Krystle McLaughlin, biological science professor of practice, Maricuruz Zavalas Salas, '18, and Ibrahim Hashimi, '18, look at the presentation at the discussion on Gender Roles In African Caribbean Cultures on Oct. 16. The discussion talks about cultural issues and it is a collaboration of the Women's Center and the African-Caribbean Culture Club. (Chang Sun/ B&W Photo)

African, Caribbean and American cultures collide


Lehigh students gathered in the Women’s Center on Thursday to discuss differences between African and Caribbean cultures and American culture.

The event started off with an icebreaker where each attendee mentioned African or Caribbean locations they have visited. Students then began pointing out the key differences they found among African and Caribbean culture and American culture.

Catheryn Llibre, ’15, talked about her homeland of the Dominican Republic. Llibre said there is a greater emphasis on the extended family and the community in the Caribbean than in America.

“I only spent two years of my life where my grandmother hasn’t lived with us,” she said. “The houses are in the same vicinity, and everyone helps everyone out. When people get married, they get a home next to their parents.”

Llibre also spoke about the greater amount of respect held for elders in the Caribbean than in America. She said children don’t usually speak around their elders.

“American culture is much more liberal and accepting than in the Dominican Republic,” she said.

Francisca Onyiuke, ’15, a student from Nigeria, said this kind of respect for elders is also seen in Nigeria. Nigerians use formal titles such as “madam” when addressing elders.

“Even calling professors by their first names (at Lehigh) was uncomfortable for me to do,” Onyiuke said.

The discussion included other topics, such as culture shock and the process of assimilating to new cultures. Kara de Souza, ’16, co-president of the African Caribbean Culture Club, said she realized that Americans and people of the Caribbean have different views on gender roles. Gender roles of society in the Caribbean are more distinct than in America.

“Caribbean people have very clear ideas of what it means to be a man and a woman,” de Souza said.

The culture of Africa and the Caribbean is more traditional than that of America, especially for women and in the religious field. The women of Africa and the Caribbean tend to be very nurturing, said Makima Wilkinson, ’16, a Women’s Center representative and co-president of the African Caribbean Culture Club.

Onyiuke said in Nigeria, marriage is a priority for most women. She said that in America, her friends believe marriage can wait until after a career is established.

Onyiuke also said that in Nigeria, “you let religion drive you in whatever you’re doing.”

Misinzo Moono, ’16, said the African and Caribbean way of raising a child differs greatly from the American way.

“It takes a village to raise a child (there),” Moono said. She also said African parents encourage independence in their children, whereas American parents take more charge over their children.

Most of the attendees at the discussion were of African and Caribbean descent and greatly value their backgrounds.

“I’ve never been in a place where I was such a small minority,” said Krystle McLaughlin, a professor of biology. “As a minority, my role here is to help educate people (about minorities).”

Although assimilation is often an option, these women seek to maintain connections with their roots.

“You want to assimilate and understand the culture you’re going (in) to but you also want to maintain some of your own culture because that’s your identity,” Llibre said.

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