugee, felt that the refugees needed anti-discrimination training. On hand, however, was a 43 year old male former refugee attorney named Artan Serjanej who felt that what refugees needed first were guidelines on how to behave in America, including lectures on the importance of not beating their wives. Hardester and the other women involved accused Artan Serjanej of not understanding refugees' true needs (!!!) and despite being a refugee himself of being insensitive.

    I respond: It was not Serjanej's conduct in the workshops that anyone objected to, it was the language he used when talking to the press. He showed poor judgment and a lack of discretion by making the comments he did, even if they were taken out of context. Moreover, you were not at any of these workshops, and I do not remember you even being around the office at the time they were being run.

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  2. 2) You wrote: "So naturally they [USCRI staff] drove him [Serjanej] out and refused to let him run programs anymore."

    I respond: Serjanej was not "driven out." He was simply not asked to facilitate any future workshops. Moreover, he never ran programs. He volunteered for a few hours, that is all. USCRI may terminate volunteer arrangements as it sees fit.

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  3. 3) As I wrote before, the Rights and Responsibilities workshops were designed *after USCRI staff noticed an increasing number of discrimination complaints,* most of them related to housing. Therefore, discrimination in housing was a major focus of the workshops, though other issues, including domestic violence, were also incorporated.

    Erika Hague and I worked with Equinox Inc. to develop programming on the issue of domestic violence in refugee communities. Equinox provided trainings for USCRI staff on how to address domestic violence as service providers. This work continued after I left and, as far as I know, is ongoing and intensifying. I suggest you contact Erika Hague for more details, as she is the Preferred Communities coordinator.

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  4. 4) You wrote: "As I‘ve mentioned more than once on this blog, I lived in Asia for four years and spent other time working for the ambulance, And one thing I’ve learned is that it is a mistake to try to work with young PC college women if you wish to actually make a difference in the world. You know why? Because the world is an insensitive, politically incorrect place and they don’t yet know it. Therefore they get angry when people casually make references to situations that do not fit their pre-conceived, ethnocentric, not the least bit truly multi-cultural paradigm of how the world should work. But someday you’ll understand what I mean, at least if you pay attention."

    I respond: Please show me your statistics that prove refugees commit more violent crime on average than other immigrant groups or American citizens.

    As for the evidence behind my claim, please see the following articles. They summarize and cite studies that have found that not only do immigrants not commit more crimes on average than residents born in the United States, but there is a strong correlation between the presence of larger immigrant populations and *lower* rates of violent crime.

    http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/141300/large_immigrant_populations_make_cities_safe_..._just_ask_el_paso/

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/134579.html

    http://www.nber.org/papers/w13229

    http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/images/File/misc/Open Letter on Crime for Web 11-6-07.pdf


    Peter, like you, I have lived abroad and traveled widely on three continents, including to some rougher places. Please do not presume to know my background.

    Additionally, your statement "[...] one thing I’ve learned is that it is a mistake to try to work with young PC college women if you wish to actually make a difference in the world," is sexist, patronizing, and wholly unnecessary to this discussion.

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  6. Una, there is no need to clarify that you do not speak for USCRI. No one ever thought you did. You haven't been involved with them for a long time. And if you've been helping refugees in the meantime, I haven't heard about it, which, quite frankly doesn't mean you haven't but I doubt if you have. I didn't see you at the Burmese water festival or the Nepali new year's celebration, for instance.

    Surely with all this expertise with refugees you must hang out with them sometimes, right? They are your neighbors, right? And if so, then you know they need a lot of help with a lot of things, right?

    As I stated multiple times in this blog part of the problem with the Albany USCRI office is that vital positions (and other positions too) are held by unpaid, young interns who leave about the time they learn how to become competent in their jobs.

    Una, none of these articles are on domestic violence. And few get into research methodologies. One problem with crime and immigrants (and I wrote a book on the subject some time ago) is that of under-reporting, which is why, although I read the Reason article and posted it on this blog, I'm not sure if I agree with it. I'd have to look deeper. The world is a complex place.

    Do you really think that Muslims, for instance, treat women the same way mainstream Americans do? Do you understand that the Taliban is a foreign institution and that it has a reputation for perpetrating atrocities on women? Would you like an off the cuff lecture on sexism in Chinese history? Or of the problem of clitorectomies in East Africa? Or have you checked the recent statistics on rape coming out of South Africa? Different cultures do things differently. Some do things better than others.

    And, yes, Una, that statment was patronizing and sexist. But that doesn't mean it's not correct.

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  7. This is Una again.

    Peter: "Do you really think that Muslims, for instance, treat women the same way mainstream Americans do?"

    Me: Do you really think of Muslims --all 1 billion of them worldwide, including all sects, all nationalities, all ethnicities, classes and political affiliations-- think and act exactly the same way in regard to women? Moreover, what exactly is a "mainstream American"? Christian? (That would exclude me, and being American is a significant aspect of my identity.) Or just not Muslim?

    Peter: "Do you understand that the Taliban is a foreign institution and that it has a reputation for perpetrating atrocities on women?"

    Me: The Taliban were (Taliban is a collective noun) deposed as the government of Afghanistan in 2001, eight years ago, and are a collection of networked insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their record on women's human rights was and is utterly appalling. However, it would be ridiculous to argue that all Afghans accept the kinds of abuses the Taliban perpetrated. They absolutely did not, and still do not. Hence, you often read about girls braving threats of bombs and acid attacks to attend school in some of the most conservative areas of Afghanistan. I have worked with Afghan refugees for years, have close Afghan friends, and conduct research on Afghanistan in a professional capacity. So, to answer your question, yes, I am aware of the Taliban. Are you aware that Afghan society is vastly more complicated than one movement? That many Afghans died resisting the Taliban not as members of rival armed groups, but as teachers, doctors and midwives, musicians and artists, and human rights advocates?

    Peter: “Would you like an off the cuff lecture on sexism in Chinese history? Or of the problem of clitorectomies in East Africa? Or have you checked the recent statistics on rape coming out of South Africa? Different cultures do things differently. Some do things better than others.”

    Me: Please, spare me your lectures.

    Peter: And, yes, Una, that statement was patronizing and sexist. But that doesn't mean it's not correct.

    Me: What an ironic thing for you to write in the context of this discussion.

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  8. Una,
    I know darn well that you have exaggerated your expertise as well as the health of your program and the refugee center itself in this discussion. I find it difficult to believe that you have done serious research on Afghanistan although I could be wrong. In fact, a quick search on google scholar reveals nothing by you on the subject. ( Google scholar ) although there are a few blog posts. Gee, blog posts on politics of a foreign place one has probably never visited. Isn't that special?

    However, if blog posts are expertise then I am an expert on refugee issues (not! I just know more than many people and would like to see these issues discussed more by people who are actually willing to discuss it without an agenda.)

    Skip the lectures? Good idea. And skip Artan Serjanej's opinions too. In fact, why don't you skip every single little thing or point of view that you might possibly find offensive and that way you will never have to understand the way the world actually works. You can stay content, thinking that you know how things are, how people behave, and assume that what they want is what you want and if you tell enough people what you wish them to hear they will inevitably agree with you and work to make things exactly as you wish them to be.

    Una, you obviously have some growing up to do. And when you do, you'll realize the world is a much more complicated place than you once thought. And sometimes it's ugller too. But as you get older, you get used to that and just trudge on.

    Meanwhile, several weeks ago, Una, as I was trying to study, you were talking loudly on the cellphone in the University library. This was rude, inconsiderate and immature. Please stop it as it bothers people who wish to study in there. Do you not know what a library is for? Might I suggest that if you really wish to make the world a better place this might be a good place to start?

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  9. 1) What about my expertise did I exaggerate? What about my expertise did I even explain to you, Peter? We have spoken maybe twice in person, and only in the most cursory manner. No, I am not published, nor did I ever say I was. I have, however, conducted professional research on governance and civil society in Afghanistan for my current employer.

    2)As you clearly do not understand the program I worked on, you are really in no place to make any judgments about its success. You never attended any of the many workshops we held last summer, nor did you ever inquire about them during your brief stint at USCRI. If you want to know how the program is doing and how it has evolved over the past year, get in touch with Erika Hague, because she is the one running it.

    3)I don't remember talking on my phone in the library (you must mean the Interactive Media Center), but honestly? Bringing up something entirely off-topic like that is the hallmark of someone who has run out of arguments.

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  10. You may call it the Interactive Media Center but us mainstream Americans still call it the library. And you were being disruptive. Do you deny this?

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  11. Hi,

    You have made a lot of voice on Burmese Refugees.One would understand when he/she becomes a refugee. I am sure there are lots of untold problems with Burmese Refugees. All malysian are very luck for not being a refugee. Wish all malaysian for the best luck ahead! Thanks for it.

    One of refugee community Leaders

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  12. Thank you. I remember when I was 23 and went off to live in Taiwan. I was young and it was very confusing.In this new country, I did not know how to do simple things like read a newspaper, take out the garbage for the garbageman, use a phone book or use the bus. It was very strange and stressful to me.

    The difference was that I could go home anytime I wanted to and that I had chosen to go to Taiwan. Refugees, by definition, can not go home and they do not get to choose where they live. So I try to help them like people in Taiwan, both American, foreign and Taiwanese, sometimes helped me and like the refugees helped me with the furniture when I worked at the refugee center.

    Lately, I'm worried that I have been saying stupid things, but I have been very upset as I don't like it when people I taught to drive a little, then start to drive without licenses. It is illegal and it is dangerous to themselves and other people because they don't drive well yet. And, of course, I am concerned that sometimes they don't treat each other very nicely (which, of course, every group of people do sometimes.)

    So, I hope I have not been too stupid. I wish I could do more. I hope other people will do more things too.

    Thank you for the nice words. Good luck to you and your family.

    Peter Huston

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