Identity and Cultural Sensitivity

Indira Kajosevic

Co-director and Project Coordinator of the Reconciliation and Culture Cooperative Network, Inc., New York

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: One of the things that I find in my work is that members of the community, especially the community leaders, become so partial. We are still very small for let's say policy makers here, to understand that there is a particularity of this culture. For instance, the policemen, had no idea that when they were going to a battered woman's house, that she's not going to invite them in. For one, she does not trust the police. Secondly, there were people in uniforms, who were taking them out of their homes back in Bosnia, and they come from the same memory here, so they are not going to trust them. Thirdly, they don't understand the rules and procedures, when and how to do them. Fourthly, the community is going to ostracize them if her husband is going to be sent back because of the violence that she has experienced, because domestic violence is perceived as something normal, and it happens. We all of course know that once there is greater violence in society, there is greater violence in the home. There are all these frustrated people who don't know what to do with themselves, and fight all the time. Beating up children is a normal part of the culture. It's ok. So why do Americans make such a big deal out of disciplining your children?...

If you went to a high school in the Bronx and there were problems of Albanian kids in the tight group and they had an arranged fight with the best or biggest local gang, someone might say well this is what is traditionally happening in this area in the Bronx. Italians fought Irish and Irish fought Latinos. What they fought about was not some disagreements, but whether Albanian kids would be allowed to wear black and red because these were the colors of the Bloods, a Latino gang in that area. They have this fight on the premises of an educational institution in NYC and they have an excellent conflict resolution program, but it's not working because those kids are not coming to the CR programs so you do have to take a culturally sensitive approach and understand why these kids wear black and red. If you know this is a gang, why the hell do you want to wear these colors? Those are the colors of their national flag and the Albanian kids would never give it up, because it was so hard for them to maintain it under the repressive Kosovo, and they come all the way to America to have a gang do it as well; of course they're going to fight.

Q: Land of freedom, land they still can't have their flag.

A: Right, because of all the social environments and the circumstances they live in. Having an active presence is the most important part for our work, that's my advice.