FORT BLISS, Texas — Migrants that come to America are sometimes coming from halfway around the world, where the culture is far different from what they are accustomed to, and resources right here in El Paso are making the transition to American society easier.
This past summer, thousands of refugees evacuated Afghanistan to the United States after the Taliban regained control of the Middle Eastern country for the first time in 20 years. Some of those Afghan refugees were brought to Fort Bliss’ Dona Ana Complex in New Mexico.
“Culture shock is something that is not easy,” Nazmi Masoud, a volunteer for the Islamic Center of El Paso, explained about the situation Afghan refugees are facing. Masoud faced a similar thing when he immigrated to the United States as a student when he was 18.
“First thing we have to do is be able to communicate,” Masoud said, talking about the need for the refugees to learn English so that they are more confident and comfortable when they leave the installation and enter American society.
A temporary school was set up in the Dona Ana complex to help kids learn English. The school started with about nine kids but has since grown to about 100 students, according to a press release from the Department of Defense.
Kids learn the basics, such as colors, days of the week, and simple phrases. English classes are also offered to adult men and women at the facility.
Not only are the children learning basic English, but translators from Fort Hood, Texas are teaching smaller social etiquette classes to help with getting kids ready for their future when they move out of Fort Bliss.
Masoud explains that some things will be harder to transition, such as gender roles. Male service members on the installation cannot approach an Afghan woman and ask them questions because it makes the women feel uncomfortable.
In response, Fort Bliss has created the female engagement team consisting of all female service members who engage with the refugee women directly to make sure they are helped and provided resources.
The same cultural differences are impacting Haitian migrants as well. The First Haitian church of El Paso is providing a two to three hour class to go over the customs and laws in the United States.
“Responsible community members, that’s what we want,” BJ Jeudy, the president of Haitian Americans United of El Paso, explained about their class.
Some of the cultural differences include personal space and eye contact. Many Haitians are usually close when talking, according to Jeudy. She also explained that many Haitians avoid eye contact because it is seen as a sign of disrespect, which is the opposite in the United States.
“If you’re having a conversation just like we’re having a conversation, and I’m not making eye contact with you, your brain starts automatically questioning,” Jeudy said.
ABC 7 spoke with one Haitian migrant who wanted to be identified as Marie, and she explained the church has helped her feel ready to integrate into American culture.