questions or just say, “What was your country like?” or “Can
I ask about your religion?” It can be as simple as saying “Hi,”
or offering a neighbor some tomatoes from your garden. The
formal welcoming model is based on grassroots interactions.
We need to focus more on our similarities than our differ-
ences. Refugee parents have the same issues with their teen-
agers that inner city parents might have.
JL: Building cultural competency. Buffalo Police Department recruits now receive training. Captain Nichols and I
coordinate presentations from various groups. It’s helpful for
police officers to begin to understand cultural norms and differences. There are some cultures that don’t shake hands, or
believe that looking someone in the eye is disrespectful. Of
course, in American culture, it means something completely different.
We also need to listen well, and be directly responsive,
not just decide what we think everyone needs.
SS: Although newly arrived Americans feel welcomed,
they can also feel that they’re losing their culture and iden-
The support has to match the many newly arrived Ameri-
cans. They face many challenges—learning English, securing
safe and affordable housing, and obtaining employment, as
well as assimilating and adapting to a new life.
The experience can be challenging for both younger and
older generations. The younger generation often faces pressure; they can get into violent groups, get into trouble, be
arrested, maybe deported, or worse, killed. There must be
cultural programs to help young people succeed.
There should be more resources to advance girls’ education. In some of their cultures, it’s normal for girls to get
married and leave school. There should be early intervention
programs focusing on life skills and the culture of working,
having a family, and continuing your education.
JS: We’re missing the ball on getting “English language
learner” students ready for career and college, and shortchanging them if we only prepare them to pass the Regents.
Our assessment strategy, which drives curriculum, needs to
shift. Teachers must facilitate student collaboration. Our students come from forty-five different countries—we need to
have them “own their learning.”
Jana Eisenberg is a longtime contributor to Spree.
“IT’S HELPFUL FOR POLICE OFFICERS
DENISE PHILLIPS BEHAG:
TO BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND CULTURAL
NORMS AND DIFFERENCES. THERE
ARE SOME CULTURES THAT DON’T
SHAKE HANDS, OR BELIEVE THAT
LOOKING SOMEONE IN THE EYE
IS DISRESPECTFUL. OF COURSE,
IN AMERICAN CULTURE, IT MEANS
SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.”
“THE UNCERTAINTY IN THE POLITICAL
CLIMATE CREATES CHALLENGES FOR OUR
CLIENTS; IT’S LIKE A GRAY CLOUD. THEY
WORRY. BUT THEY ARE ALSO RESILIENT.”