Gala celebrates immigrant couples who stay together

Posted: October 16, 2012

THEY CALL IT the Still Standing Gala - a night of celebration for married couples from Africa and the Caribbean who are still together despite the challenges of immigrant life in America.

Eric Nzeribe, publisher of FunTimes magazine, said he launched the Still Standing event a year ago to honor the couples for adjusting to a new culture and gender roles and working two and three jobs just to survive.

"We have a tendency in our community to work hard, to make money, to send some to our home country, and we don't take care of ourselves," the Nigerian-born Nzeribe said. "We have to make ends meet. The last thing that comes to our minds is to take my spouse out and give them flowers while they can still smell them."

Sunday night was the second annual Still Standing Gala, held at the Philadelphia Business and Technology Center in the city's Parkside section.

Fred Brako, a marriage counselor originally from Ghana, told the gathering that married immigrant couples often have to adjust to pressures they did not encounter in their home countries. For instance, if the wife is working and the husband is having trouble finding a job, there is a big cultural adjustment for the man being a stay-at-home father - especially when the parents or in-laws arrive.

"Perhaps the husband's mother will say to him, 'What are you doing staying in the house and taking care of the chores? Men don't do that back home,' " Brako said. "Then the husband has to prove to the mom that he is still the man of the house and will say something to his wife to reinforce his authority."

Immigration attorney John Vandenberg also spoke of the importance of family."You obtain status through a family, through a spouse or a child," he said. "Yet immigration puts a ton of stress on a family; it's necessary for immigration in many cases and also [the family] is often its first victim."

He said many immigrant men who are married to women in their home countries also have to cope with years of waiting to first obtain permanent-resident status and after that, another five years to obtain citizenship, before they can bring their wives here.

Nzeribe can speak from personal experience of what he calls living the life of a "married bachelor."

Nzeribe, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Liberia, said his wife and children are still in Nigeria, although he came to the United States in 2000.

He received his Green Card, or permanent-residence status, in 2004 and his citizenship in 2009. Yet, he said, it is often a long wait for even naturalized citizens to bring their families here.

"Some [married bachelors] are really struggling to make sure they hold onto the tenets of their marriage. They may wonder, why hold onto it when [the marriage] is not giving you the warmth, the food, the comfort."

When he first came to America, Nzeribe said, he didn't know how to wash his own clothes, cook or wash dishes.

"In Africa, it would be so weird for me to enter the kitchen to cook my own food. You have a lot of women in the family, whether your mother, sisters, cousins or aunts, who are willing to cook for me."

Nzeribe started his first FunTimes magazine in Liberia in 1992, shortly after the country had endured a bitter civil war.

"All the newspapers were talking about war and killing and fighting. We started a magazine and put a lot of comics and jokes in it, and we guaranteed that if you bought the magazine and didn't laugh, we would refund your money."

In Philadelphia, Nzeribe worked for several years as a counselor at the Youth Study Center before deciding to launch a FunTimes edition here because he saw that many African and Caribbean immigrants "had a lot of adjustment issues."


Contact Valerie Russ at russv@phillynews.com or 215-854-5987. Follow her on Twitter @ValerieRussDN.

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