What is it like for someone from another culture to come to our community? That's the topic for a panel discussion tonight in Bloomington. WGLT's Jim Browne has more:
Mboka Mwilambwe on the meaning of his name:
Bloomington city council member and Illinois State University employee Mboka Mwilambwe is a native of Congo. He came to the US in 1989 and lived near New York before moving to Central Illinois.
JIM BROWNE: Why Bloomington-Normal?
MBOKA MWILAMBWE: Well, I chose Bloomington-Normal because my brother at the time was going to school in Macomb, IL at Western lllinois University and at that moment, he decided to transfer to ISU. Because he and I got along very well as teenagers, we're very close in age, I decided that this was the best place for me to come.
JB: So what were your expectations? What did you expect to find?
MWILAMBWE: You have to remember what I was seeing from a cultural standpoint. We were often bombarded with commercials, images of musical icons, sports icons as well, and I was really expecting to have a good time. Still be serious, do the work that I was supposed to do, which is the reason why I actually decided not to study in New York because New York felt like a place where you could get distracted very easily. I thought Bloomington-Normal was a good place for me to really enjoy the American way of life, but at the same time, to focus on my studies.
JB: So Michael Jordan did not meet you at the airport?
MWILAMBWE: No he didn't. That would've been nice.
JB: What kind of cultural misunderstandings have you experienced since you've been in the US?
MWILAMBWE: Because I grew up in many places where for example, your teachers were the authority, so you had to be a lot more formal with them. With American culture, American culture is very informal, which I love, which is why I stayed here for so long. So initially, I had quite a bit of difficulty reaching out to my teachers on campus to say, could you help me with this? I'm having an issue.
JB: What about the flipside of that sort of thing? If someone from the US were to experience a city, Kongossa for instance, what mistakes might we make that would be odd at least, or perhaps awkward, in Congo?
MWILAMBWE: One that I could think of for example, here when you're invited to come to somebody's house, it's not unusual to bring something, to bring a dish to pass. Whereas over there, it can be construed as being rude, as if you were saying, well our food is not good enough for you. You're not expected to bring anything.
JB: What's the biggest challenge that you face in our community as someone who achieved adulthood in another culture?
MWILAMBWE: The first initial years were the most difficult things for me to have to deal with, especially in terms of schooling. I had to deal sometimes with the language, learning about different expressions, how people say things. I watched a lot of Cosby Show, I watched a lot of late night TV, I watched a lot of sporting events, which helped me really get accustomed to every day conversations.
JB: How did our community make you feel welcome? What did we do to make you feel comfortable in Bloomington-Normal?
MWILAMBWE: The first thing is just the Midwestern nature I thought was lovely. It's very similar to how welcoming people are in Africa. They're friendly, they're open. Oftentimes when I walk with my kids and I'm going to the store or just going for a walk and somebody who says hello, hi, how are you? My kids will ask me, do you know that person? I was like, no I don't. And they say, why did they say hi to us? Just because they're nice. That's just the way things are here in Bloomington-Normal.
Other panelists at the 6:30 p.m. event are Sal Valadez (VAL-a-dez), Midwest Region laborers, who is a native of Mexico, State Farm employee Preetha Bhat, a native of India, and Indian native Don Paul, a multicultural leadership program graduate. He'll lead the discussion at the Laborers Local 362 Hall at 2012 Fox Creek Road. The discussion is sponsored by the McLean County Democratic Party.
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