Culture Specific Info


Bilingual Educational Institute Refugee Cultural Orientation Program presents:





This cultural information on Vietnamese refugees is summarized by Dr. Carol M. Archer in November 1998 from Harvest Waiting: Reaching Out to the Vietnamese by Minh Chau Ngoc Vo and Kari Ann Vo, published by Concordia Publishing House in 1995. For a complete copy of the publication, write to the following address:
3558 South Jefferson Avenue, St. Louis, Mo. 63118-3968


There were very few Vietnamese in the United States before 1975, and many that were here came for military training. In 1975, the United States pulled out of Vietnam and many Vietnamese, fearing the upcoming persecution, left Vietnam. Some used American connections; some left by boats. Many were lost at sea, were blown back to Vietnam or were ravaged by Thai pirates. Those who reached another country, such as Thailand, Malaysia, or Hong Kong, waited for many years in dirty, noisy and overcrowded refugee camps. While there, many studied English so that many in this group came to the U.S. knowing some English. The major refugee camps are now closing and any Vietnamese reaching these countries are sent back. During the last several years, most Vietnamese come to the U.S.A. through the Humanity Operation (these would have worked for the Americans and have spent at least three years in a reeducation camp) or on ordinary relative sponsorship.


Types of Vietnamese:


Ethnic Vietnamese—Original indigenous people of the Vietnam area
Ethnic Chinese—(Chinese have been living in Vietnam for years but have kept a strong Chinese identity.) These two groups do not always get along.
Amerasians—Children of a Vietnamese mother and American father. They are now adults. There was a major Amerasian resettlement program in 1987. They face problems in the U.S. (while most of the shame of being half-Vietnamese is gone and they are able to get an education); many carry a lot of anger because of the discrimination they faced in Vietnam and disillusion with the U.S. and their fathers. Many work very hard in education or in work.


Problems they face in the U.S.A.


Language and Culture
Many of the recent refugees do not speak English and need classes. Many Vietnamese are shy and do not want to impose, but they need your help with the language. As they trust you more, they will be more likely to ask for help. Some examples of things that are confusing—sweepstakes advertisements come with gold seals that look like government documents. The American-born American knows this is an advertisement, but it can be confusing to the Vietnamese. All kinds of forms such as insurance may be confusing. They also need to learn the customs, holidays and unwritten rules of the American culture, e.g. how to dye Easter eggs. Small things, such as not sticking out the middle finger when pointing or how to use an answering machine will come up naturally in your relationship with them.


Health Needs
There are several health problems that come up. Simple knowledge that American-born know such as how to read a thermometer, over the counter headache remedies and ailments such as gastroenteritis or chicken pox. There are several physical problems that are more common such as tuberculosis. They are tested when they first come to the U.S. and are given six months to one year of medication. Dental problems are common. Women need to see a gynecologist. They are quite modest and prefer female doctors.


Family Problems
Traditionally the father is the leader and the mother is the emotional heart of the family. The children are expected to respect their parents and obey them if they live at home. After marriage, they keep close ties. However, the long history of war has damaged the family along with deaths, disappearances, relocation in Vietnam and the move to the U.S. Many came alone or with part of their families. This can lead to divorce, abandonment or parallel families. This stress sometimes leads to spousal or child abuse. While the Vietnamese culture does not encourage this behavior, they may not realize that their customary forms of discipline are considered abusive in America. Conflict between parents and children emerge as children become Americanized and become the “mouth” for the family. Because the parents frequently work in factories with other Vietnamese, they have fewer opportunities to learn the language.


Vietnamese and the American Dream
As a group, they believe in the American dream for three primary reasons. First, the USA is a country where people live in safety (unlike Vietnam with police or informers that betray them). Second, employment opportunities are viewed favorably. A first generation immigrant can support a whole family in Vietnam—this is especially common for elderly parents or children. The third reason is for education. Vietnamese believe strongly in education and will scrape to put their children in good schools. Parents often work at jobs below their education or training—lawyers work as seamstresses, former governors do assembly work, and they pin their hopes on their children. However, they also keep ties with Vietnam—most have families there and parents try to keep Vietnamese cultural elements alive for their children.


Vietnamese men have dressed “Western” for years while women dress in the American styles. However, most have an ao dai (a long blouse with a slit up the side worn over pants) to be worn on special occasions. At home many also wear pajama-style blouses and pants.


Almost all Vietnamese food is fresh, not frozen. They eat a lot of vegetables, rice, soups and meat. Most don’t eat dog even in Vietnam and not here. They eat a lot of fish, seafood, chicken, duck and pork. Things that might give most American trouble are squid, jellyfish, octopus and half-developed chicken eggs—these eggs are expensive and are not usually offered at an ordinary meal. Soups have meat with bones and it is polite to pick a piece of meat out of one’s soup and hold it in one’s fingers to eat, discarding the bone on a napkin or special plate. Food is served in common bowls or plates—using chopsticks each person takes the tidbits he wants, places them in his rice cup and then eats them. Many foods are eaten with fingers—Vietnamese usually keep their napkins on the table not on their laps.


Trung Thu—Vietnamese children’s holiday, about a month before Halloween, children dress in Vietnamese clothing, carry bamboo and paper lanterns with candles. Most celebrate Christmas (even if they are not Christian). During late January or early February comes Tet, Lunar New Year. This is the most important Vietnamese holiday with ceremonial visits and fireworks. Women dress in ao dai, prepare rice and bean cakes (banh Tet) and give “lucky money” to younger members of the family in red paper envelopes called “li xi.”





The following information was summarized by Carol M. Archer from Into Africa: Intercultural Insights in July 1999. The book is written by Yale Richmond and Phyllis Gestrin and is published by Intercultural Press Inc. It contains information on various African countries and can be ordered by its ISBN number 1-877864-57-9.

The above book contains information about Africa in general. The following summary refers to Africans from all over the continent and to Sudanese when specifically mentioned. The authors state that the general information can be applied to most people in Africa. They talk about the different regions of Africa. Sudan is considered among the countries in the horn of Africa.


“…The Horn of Africa, so called because of its projection into the Indian Ocean, overlooks the southern approaches to the Suez Canal and is an area of high strategic importance. Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia were hot spots during the Cold War, caught up first and foremost in their own age-old rivalries but also entangled in the competition between the superpowers as they switched their support from one side to the other and then back again in “revolving door” diplomacy. The volatile Horn is where Africa and Arabia meet, and the peoples of the region reflect the influences of both. Although there is great diversity among its inhabitants, most are of mixed Arab-African descent and are very proud of their heritage. Muslims predominate in the coastal areas and eastern lowlands of Ethiopia and Christians predominate in the western and central parts of Ethiopia and the highlands of Eritrea. Climatically, the Horn’s narrow coastal strip is hot and humid but the rest of the region is high and dry and its livelihood depends on the weather. When rain falls, there is enough to eat. When rain fails to fall, there is famine and hundreds of thousands die, as occurred in Ethiopia and Somalia in the 1970s and 1980s….” pp. 188–189


…Sudan, although geographically not part of the Horn, is often included in the economic and development context of the region, bordering as it does on Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Red Sea. Nearly half the size of the United States, Sudan is the largest country in Africa and has one of the world’s most heterogeneous and poorest societies. Its more than twenty million people include some six hundred tribes, which speak no fewer than four hundred languages and dialects and practice a variety of religions including Islam, indigenous beliefs and Christianity, in that descending order of magnitude. “Sudan is a country with an obvious crisis of identity,” writes Francis Madin Deng in Cultural Dimensions of Conflict Management. The Sudanese identity crisis has been exacerbated by its north–south cultural divide and deep-rooted animosity, which fueled a civil war that has been going on for more than thirty years. The north is Muslim by religion and Arabic by culture and language; the south is animist and Christian, African by culture and English speaking. Moreover, from its earliest history the south has been the target of slave raiders from the north.” pp. 193–94 The refugees in the Houston area from Sudan are from the South.


A person is not a person without other people.
—Zulu proverb


In terms of African thought, life can be meaningful only in community, not in isolation. Traditional African societies are communal, as traditional societies have been almost everywhere, and individual needs and achievement, in contrast to the West, take second place to the needs of the many. Africa, moreover, is a harsh continent, with extremes of drought and heavy rainfall, famine and plenty and Africans have had to learn to live in partnership with their environment rather than attempt to tame it—and consequently abuse it—as we have in the West. But to live in harmony with nature requires a communal effort with kith and kind, which leads us to the importance of the extended family, Africa’s most immediate social unit. Whatever a person earns or achieves must be shared with other members of the extended family.


The family is a crowd.
—Ashanti proverb


The extended family links it s members through a broad network of mutual duties and responsibilities which shape almost every aspect of African life-work, leisure, finance, and even transportation. Whatever one person has is shared. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine if we are both members of the same extended family. Its influence is pervasive, and for the American, there is no aspect of African life more important to understand.


Far larger than the nuclear family, the African extended family is extended indeed. Among its members are parents and children, grandparents, uncles and aunts, in-laws, cousins of varying degrees, as well as persons not related by blood. The titles of members of that “crowd” may be confusing to Americans. An African will refer to an older person as auntie or uncle. Siblings of parents will be called father or mother rather than uncle or aunt. Cousins will be called brother or sister.


A household cook, for example, might one day say to his employer, “My mother has died and I must go to her funeral.” Some time later, he might again say, “My mother has died.” Both statements could be true because terms such as mother, aunt, or cousin may also be used for non-kinfolk with whom an African has a close relationship.


Kinfolk and close companions provide a sense of community, security and stability—people to turn to in difficult times or to provide housing when shelter is needed. The young, the old, and the grail in Africa are seldom without protection and a helping hand, which explains why so many Africans appear so secure and self-confident.


Sense of Community
What belongs to me is destroyable by water or fire; what belongs to us is destroyable by neither water nor fire. 
—Vais proverb


…Africans have a strong sense of belonging to a larger community where sharing, caring, and doing good for each other contribute to the greater good of the group. Those who do good do not necessarily expect to be repaid for each deed done, although they do hope to gain recognition when their good deeds are made public.


In Senegal, for example, when someone does something for you, you are expected to make it known. By publicly expressing appreciation to your benefactors, you celebrate their virtues and enhance their reputations. This is considered the right thing to do. But Africans are especially praised for going beyond what society expects, not just for doing what is considered correct, which Americans might describe as “above and beyond the call of duty.” p.7


“…Sharing and generosity are intrinsic to the African nature. An African student traveling by long-distance bus in the United States relates how he offered some of his sandwiches to the complete stranger in the next seat. The stranger, however, not sure whether the African was merely being polite, refused until the offer was repeated more compellingly. In African, where sharing is the norm, the stranger would have been obliged to accept on the first offer. The caring and sharing ethic accompanies Africans as they move from the village to the city…. Reflecting their ‘we’ culture, Africans will not hesitate to ask American for personal information which would be considered private in American culture. They may ask, for example, about the amount of one’s salary, which among Africans would not be considered confidential…. Also reflecting their communal ethic, Africans are reluctant to stand out in a crowd or to appear different from their neighbors or colleagues, a result of social pressure to avoid offense to group standards and traditions….” pp. 8–9.


“While Americans tend to group one another according to race (defined as skin color), Africans identify themselves according to their ethnicity. In fact, Africans are more concerned with differences in dress, education, social status and wealth than they are with color.” p. 244 Ethnic groups (commonly called tribes) embrace a number of local villages, districts, lineages, and other social groupings that share common cultural values and are believed to descend from a common ancestor. Within the ethnic or clan system, there are bonds of compassion and powers of identity that may be inconceivable to the Western mind. As one African has described it, “If I have walked for a very long way and am tired and can walk no further, I will collapse with exhaustion. But if someone says the name of my clan, I will get up and walk on.” pp. 12–13


…But beyond the bounds of kinship and clan it can be a different story. As the noted Kenyan political scientist and author Ali A. Mazrui writes, ‘…the very fact that we have a highly developed sense of responsibility towards our own kinsmen…has resulted in diluting our capacity to empathize with those that are much further from us.’ In the West, news of a natural catastrophe in another part of the world brings forth floods of compassion and offers of assistance. The African, adds Mazrui, is much more moved by the day-to-day problems of a distant kinsman than a dramatic upheaval in a remote part of the world. Allegiance, therefore, is primarily to kinfolk and not the states….” p. 14


Relationships are built slowly with socializing being the key to developing trust. Whereas, Americans quickly get to the point in business dealings, Africans prefer to take time and have the business evolve out of the relationship. Protocol and respect are very important.







The Somalis: Their History & Culture published by the Refugee Service Center, Center for Applied Linguistics, 1118 22nd St. NW Washington DC 20037 (202) 429-9292


The first Somalis came to the U.S.A. in the 1920’s and settled in the NY area. A group of students came after Somalia gained independence in 1960 and a third group came as refugees in mid 1980. There are large concentrations in Washington, Boston, LA, San Diego, Atlanta and Detroit. The first group being admitted as refugees are primarily Benadir (also spelled Benaadir and Banadir). Their name means harbor or port.


Clans: To understand the Somalians, it is necessary to understand the clans system since Somalians are divided into clans. The primary division is between the Samaale and the Sab. Samaale are the majority and consist of four main clan families—the Dir, Isaaaq, Hawiye and Daarood—each of which is divided into sub-clans. They are primarily nomadic and live in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. Sab consists of Digil and Raxanweyn clans . They live in the south where they mix farming and herding and are more sedentary than the Samale.
The Benadir and the Barwyan clans are between these two major clans. They live in the lower Shelbelle and Mogidishu. They view themselves as the founders of Somalia. The Benadir today are a light-skinned minority whose economic livelihood, unlike most of Somalia’s people, is based on commerce and not agriculture. They were an unarmed, prosperous and neutral minority in the civil war and as a result suffered greatly. Many were skilled tailors, weaver, bankers, businessmen or shopkeepers. They are extremely entrepreneurial, independent and family oriented. They may not relate well with the Somalis who arrived in the United States earlier since they were not Benadir. In fact, the may view Somali people and their clans are the perpetrators of the lawlessness and destruction which caused them to lose everything and flee for their lives.


General Information: Before the civil war, the population of Somalia was 7.7 million. 400,000 people died during the war from famine and disease while 45% were displaced. In addition to the Benadir, there are Bantu and Arab minorities. Most of the population is ethnically Somali and speak dialects of Somali. The Benadir speak a dialect of Somali among themselves but this was not established as a written language until 1972. Three million Somalis live in Kenya and Ethiopia. Somalia is hot and dry and 80% of the population is pastoral.


History: Britain, Italy and France were colonial powers. Somalia gained independence in 1960. At that time, the U. S. was giving aid to Ethiopia so Somalia aligned with the USSR and China. By the late 1960s, the Somalian govt. was perceived as inefficient and corrupt. The president was assassinated in 1969 and the army under Barre took over. This regime was closely allied with the USSR and initiated a program of scientific socialism and Islam. However, Islamic scholars grew unhappy with the socialist regime. This led to the military abolishing the national assembly, crushing the Islamic opposition and even executing some Islamic leaders while becoming more and more allied with the Soviets. The USA completely suspended aid in early 1970. Emperor Haile Selassie fell in 1974, and in 1977 Somalia invaded Ethiopia to support the Western Somali Liberation Front, a Somali guerrilla organization based in Ethiopia that sought to free the Ogaen and unite it with Somalia. The Soviets supported Ethiopia with massive military assistance and cut off aid to Somalia. This led to Barre expelling the Soviets from Somalia in November of 1977. As a result, Ethiopia won back all the territory it had lost to Somalia by the spring of 1978. Barre then turned to the West for support. However, in the last years of his rule, there was less and less aid, as the regime became more and more repressive.


Barre had always based his power on broad clan support but now he relied on a limited number of clans considered loyal. Nepotism and inefficiency resulted. Some members of the Majerteen clan opposed him and he singled them out. Isaaq and Hawiiye clans also resisted. By mid 1980, govt. and opposition were clan based and polarized into clan groups. In 1988 Isaaq clan Somali Nat’l Movement (SNM) and the govt. fought in the north. This started an exodus of refugees to Ethiopia. By the end of Dec. 1990 the conflict spread to the capital, Mogadishu. In Jan. 1991 the Barre regime collapsed and he fled to Gedo. After two failed attempts to regain power, he left the country in early 1992.


Then the civil war began as clans competed for power and settled old scores. One faction of USC (Hawiey clan) formed a govt. without checking with other factions, Somali National Movement held a conference that declared the North independent and known as the Somaliland Republic. USC split into two factions in the south—one led by President Ali Mahdi Mohammed, the other by USC military wing leader, General Mohammed Farah Aideed. The northeast largely maintained local peace and began local government.


Mogadishu, where the merchant and seafaring Benadir lived, and much of southern and central Somalia slipped into anarchy. Over the course of the year, several hundred thousands of Somalis died from violence, disease, famine. In August 1992, 1/4 of the population was in danger of starvation. By early 1993, 1/2 of all Somali children under five had died. Somalia lost most of its commercial and seafaring (Benadir) communities. Armed bandits, who looted warehouses and food shipments, greatly aggravated problems of food distribution. These bandits were under the authority of local warlords who filled the power vacuum created by the government’s collapse. In addition to stealing food aid, they also looted public property left by the previous government, and disrupted commercial activities. In August of l1992, the USA began Operation Provide Relief, airlifting emergency supplies into Somalia from Kenya. In December 1992, the USA led Operation Restore Hope, which reduced the level of violence and facilitated the delivery of humanitarian assistance. On May l, 1993, the United Nations took over command from the USA. This has stabilized the south with the exception of Mogadishu where the warlord General Mohammed Farah Aideed continues to wage a guerrilla campaign against the United Nations. Most warlords, including Aideed, feel they will lose power in a society in which the advantage of military force is eliminated.


Society is fundamentally democratic. Councils of men, which are egalitarian in nature, make decisions. Diya paying group—diay is compensation paid for killing or inuring another person. The family is the ultimate source of personal security and identity. Somalis typically live in nuclear families and are usually monogamous, with polygamous (1/5) marriages arranged. Society is male centered while women play important economic roles as long as the male is still seen as being in charge. Somali women have more freedom to become educated to work and to travel than do most other Muslim women. Somalis speak Somali. Many speak Arabic as well as Swahili. Somali is a member of the Cushitic language family which is part of the Afro-Asiatic stock There are two major dialects, standard and Digil Raxanweyn dialects which are mutually understandable. As mentioned above, there was no written form until 1972 when there was a major literacy campaign. In 1990 literacy was 24%.


The traditional education was in Koranic schools, then there was British and Italian schools. Somalis believe strongly in independence, democracy, egalitarianism, and individualism. Well known for their generosity, they generally do not express their appreciation verbally. They respect strength and often challenge others to test their limits—boasting saving face is very important, indirectness and humor are often used in conversation. Able to laugh at themselves, they are opinionated but willing to reconsider their views if they are presented with adequate evidence. They have the ability to adjust deeply value family while loyalty is an important value and can extend beyond family and clan. They value friendships—once a Somali becomes a friend he is usually one for life. Most are Sunni Muslim with a strong tradition of tariqa, which is mystical Islam. However Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise which opposes tariqa and secular government and advocates the introduction of sharia law and strict Islamic dress for women. Somalis value the ability to use words, which is expressed in the poetry and humor. Their diet is low in calories, high in protein and follows Islamic restrictions against alcohol and pork. Their attire is diverse, guntiino similar to Indian sari, single girls braid their hair and wear no makeup or perfume. Henna is popular, with paintings that cover the foot up to the ankle or the hand up to the wrist for marriage or birth. Festivities generally are religious Id al Fitir, Id Al Aha, festival of fire. Somalis do not have surnames rather they have a given name followed by the father’s given name and the grandfather’s. Women, therefore, do not change their names at marriage. Somalis have one pool for all three names. As a result, many names are similar. Perhaps for this reason, nearly all men and some women are identified by a public name, naanay—overt nickname and covert nickname, used to talk about a person but rarely used to address that person. First-born children are commonly named Faduma or Mohammed and male twins are commonly named Hassan and Hussein.


Somali language uses all but three letters p, v, and z of the English alphabet. Of the 33 sounds, 15 are very much like their English counterparts. Somalis have problems with c, q, and r.


There is a guidebook for Refugees from Center for Applied Linguistics by Ku Os Dally Mareykana Buugga tusmadda Qaxootiga (Welcome to the United States. 1118 22nd St. NW Washington Dc 20037 English and other languages available.







The Kurds: Their History & Culture published by the Refugee Service Center, Center for Applied Linguistics, The following was summarized from the above document by Dr. Carol M. Archer, January, 1998. For the full document, call or write the Center for Applied Linguistics at 1118 22nd St. NW Washington DC 20037 (202) 429-9292.


The Kurds: Their History and Culture


There have been two waves of Kurdish refugees to the United States. In 1975–76, about 2,000 Iraqi Kurds settled around San Diego, Nashville and Washington after 15 years of trying to wrest autonomy from Saddam Hussein’s government. The second wave came after the Gulf War in 1990.


The Kurdish area of Iraq is mountainous or hilly with fertile river valleys. The climate is harsh—as low as –20 F in the winter and above l00F in the summer. Much of the vast Iraqi oilfields lie in the Kurdish area. Kirkuk, Mosul, Arbil and Sulemaniye are in the Kurdish area. There are about 3 million Kurds in northern Iraq—they can be olive skinned with dark eyes or have light colored hair with blue eyes. While many Kurds (especially the younger dress in Western clothing), the traditional clothing consists of loose trousers for men and women and the men wear a shirt and jacket, cummerbund and a turban over a skullcap. The women wear a long loose overdress (sometimes two or three are worn at the same time for warmth) a vest and a headscarf. They like very bright colors and frequently mix them. The colors can represent the two political parties—with yellow representing the PUK and green representing the KDP.


The family is the most important fact in Kurdish society. The household is a nuclear family but the husband’s mother is very powerful. For the traditional Kurdish man, his family is very private and his honor is violated if women in his household are insulted. Kurdish society is tribal in nature with an absolute leader. Leaders are chosen either by heredity or election and frequently are the wealthiest member of the tribe. Their tribal affiliation is held even above their religion, Sunni Muslim. They are more liberal than some other countries—Kurdish women have never been veiled, they work outside the home and many today attend school and university. A traditional Kurd thinks of himself as a member of a tribe not as a Kurd. Most Kurds were peasants, raised wheat and barley or rice and tobacco as well as chickens, sheep and goats. Today many form the uneducated labor force and some are bricklayers butchers cattle dealers and small traders. They are very knowledgeable about horses and are famed for their horsemanship. Many men are career soldiers—many are peshmergas or soldiers in the service of one of the Kurdish tribes. They are excellent in guerrilla warfare. Kurds have, for the most part, been educated in Arabic rather than Kurdish.


Tribes of Kurds were mentioned as early as 3,000 BC and lived pretty much on their own both because of the inaccessibility of the area in which they lived as well as their excellent fighting. Some of the tribes came under the control of Babylonia, Assyria, Parthia, Persia, Rome and Armenia at various times in history. In the 7th century AD the Arabs conquered them and became Muslim—they acted as a buffer between the Christian Byzantine Empire and the Muslim Caliphate. The most famous Kurd in history is Saladin, the greatest military mind on either side of the Crusades. He was born in Tikrit in 1137 in an educated family, became ruler of Egypt and united the Muslim territories of Syria, Northern Iraq, Kurdistan, Palestine with Egypt. He was a wise but firm ruler, leading the reconquest of Jerusalem in 1187. About 3/4 of the area inhabited by the Kurds was under the control of the Ottoman Empire and 1/4 under the control of Persia—both used Kurdish military prowess and Kurd often fought Kurd for these two powers. A small educated elite gradually developed in the 19th century. The Ottomans promptly suppressed any rebellions against injustice. After World War I, Iraq was created out of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. There was a lot of discussion about Mosul but the Kurds had no voice in the discussions. From 1925 to 1931 some Kurdish schools were established and Kurds were in the government. In World War II, Mustafa Barzani emerged as a champion of Kurdish rights—after W.W.I, the Kurdish elite became involved in the anti-British, pro-democratization movement. Mustafa Barzani formed the Kurdish Democratic Party, which supported the overthrow of the royal government in 1958, and led to the republican government of Abdul Karim Qasim who guaranteed their rights. By 1960, however, these rights were withdrawn and the Iraqi government carried out an extended campaign of Arabization of the Kurdish areas including armed warfare, destruction of villages and deporting Kurds who were replaced by Arabs. The Kurds resisted and asked for and received arms from Iran. This resistance was crushed in 1975 when the Shah withdrew his support of the Kurds in return for a favorable redrawing of the southern border between Iran and Iraq. After this collapse of the Kurdish resistance, Jalal Talabani formed another Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The two parties fought one another. This rivalry is still intact in the refugees in the U.S.A. In the Iran/Iraq war, the Kurds supported Iran and the Iraqi government retaliated with an extensive, devastatingly cruel campaign against them. Between February and August of 1988, hundreds of Kurdish villages were destroyed and as many as 200,000 Kurds were killed. The Iraqis used chemical weapons against Kurdish soldiers and civilians alike. The two Kurdish parties stopped feuding to fight the Iraqi government—mostly from exile in Iran. When Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait, the Kurds first tried to convince him to trade concessions for their support, then positioned themselves for a likely Iraqi defeat. They opened negotiations with dissident Shi’a Arabs in the south for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. After the cease-fire on March 2, 1991, the Shi’a Arabs in the south rebelled as did the Kurds in the north. Hussein sent his Republican Guard into their territory and retook all the territory causing over a million Kurds to flee. Iran accepted the Kurdish refugees but Turkey did not and thousands died on the Turkish border. The European, Turkish and American allies created a safe haven for the Kurds—the operation was called Operation Provide Comfort. Allied troops on the ground persuaded the Kurds to descend from the mountains into the plains where camps were set up with relief supplies. The troops went into Dahuk so refugees would return, and the area of Iraq above the 36th parallel (which includes Arbil, Mosul, Zakho and Dahuk) was declared a no-fly zone; any Iraqi planes would be subject to reprisal. By July 1991 the system was established and the troops withdraw to bases inside Turkey while the no-fly zone was maintained. The Kurdish workers in Operation Provide Comfort fled with their families to the Turkish border, fearing retaliation on the part of the Iraqi troops for their participation in an American sponsored operation. The American government agreed to resettle these Kurds in the United States and began to consider resettlement for Kurds who worked for other relief organizations. The Kurdish employees of Operation Provide Comfort came as Asylees. Those who held clerical positions are educated, sophisticated, “westernized” and able to communicate fairly well in English. Others have less education and speak little English. Each employee brought close family members, which enlarged the first group to about 2,100.


Kurds tend to be more formal than Americans. Therefore, American informality and use of first names is interpreted as a sign of weakness by all but the most sophisticated Kurds. They use titles and observe strict protocol. They are wary of laws, regulations and authority. They may attempt to get around regulations that do not appear to be in their immediate best interests. They will attempt to get exceptions. While Kurdish women enjoy freedoms not found in more conservative Muslim societies, the traditional Kurdish wife still considers herself and, is considered to be, a part of her husband’s household, to be used as he sees fit. Other women in the community can best handle the issue of women’s roles and rights. If women are encouraged to assert themselves, the men may take it as an insult to their honor. Some of the women may be impressed by the freedom of the American women while others will see it as proof that they have no men who love them enough to take care of them. Kurdish men tend to misinterpret friendly gestures by American women as gestures of sexual interest. Males prefer to see male doctors and females prefer female doctors. They do not express affection in public although they will express affection with members of the same sex.


Kurds take their father’s name as their middle name and the tribal name as the last name. Others have taken the geographical or tribal name as a last name or have adopted as a family name a grandfather or great-grandfather’s first name. They are inconsistent in how they spell their names.


Kurds are not heavy meat eaters but rely more on vegetables and grains. They eat lamb and mutton and sometimes beef. Staple grains include rice and bulghur and are used to bake a flat bread on the sides of a tandoor oven. Vegetables include summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and parsley like greens. Fruit is appreciated. Salt, pepper cumin and garlic are common spices; plain yogurt is another staple along with cheese. They drink lots of heavily sweetened tea in small glasses.


They observe Muslim holidays and Newroz on March 20th or 21st each year. They generally don’t like dogs but do like cats. They enjoy picnics and movies. In order to be polite, they refuse an offer of food two or three times, however hungry they might be. Kurds are forthright in voicing their opinions—whether positive or negative. It can be perceived as aggressiveness or rudeness. The women are likely to have brought gold and silver jewelry since in Kurdish society wealth is often kept in the form of women’s jewelry. Part of a bride’s dress is massive amounts of gold or silver bought for her by her husband and his family.


Kurdish language is classified as belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is most closely related to Persian. There are two main dialects of Kurdish (Kurmanji) from the north and (Soran)i from the south) along with three or four minor dialects. They are mutually intelligible. Traditional Kurdish literature is in Kurmanji, for example the Mam-o-zin, the 17th century Kurdish national epic. Sorani Kurdish is spoken by Iraqi Kurds living south of the Greater Zab and is written in a modified Arabic alphabet. Modern literature, as it exists in Kurdish, is usually in Sorani. There is no one standard alphabet or spelling system for Kurdish. It is written in Arabic by Kurds educated in Iraq or Iran, a Roman alphabet by Kurds educated in Turkey and a Cyrillic alphabet by Kurds educated in countries of the former Soviet Union.







Summarized from the Center for Applied Linguistics Refugee Fact Sheet Series No. 8. entitledThe Bosnians: An Introduction to their History and culture. Published in Washington D.C. at the Refugee Service Center in 1993 by Dr. Carol M. Archer on December 30, 1997. The document may be ordered from The Center for Applied Linguistics,1118 22nd St. NW Washington DC 20037 (202) 429-9292


The Bosnians: An Introduction to their History and Culture.


Until the recent war, very few Bosnians had entered the United States—some had come as Yugoslavs—most were Serbs and Croats and settled with other Serbs and Croats. Very few Bosnian Muslims had come.


The People
Bosnia is a republic of the former Yugoslavia. It was formed on a geographical basis so a Bosnian is someone who lives in that area—not a member of a religious or ethnic group. (Much like the United States). Before the war, Bosnia’s population was approximately 44% Muslim, 31% Serb and 17% Croatian along with a smattering of Gypsies, Albanians, Ukrainians, Poles and Italians. Villages were mixed with all of the groups although Muslims tended to be more urban than Christians were. Bosnian Muslims are ethnically Slav (both Serb and Croat) who converted after the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. Motives for conversion ranged from escaping Catholic persecution of the native Bogomil sect to retaining rank in the local nobility to escaping taxes placed on the Christian peasantry.


It is difficult to ascertain exactly who is a Bosnian. Most Yugoslav scholars say they are really Serbs or really Croats. Until the Austrian occupation in 1878, it was not important. After 1878, the Austrian administration sought to recognize a separate Bosnian native identity to counter claims from Serbia and Croatia. Under the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, established after World War I, Bosnians became the inhabitants of a territory specifically set up to undercut claims of unique ethnic identity for a region. After World War II, Bosnia became a republic in Tito’s Yugoslavia. The Moslems were recognized as a separate category only in 1971. Before that they were identified as Yugoslav or other.


The geography varies from low-lying plains in northern Bosnia to rolling hills and isolated mountains in the south. Central Bosnia with the capital Sarajevo is a mountainous region. The climate ranges from humid summers and harsh winters in the north and central region to a Mediterranean climate in lower Hercegovina.


Bosnia was a part of the Roman province of Illyria and was subsequently settled by Slavs during their great migration in the 6th and 7th centuries leading to displacement or assimilation of the native Illyrians. It was Christianized in the 9th and & l0th centuries. The Ottoman Empire in 1463 and Hercegovina in 1483 conquered it. The Turks stayed for over 400 years. By the 19th century much of Bosnia had become turbulent and anarchic. Austria stepped in 1878 and colonized Bosnia in 1907. There were local movements for independence from Austria and Bosnia was the spark for World War I. Bosnia suffered greatly in the Great War. After World War I, Bosnia was incorporated within the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes—this first Yugoslavia became a maelstrom of contending ethnicities. About 1.7 million Yugoslavs died in World War II and scholars generally agree that about half of the carnage was internecine, the broader context of the war providing a forum for the narrower agenda of revenge. The government surrendered to Germany and a guerrilla war called the Struggle for National Liberation (NOB) began. This led to Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1943. He broke with Stalin in 1948 and from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s Yugoslavia and its variety of Communism was relatively progressive. As the country began to unravel in the 1980s, the party, especially in Serbia, became much more repressive, justifying numerous oppressive practices, directed against non-Serbs, by manipulation of ethnicity issues. The “oil shocks” of the 1970s began to unravel Tito’s Yugoslavia; he rotated government positions among the various republics but this system fell apart the decade after his death. At the end of 1970 Slovenia began to try to secede, then Croatia. The government of Serbia began to agitate for a Greater Serbia—the union of all Serbs in former Yugoslavia within one contiguous state—feeling that Serbia had been a “victim” of Yugoslavia. Bosnia tried to stay out but was forced to hold a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. The Serbian minority boycotted. It was approved and led to international recognition for Bosnia and an undeclared war with Serbia and its proxies. The current war began as Serbia, through its proxy army of local radical militias, Belgrade gangsters and “demobilized” soldiers of the Yugoslav Peoples Army embarked on a campaign of what has become known as “ethnic cleansing.” “Ethnic cleansing” is a form of genocide aimed at eradicating non-Serbs from large sections of Bosnia in order to achieve eventual political union with a Greater Serbia.


Education and Vocation
Most Bosnians are literate in their own language. Education was mandatory through the 8th grade. There were universities and “workers” universities, which are similar to community colleges in the USA. Urbanites include librarians, teachers, bankers, engineers, linguists, truck drivers, merchants etc. The substantial rural population is literate and are not peasants in the 3rd world sense. They have electricity and indoor plumbing, small tractors, automobiles and VCRs.


Bosnia developed a mixture of religious beliefs. Medieval Bosnian Christians embraced Bogomilism, considered heretical by the Catholic Church. Many converted to Islam under the Ottomans which evolved into a tolerant form with some practices diverging sharply from what is considered orthodoxy in other Islamic countries. Fundamentalism was discouraged both by the Yugoslav government and the religious community itself.


The arts were highly developed in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Islamic prohibition against human forms did not take hold but elaborate calligraphy and fine metalworking did. Carved wood, carpets, silk embroidery were common. Music and dance reflect the diversity. The music can be divided into rural and urban. The urban shows a Turkish influence. Sevdalinka incorporate both Western and Eastern elements and are deeply emotional love songs. Bosnia has a rich tradition of folk dance.


Food and Dress
The food shows influences from Central Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East. The dress is typical of that found in other parts of Europe—occasionally an older man might be seen in breeches, cummerbund, striped shirt, vest and fez. Muslim women do not wear the veil as do women in other Muslim countries; occasionally they may wear a headscarf and coat on a religious holiday.


Bosnians celebrate religious, secular and family holidays. Weddings are times of major celebration. Since there was a lot of intermarriage, a family might celebrate the Orthodox and Catholic holidays and the 3 days at the end of Ramadan (called Bajram).


Almost all Bosnian family names end in -ic (which relates to a sense of “child of”) Women’s first names tend to end in -a and -ica. Family names are often an indication of ethnicity—Sulemanagic for example is clearly a Moslem name as are others containing such Islamic or Turkish roots as hadj or bey or beg. Names are patriarchal.


Social Structure
The social structure is similar to other European countries. There is an emphasis on nuclear family. Veze—political connections or influence, especially through one’s family is an important avenue for accessing benefits from the system. Women under Tito were guaranteed full equality and entry into the work force—however, this meant that they usually worked in the home and outside. Bosnian men rarely helped in the home. Polygamy as a Moslem custom was only in one isolated region. Most marriages are love matches although arranged marriages were made in the past. Family size is decreasing.


Bosnian language, Serbian language and Croatian language are dialects of the language which before 1992 was called the Serbo-Croatian language and they belong to the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family like Bulgarian, Macedonian and Slovenian. Written in either the Cyrillic or the Latin alphabets it has many words borrowed from Turkish Arabic and Persian.




The following is a summary of Mexican immigrants by Cesar Garcia. The full article is available at: and Government
Mexico was the cradle of several highly evolved pre-Columbian civilizations, including Olmec, Toltec, Mayan, and Aztec. In 1521, the Spaniard Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire, setting the foundation for the viceroyalty of New Spain. Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821 with the initial leadership of the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Under the banner of “Land and Liberty” and the leadership of Emiliano Zapata in central Mexico and Francisco Villa in the north, the rebellion sought to redistribute land to poor peasants and establish democratic elections. In 1929, revolutionary and reformist politicians founded the Revolutionary National Party. It was renamed in 1946 as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and held monolithic power until the year 2000.
The government of Mexico is a Federal Republic with a bicameral congress. Presidential terms last six years with no re-election.

Mexican Immigration
The severe economic pressures causing the migration of Mexicans to the U.S. include the sharp difference in the economies of Mexico and the U.S., the availability of jobs in the U.S. during times of economic expansion, the high unemployment rate and economic fluctuations in Mexico. . These poor have been willing to make any sacrifices to go “north” to try to take care of their families. A typical pattern has been for individuals from a particular village to go to the United States and then write back to friends and family in their villages. Thus whole villages tend to “send” people north to the United States. While traditionally, mostly males have come north, now there are more and more women coming to the United States. One of the problems has been the disruption of families. Mexicans also came to the United States to escape civil war during the Mexican Revolution and to escape religious persecution during the Cristero Rebellion, a bloody war between some state governments and the church in western Mexico from 1926 to 1929.. More recently, since 1994 the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas has probably contributed to the migration of inhabitants from southern Mexico.

Social Characteristics of the Mexican People
Ethnic groups in Mexico are mestizo (Indian-Spanish) 60%, Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian 30%, white 9%, and other 1%. About 89% of the Mexican population is Roman Catholic, 6% is Protestant, and 5% practice other religions.

Family Life
The family has great importance for Mexicans. Family well-being and reputation come first, and family is also the first source of help and support in a time of crisis. Families can be comprised of nuclear families, extended families, and compadres (Godparents). Decision-making authority rests with the father or oldest son. Mothers are very influential in children’s lives. Elders are respected and most of the time cared for at home. Loyalty, solidarity and reciprocity between family members are expected.

Interpersonal Communication
Mexicans commonly use the formal Usted mode of speaking with the elderly, married women, and strangers, and are generally reserved in formal or new settings. Signs of respect such as standing to greet people and shaking hands are very important in social interactions. Relationships with family and friends show warmth and expressiveness. Embracing is common, and kissing is also a popular greeting practiced among women.

While Mexican Spanish is the most common form of Spanish spoken in the USA, there are different dialects of Spanish in different areas of the country. There are currently more than 50 native Mexican languages spoken throughout the country and they all contribute to the diversity of accents found all over Mexico. Other commonly heard Mexicanisms include the following: chamaco or escuincle a small child, chingadera any unspecified object (considered vulgar), chingar (to screw/to ruin) (vulgar), guerra someone with light hair and/or light skin, naco a boorish, uneducated person (usually has strong anti-Indian racist undertones),Que Honda? What’s going on?/What’s up?,  OK/All right, “Aguas!” Watch out!, “¿Cómo ves?” What do you think?, popote straw, ya mero almost, and the replacement of necesitar (to need) with ocupar (to occupy; also simply ocupa, e.g., Â¿lo ocupas?), especially in Guadalajara.
In Mexico, the common word for a cold is gripa… A swimming pool is an alberca.   Another particularity of Mexican Spanish is the use of the word siempre (always) meaning after all when it should be rendered to “a fin(al) de cuentas” (a fitter and more exact fixed expression), for example ¿Siempre no fuiste a trabajar? instead of “¿A final de cuentas no fuiste a trabajar?”
Also, there are a number of words widely used in Mexico which have Nahuatl origins, in particular names for flora and fauna. An example would be guajolote for turkey (in other Spanish-speaking countries pavo) which comes from the Nahuatl guaxolotl. Other examples would be Papalote for Kite, from the Nahuatl Papalotl for Butterfly; and Jitomate for Tomatofrom the Nahualt Xitomatl.

In Mexico, the it style diminutive infix is frequently used with words (cafecitocervecita,chavito), and attached to names (MarquitosJuanito). The infix is also repeated quite often in Mexico as in chiquitita.

The most basic ingredients in the Mexican cuisine are corn, beans, and rice. Dishes vary according to the region of the country. Even dishes with the same name can be prepared differently, such as red and green enchiladas. Corn is used to prepare numerous foods like tortillas, tamales, sopes, gorditas and pinole, and drinks like pinolillo and atole. Tacos are probably the most common dish in Mexico. Other famous dishes are mole (chicken covered by a very tasty red sauce), menudo (a stew prepared with beef stomach and feet), ceviche (small pieces of fish or shrimp cooked with lemon juice and seasoned with onions, cilantro, and peppers), birria (another beef soup-like stew with red peppers) chiles rellenos (chiles stuffed with cheese, covered with flour and egg batter and fried), and pozole (soup-like stew with hominy, spices, and pork stew meat).

Religious Traditions and Holidays
Religious traditions are very influential in Mexico’s culture. One of the most important traditions is related to Lent and Holy Week (March-April), when many people abstain from eating red meats on Fridays, or from having or doing something they enjoy (sacrificios). El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead on November 2) is also a very important day for Mexicans. They spend most of the day at cemeteries, remembering loved ones who have died and preparing altars in their honor. Many Mexican neighborhoods celebrate nine posadas prior to Christmas. These processions represent the pilgrimage of St. Joseph and Virgin Mary prior to the birth of Christ.



The following is a summary of El Salvadorian immigrants by Teresa Castellanos
The full article is available at:

History and Government

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, about the size of Massachusetts.. El Salvador has a history of social conflicts that have resulted in the repression of the civilian population. The Spanish arrived in 1524.. After three centuries of colonial rule, El Salvador declared its independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. In 1833 an unsuccessful rural upraising led by Anastacio Aquino was followed by brutal retaliation by landowners.
In 1930 Agustin Farabundo Marti led another rebellion. It led to the systematic murder of 35,000 civilians in retaliation. This event is known as “la matanza” or massacre.