the attitude of curiosity...
About 20 years ago, Ewelina Connolly immigrated to America from Poland on a quest to find independence from an inter-dependent culture. Growing up in a collectivist culture where each person is encouraged to be an active player in society, to do what is best for society as a whole rather than themselves, Ewelina felt the pressure that everyone was a bit closer to her than she wanted as she was moving fully into adulthood. A collectivist culture promotes the societal rules of unity, brotherhood, and selflessness, and promotes the philosophy that the rights of families, communities, and the collective supersede those of the individual. Not exactly what you think you want as you emerge as an individual.
Over a decade ago, Amani Family Services began - a social service agency that provides resources like counseling or therapy for refugee and immigrant families, and helps them assimilate into American life. Ewelina oversees the clinical operations at Amani. Polish-born, she knows that the journey of emigrating and learning to exist in a new culture is not easy. Ewelina and the team at Amani Family Services play a vital role in allowing a part of our community to thrive that is often marginalized or misunderstood because they're different than most Americans. The Amani team is one of the most, if not the most internationally and culturally diverse companies in Northeast Indiana.
The difficulties that refugee and immigrant families face when assimilating is unique to their story, but it also shines light on a larger issue that they face, a flaw in the American way of neighboring. Being unknown, with assumptions being made about who they are as people based on looks or language, feeling like they don’t belong, alone and unsure how to navigate a new world. For instance, we have have a large population of people from Burma or Mynamar. It's not uncommon for conversations about the Burmese to be lumped into one mass generalization without realizing that many come from various parts of the country and under varied circumstances. Burmese culture could be as different as an American's experience from the East Coast to the Midwest. So, without the intentional efforts to get to know each person, we cannot begin to make assessments on what it's like to be from a country like Mynamar. Ewelina shares so simply this truth with us.
Many of us who aren’t refugees or immigrants can relate to this, though. We all want to belong, to be known, and have a community to help us navigate the unknown parts of life. I love what she says about having an attitude of curiosity and how that attitude breaks down barriers and hinderances.
“We are all facing the same challenges no matter what country you live in and what race you are,” she said. “Assumptions about who they are and their culture hinders us from learning who they are as a person.”
I want to be a better neighbor in my own neighborhood and just because I've lived in my neighborhood for about 10 years, it doesn't mean I know what it's like to grow up and truly live on the southside of Fort Wayne, let alone the lives of my neighbors. This makes the work harder, but clearer on how to live more connected lives. To be open to the diversity around you makes for a more enriching life from my experiences so far.
I love Ewelina’s knowledge and understanding of this collectivist way of life, and that she has spent her time building and integrating that lifestyle into Fort Wayne. It is a people-oriented way of life, and a new concept that takes lots of searching to find in our city. What is normal in other cultures feels like a special, rare gem here in Fort Wayne where people have a network of neighbors to depend on. What I love about Ewelina’s story is the idea that it takes deep intentionality to live this way, to find the common thread of humanity, no matter what the people around you look like or how many obvious differences you can see. For her, it’s being a good neighbor, living without prejudices or assumptions about the people that you encounter, but having that attitude of curiosity. Ewelina shares that within weeks of arriving in the United States, she was longing for the connected community she grew up with. She's been trying to recreated that all around her for the past 20 years in her family, with her neighbors, at Amani, and within her social circles, including her personal mission field of the local supermarket on the southside of Fort Wayne. She's constantly advocating for the equality of us all.
And if we aren’t sure how to start to break down these barriers between us and our refugee or immigrant neighbors, or really just anyone we encounter, we can start to foster a curiosity about the people we see and their stories. Get to know things about others’ cultures and be honest when you don’t know things. We all tend to falter in the face of the unknown, but what if we stepped out and looked for opportunity to connect with refugee or immigrant families on their transition to assimilating into our culture? How do we start to grow a culture of curiosity about those who are different from us?
Ewelina - Thank you for your grace, patiences, and wisdom throughout our conversation. As a person that wants to be more intentional, engaging, and open as I pursue diverse relationships, I stumble through asking the right questions. You are a valuable part of our community and I appreciate your pursuit to help us be better neighbors.