Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Cape Verde
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Revision as of 00:49, 23 November 2008
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcome among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race, and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other, despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal.
In other ways, however, our diversity poses challenges. In Cape Verde, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.
Outside of Cape Verde’s larger cities, residents of smaller towns and rural communities have had relatively less exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is advertised as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may also be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. Cape Verdeans are known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present. Volunteers are encouraged to be supportive of one another.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Cape Verde, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises with how you see yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions will need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limits. Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your Pre-Service Training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Cape Verde
The Peace Corps staff in Cape Verde recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who will take pride in supporting each other and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might A Volunteer Face?
The comments below are intended to stimulate thought and discussion. At the head of each section, the Peace Corps/ Cape Verde staff makes comments relevant to the Volunteer experience within Cape Verde. The comments come from a cross-section of Volunteers who have served in Cape Verde.
It is important to recognize that these issues may or may not have an impact on your own Volunteer experience. Rather, they are here to make all Peace Corps Volunteers aware of the issues that one particular group or another may have to deal with. As you read them, you might ask yourself, “How would I feel if that happened to me?” and “How could I help a fellow Volunteer if it happened to him or her?” Each section concludes with personal comments from individual Volunteers on their experience in Cape Verde.
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Cape Verde is a traditional, “macho” culture. Although women are found in all sectors of society, including staff leadership positions, the people of Cape Verde at the local community level may not have had much experience with women who take professional roles or live independently from their families. This is especially true in small villages and remote areas of Cape Verde. Female Volunteers may have to work extra hard to make female friends, since they will often not have contact with women at work. If they do, it may be hard to socialize with them outside of work due to home and children responsibilities. Female Volunteers are encouraged to visit women in their homes. Current Volunteers feel that service is more difficult for female Volunteers than for males. One of the challenges of living and working in Cape Verde is coping effectively and constructively with the differing status and standards of behavior for women and men. If this isn’t challenging enough, female Volunteers will also face unwanted attention from host country men. You will be invited to discuss these and other issues once you are a Volunteer, through direct or indirect participation in the Peace Corps/ Cape Verde gender and development committee.
Female Volunteers may:
- Find that being a single woman living alone is not the cultural norm.
- Receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Cape Verdean men than in the United States.
- Have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of Cape Verdean colleagues in the workplace.
- Experience resentment from Cape Verdean women for the attention they are getting from Cape Verdean men.
- Need to keep a discreet social life in public (e.g., drinking in bars) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in their community.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
African-American Volunteers have often expressed that they are treated according to local social norms because it is assumed they are Cape Verdean. On the islands where the population is more mixed, there is sometimes differentiated treatment for people with darker skin. African-American Volunteers may be expected to learn the local language more quickly than others and may be more quickly accepted into the culture. They may not be recognized as Americans since the dominating image Cape Verdeans get from America is that of white people. They may also be perceived as considering themselves superior to Cape Verdeans.
Hispanic Volunteers may not be considered or perceived as “real” Americans. Because of Hispanic surnames, Peace Corps Volunteers may be expected to learn Portuguese faster than non-Hispanic colleagues. The host-country culture may project stereotyped perceptions of other Hispanic cultures; Volunteers may be labeled el Cubano or el Mexicano. Asian-American Volunteers may be subject to stereotyped behavior observed in films, the “Kung Fu Syndrome.” They may not be accepted as Americans, perhaps being identified by their cultural heritage instead of their American citizenship. No matter what country in Asia they are descendents of, they are always called Chinese. There is a growing merchant Chinese class in Cape Verde, so Asian-American Volunteers are often thought to be store owners. There is little contact with Indian or Middle Eastern people in Cape Verde, and therefore Americans with these backgrounds usually raise a lot of curiosity among Cape Verdeans. In spite of these stereoptypes, Asian-American Volunteers have found that Cape Verdeans are curious about and interested in their heritage and graciously welcome them into their homes and communities.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Respect comes with age in Cape Verde. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. However, older Volunteers may feel isolated within the Peace Corps overseas, since the majority of the Volunteers are in their 20s.
In training, older Volunteers may:
- Encounter frustrations in having their needs met for an effective learning environment in areas such as timing, presentation, and style.
- Need to be assertive in developing an effective, individual approach to language learning.
In terms of inclusion and acceptance, older Volunteers may:
- Work and live with individuals in the Peace Corps community who have little understanding and respect for the lives and experiences as senior Americans.
- Not receive desired personal support from younger Volunteers.
- Not feel inclined to participate fully in order to “give the young folks their turn.”
- Be reluctant to share personal, sexual, or health concerns.
- Find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. Some seniors find this a very enjoyable part of the Volunteer experience, while others choose not to fill this role.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
There are no laws that prohibit homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual behavior in Cape Verde, but there is a general attitude of ignoring that it exists. Cape Verdean gays often live in anonymity. Being in a “macho” society, there are strict expectations of how men and women should look and behave. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may serve for two years without meeting openly gay Volunteers and may sense a lack of understanding among Volunteers. Men will encounter a “macho” environment, talk of conquest, girl watching, and dirty jokes. Lesbians, like all women, will have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex. Most openly gay Cape Verdeans have migrated to the larger cities, while most Peace Corps Volunteers are posted in the smaller towns, where cultural difficulties may be greater. Civil liberties are frequently ignored; gays may be hassled in bars or in the streets.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers are often asked about their religious affi liation and may be invited to attend a community church. Volunteers not in the practice of attending church may be challenged to explain their reluctance, but it is possible to politely decline if the church or religious practice is not of your choice. In general, Cape Verdeans do not judge people who do not attend church. There is very little knowledge about non-Christian and non-Western religions (Cape Verde is about 90 percent Roman Catholic, with the rest being other Christian denominations). Cape Verdeans are generally curious and appreciate learning about other religions and cultures.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Cape Verde, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Cape Verde, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. And there is none of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States. In Cape Verde, disabled Volunteers may find the language used to describe people with a disability brutal. The concept of “politically correct” does not exist here. A Volunteer with a disability may be referred to as “the crippled one,” “the blind one,” “the dumb one,” or “the deaf one.” The style of language in Cape Verde can be very direct and simple, but it is not meant to be offensive.
That being said, as part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Cape Verde without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/ Cape Verde staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.