African Migrants and Multiple Factors in Divorce Issues: Values Internalization and Liberalized Identity:
I am not married, at least no so for now. However, that is not going to mute my voice in articulating my perspective on the issue raised here as I understand and observed it. I do so having observed this phenomenon through my existential and human lenses and continue to attempt to understand immigrant dynamics in general, and specifically those of African immigrants. I have also listened to both married men and women share their stories, struggles, and anxieties to me. Somewhat, I understand the different trajectories, even when it does not make total sense, or it does not match my own value orientations. Immigration and spatial movements introduce complex issues of social and interactive relations, it shifts, orders, reframes, and reconfigures, even hitherto simplistic and taken for granted idioms. In this array and rearrangement of life data, new meanings emerge and new personalities are formed, new issues also beget new challenges and modalities of change. It is here that the issues of African migrants, and the multiplex challenges they face and grapple with can be cogently confronted, and even itemized. However, thematizing these issues, does not always mean resolution, but at least it enables us to view them as they are, and for what they are- as issues affecting human existence and spatial domains.
In a keynote address I presented in proxy to the Igala Association USA in 2003, holding its annual symposium in Washington, D.C, I noted the sad phenomenon of the rising tide of divorces among Nigerian and African migrants, due to at times resolvable and minute issues. I noted from observation how the very fact of immigration and the value ingratiation or internalization, itself can become a factor for the rising tide of divorce among couples. Sometimes ago, while in Austin, the University of Texas Clinic, had sought me out, trying for me to witness regarding certain cultural idioms relative to Igbo marriage in a sad case of a Nigerian man who married according to Igbo traditional norms brought the wife, a trained nurse from Nigeria, here, only to abandon her and their four or so children. The student attorneys and those in charge of the case painted a very pathetic story of this woman her suffering and ordeal in the face of the abuse she's been subjected to by this man.
The scenario goes like this: This man came here sometimes in the late 1970s or early 1980s, married an American, divorced, then sought for a wife at home. Thereafter, he went home and then did the traditional marriage rites, according to Afikpo tradition, and he returned here, then filing for his wife to join him. The wife joined him here in the US, they "made" four children, and then the marriage started heading for the rocks. Before ever the marriage was over, he had started a relationship with another American woman, and though this was going on as I was told, he would not allow the woman to pursue her professional dreams of working and getting her license to practice as a nurse here in the US. He wanted her to be a stay at home wife and mother, and that she was not to question his decision, incessantly reminding her that he brought her to the golden land and land of diamond opportunity- though she was not permitted to reap that gold and diamond herself. The marriage fell apart. The man claimed he never married her given that according to him, they never married in the Church. He did not consider their traditional wedding- all those "Ngba Nku nwanyi" (abi na wine sef!) rites- to be in any intrinsic sense a wedding.
Now given this scenario, someone had informed the folks at the University of Texas at Austin Law Clinic- Domestic Abuse- that as a priest and an anthropologist I could assist them. Somewhat, I could given the fact that as a priest in Nigeria I had parishioners from all over Nigeria, including Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and all, and I do consider myself to somewhat understand the various marriage trajectories of different ethnic groups from my interactions, and works done by scholars regarding marriage. Of course, African, and specifically Nigerian Canon Lawyers in the Catholic Church, given the nuanced emphasis on inculturation and problems of marital unions have spearheaded enormous studies in this arena. Being conversant with many such works, I felt I could help. My sympathies was first with the woman, whom I felt was demeaned. Raised the way we were in my family, all the boys and girls were given equal opportunity and life chances, and thus gender equality and dignity was a fundamental taken for granted in my family. As I was good enough to be anything, then my sisters too could be good enough to be anything they wanted in pursuant of their dreams and goals.
Thus, I agreed to become a witness in the case. I prepared myself by going to the library to brush through the works of Basden, Margaret Green, Ilogu, and specifically those by someone like Simon Ottenberg on the Afikpo-Igbo taking intentional notes of the vignettes bothering on kinship and marital relations, among other works. I also found from my own shelve some books such as work "African Marriage Customs and Church Law (A Case-Study of the Igbo) by Joe Chuks Ataido, a Catholic Priest and Canon Lawyer, and John Gangwari's book on "Marriage in Nigeria" which presents aspects of Christian and Nigerian Legal perspectives on Marriage. I read these made some copies of some of these materials, and actual gave some from my library to these attorneys for them to peruse and understand. Thereafter, a court date was set and I given my notice to appear, but for some reasons it was latter cancelled. Not long after I moved out of Austin for good. The student lawyer I was working with also graduated shortly afterwards. Sometimes this year, I received a call to come to testify. but given my distance I notified them that I was no longer within the vicinity. I have no clue how this case has turned out to be. But, I realized some facts thereafter.
Some Nigerian men in the USA can sometimes be jerks, without also making apologies for Nigerian women who do not want to be respected as who they are. A good number of Nigerian men go around without regards for their marital vows pursuing any new girl in town, using materialism as baits- Lexus cars, business success in these strange land, and sometimes putting their spouses down- just to get noticed and what they want. It is, I was told, that some Nigerian men prefer to marry nurses- it is no disrespect to those who are nurses, my mother is a nurse too- in the US because of the peculiarly affirmed good income and demand for nurses. Many in these class, came here, messed their credits and want to relie on the fact that they brought their wives to America, and so cultivate an ultimate culture of dependency and parasitic antennae for sucking their wives dry. A woman gets tired and within the strain of what they go through can feel enough is enough. Also, some who are cab drivers, go home at Christmas and lie to the girls at home at the Owambe parties, and try to speak through their noses the so-called American slang- sometimes ghettoish crap- and overtly Yankee dressed to win their hearts. Well, they sometimes succeed winning hearts, not for the sake of love but to be able to acquire the certificate to cross the Atlantic to make their lives and those of their family better. They come here, and they face and realize the odds in the reality. They struggle to pay bills, they struggle to survive to make ends meet.
In these situations, both husband and wife may decide that the best route is for the wife to go to the Community College, and do a two year nursing to ease their pain. Well, when the wife who is lied, takes the pain to go through this ordeal and begin to make good enough salary, earn professional competence and respectability, she might decide not to live the lie anymore. Or alternatively, they may begin to live the lie too. Equation balances itself. Truly, within the western concept of marriage, deceit and fraud actually constitute a ground for the dissolvability of marital vows, deemed that there was no marriage in the first place. It was in this light that I share I story I heard in an African restaurant in one of our huge American cities.
A Nigerian man, the stories goes, after marrying an African American wife to get a green card, divorced, and later married a young woman in her early twenties from his Nigerian hometown. The man was in his late fifties. Well, the woman, had a boyfriend at home, whom she loved very well. But the dream of America was too tempting to miss, so when this man who had visited for Christmas met her at a wedding, and later proposed she quickly agreed. Well, they did the traditional wedding rites somewhat later. Then, the papers were filed, and few years later the wife joined the husband. Well, the man, a cab driver, had told the girl at home, he was a business man in America, in the "Import and Export" business. Of course, he wasn't lying since he often shipped used cars to his brothers at home intermittently. But she experienced a different reality once she stepped here. Her husband was a cabbie, and she began to feel the stress of life, since at times, it was getting hard to pay their bills.
It was decided that she try admission into nursing at the community college. She gained admission. However, she was beginning to feel lonely. Her husband was out most nights driving the cab, and in the days she was in school, and was beginning to be stressed with lonely as she spent very few hours with her husband each day. Well, young as she was, and seeing other students her age telling tells of their romantic escapades, she became tempted. She started going to the public library to study with another classmate. Library led from books to feels, and romance, and romance led to temptation. On one fateful day, she went to the library, and from there went away with her new American lover in her husband's car to a motel. Unfortunately, her husband came into the vicinity to drop off a passenger at the hotel and noticed his car there. He quickly went home got his spare keys, and came and moved the car away. After, their escapades, she came out and noticed the car was gone. She and her lover quickly went over to the public library, and from there phoned the police that the car she had packed there had vanished, presuming it was stolen. She had decided to tell her husband the same story, but noticed when she approached home that the same car was parked in front of their home. This led to their divorce. Now, who is to blame, given all these scenario. One lie built upon another lie, and lie became disastrous.
The issue is not that simplistic. African women too, sometimes, when they begin to make good income and earn this respectability begin to imagine things, internalizing values that are sometimes driven by negative western feminist paradigms- some of which are yet to have fully liberated western women as such- into displacing their husbands and becoming too self-centered. At this point, they begin to romanticize all American cultural ideals as ultimate values. Even those cultural idioms, that are repudiated by Americans, including women themselves become their normative ideals. I have met Nigerian women who notes that the likes of the shows of Jerry Springer and his cohorts. Liberation comes through internalization of their self perception. Such shows begin to help them, positively or negatively, articulate an embodiment of self that is Western and fulfilling. Of course, since issues of sexuality are veiled and rarely discoursed, such shows become the critical instrumentality of their self-awareness of their sexuality. This is not surprising, because the same thing is happening in Nigeria, and across Africa, these same kind of Jerry Springer shows are impressive to young women and men, who are able to access them through cables and satellites.
Thus, the notion of self and cultural inferiority, the imagination that all that is western, even when rotten, constitutes civilization are sometimes at the root of the malaised consciousness that relativizes marital relations and marriage as an institution. Further, divorce is relative high in American society. The fact that it is becoming high among African immigrants could also be an index of the level of their integration into American cultural domain. Thus, while in many traditional society, some women, at least stay in the marriage for the sake of their children, and their upbringing, many taking cues from the society around them, do not see a need to stay put merely because of their children. Therefore, there is a sense in which children should not be an hindrance on the path of individualism. Individualism remain a core western and significantly roughed American value.
Professional African women should not be demonized because of their high income. African women in traditional African society were not in all sense paupers, or dependants on their husband,they held their own fort. African women controlled enormous wealths as traders, and even the household economy to a large extent, and were forte of strength and mentors to younger women in their communities. The reason for divorce is not to be implicated on the income earned by African women vis their husbands in the Americas. Rather, it is the value orientation assigned by both men and women to these wealth, income, and other factors, that constitutes the reality of the rising tide of divorce between African migrant couples. African women, in spite of the all the total negative postulations that they are oppressed, denigrated, are actually among the most enterprising and powerful people on the planet. I do not want to assert that they are no institutions of domination and structural injustices against women in certain and different polities and spaces in Africa.
African women in many societies had enormous wealth and influence, these wealth and influence, shape their social roles. It is not to be forgotten that our traditional society, such as the Yoruba sanctions harmony and complementarity. Thus, the sacred Ogboni cult has for its cult symbol the image of a man and woman joined by a chain, and even women were members of this powerful and revered society. Among my own Igala ethnic group, women were chiefs, and even the first monarch, Ebulejonu, was a woman, as well as the first Onuh of Egume, and Ochonia Apeh, was both a prosperous and respected enterprising business woman, and also the Onuh of Itobe. In Ossomari, a woman by the name Omu Okwei, "The Merchant Queen of Ossomari", was an emblem of influential African women. Even, the reading of Toyin Falola's, A Mouth Sweeter than Salt (2004), helps us understand the unique and power role women play, even in very subtle ways, in African society. The only difference today between the traditional African women and these globalized women, is that in the most cases, rather than return to their father's compound, they kick the man out and own the compound. That fits into the image of the African-American matriarch, and their noted strong woman image.
Is anyone disagreeing that learning within a plural and globalized learning is not shaping mentalities and thoughts, and fostering new consciousness. Immigration entails diluted idioms and ingratiated norms. Maybe, this is what scholars call hybridity or hybridization. Well, why are we crying wolf afterall? Our many Emekas, Owumis, Olowokandis, while bearing the African names may not know how to make a good sentence in Igbo or Yoruba, so what the heck about those integrating themselves into the American dreams and visions of the good, the bad, and the ugly! Immigration changes people, too.