By Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations
Many religions have teachings about animals. Cows are sacred to Hindus. Pigs are not kosher to Jews and are haram to Muslims. In the Navajo religion, killing a frog can have dire consequences. England has an established religion, the Anglican Church, of which the monarch is the head. The English are a little fanatical about animal welfare. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals was founded decades before the Society for the Protection of Children, which latter society is not royal. The state religion itself takes no official position for or against any particular animal, apart from decrying cruelty to any living creature.
A few years ago, recent immigrants to the obscure village demanded that the local council remove the statue. In their religion, pigs are offensive and unclean.
It is true that pigs can carry and transmit diseases that can be harmful and even fatal to humans, but a representation of a pig is not a pig. Far more worrying than the ridiculous demand that the statue be removed because it was “unclean” is the fact that an immigrant community in a country that has an established religion attempted to impose their religious values on their host county.
People emigrate for many reasons. Chief among them is to seek “a better life.” That desire implies that life in the immigrant’s country of origin was not as good as life in the country to which they immigrated. Immigration is a useless exercise if the immigrants bring with them the flawed values and traditions that caused them to move in the first place.
The bulk of the populations of the Americas, Australia and elsewhere are made up of immigrants and their descendants. All religions and ethnicities are represented. The only way these diverse populations can live in peace is to respect the religions and ethnicities of their countrymen.
In recent years there has been massive immigration to Europe, the countries of which are not composed of immigrant populations. They are countries that have long religious and cultural traditions of their own. For a time, the bulk of immigrants came from former colonies of European countries: North Africans went to France, Indians and Pakistanis went to England, Indonesians to the Netherlands, Congolese to Belgium, Ethiopians to Italy and so on. With poverty, disease and war spurring them on, immigrants increasingly just wanted to go to Europe, anywhere in Europe, and countries that had no colonial past, like Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and others, also received waves of immigrants. Many of them brought with them the dysfunctional systems that they were supposedly leaving behind.
Danes were threatened and murdered in Denmark for exercising their traditional right to freedom of expression. Immigrant girls were murdered by their families in Italy for trying to adapt to their adopted country’s cultural traditions. Immigrant boys were carved up for body parts used in African witch-craft rituals in England. All over Europe, the symbol of the lack of womens’ rights, traditional head-coverings, has become common place.
All of these incidents and the maintaining of traditional values from the country of origin in the country to which people have immigrated go to show the lack of integration into the new land. It is not enough for would-be immigrants to board a rickety boat or hide in the back of a lorry and make it to Europe. Once arrived, it is incumbent upon them to not isolate themselves in communities that function in the same way that the dysfunctional societies from which they come functioned.
Immigrants’ different ways are tolerated, sometimes even celebrated, but in order to make a success of life in a new land, immigrants must adopt local ways, even while maintaining elements of their original cultures.
Many refugees from the Bosnian war were given asylum in a rural Swiss valley. Except for the mustaches, the men blended in. The women did not. They wore headscarves, long skirts and flimsy footwear. To this day elderly Bosnia women wear scarves and long skirts, though they now wear more substantial shoes. For the most part, the elder men still have their mustaches. The younger males tend to be clean-shaven. The biggest change can be seen in younger Bosnian women. They wear shoes appropriate to the harsh climate. Their head gear is now more protective than symbolic. They wear trousers instead of long skirts. They have jobs, driver’s licenses and many of them have good lives and bright futures. They have adapted. They have integrated. One cannot tell a Bosnian woman from any other woman just by looking—and the changes are more profound than mere appearance. To be sure, they have lost many elements of their cultural, historic and religious identities, but it was precisely those elements that led to war in their homeland and caused them to flee.
My family emigrated to the USA from what is now the Czech Republic in the early part of the 20th Century. I myself emigrated from the USA to the small European country where I have lived for more than three decades. My Grandma was vexed with Grandpa because he refused to speak Czech with his children; he spoke only English. “If I wanted them to speak Czech,” he told Grandma, “I would have stayed in Bohemia.” Not that Grandpa entirely abandoned his native culture: he published books, in both Czech and English, on the Czech Ethnic Group in America. When I moved to Switzerland the first thing I did was to learn French, the language of the area in which I live. I also learned enough German to get by in other areas of the country.
I celebrate Thanksgiving, I don’t celebrate Ascension or Pentecost. I am active in the local English-speaking community. I am also active in the French-speaking community and when August 1 rolls around I celebrate Switzerland’s National Day with the gusto of a real Swiss—which I have become.
In a way, successful immigration is like successful translation. It’s not enough to understand the document or recording to make a translation. One must also be able to transfer the information into a different language, into a different form. An immigrant who will not learn the new “language” of his host country—the traditions, the morals, all the cultural imperatives of life in a new land—might just as well have stayed put. He is not helping himself, and he can be a cause of unnecessary conflict among his new countrymen.
And flap over the wild boar? The locals told the new arrivals to get a grip, to tolerate the society into which they had inserted themselves in the same way that that society was tolerating them. The statue still stands on the village green, as it has for centuries in the past and, it is to be hoped, will stand for centuries to come.
All the best,
Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
About the Author: Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.