South Bend Indiana Has Lesson For All Immigrants

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The recent South Bend, Indiana tragedy in which a Kenyan dad offed his daughter and then was taken out by cops is sad. I am however amazed at the way people at home ooh and aaah at this story as if it were the biggest news to come out of here. The program “Snapped” should start airing in Kenya so that Kenyans get an idea of why a story like that is not earthshaking in America. I even like that some are weighing in on who is to blame after reading a newspaper account. Others are worse…their CSI begins and ends with FB and twitter.

Truth be told, this is a pedestrian affair and is only made sadder by the fact that they are both so far away from home and also on account of the young life that was caught and taken  in the crossfire. Reading the local Kenyan papers, I am appalled at how people are calling the mother of this child names and then generalizing it to all Kenyan women in the US saying that all of them eventually leave their husbands because of the power of the dollar. Well you could have fooled me because I thought it was the dollar that drew both of them to the US in the first place. Their probas seem to have coalesced around money but ask any marriage counselor or pastor and they will confirm that money is always at the root of failed marriages. Everything else…cheating, diminished love etc. is a symptom!

I sympathize with the parents of the man and in their grief and mourning they are looking to understand what happened. They have suggested that there was a sociological family trigger, other than the police trigger that killed the man. And from their interview with the media it is obvious they think that their son would never do what he did, stab his daughter to death, and if indeed he did then his girlfriend and mother to their granddaughter had an ominous hand in it. They are in denial and she offers the obvious scapegoat. People need to lash out when something like this happens and so that does not come as a surprise. The mother is very angry and spends time on end gazing at the fresh mound of the grave in disbelief. They now want serikali,  throuh the office of  H.E Amb. Amina Mohammed Foreign Affairs, to intervene and ask American police why they did not just arrest him and deport him, in the words of the mother.

South Bend is a small town in the American Mid-West with a population of about 100,000 and an unemployment rate of 11.4%. It can be classified as small-time America located in the rust and Bible-Belt America. Settling here as an immigrant makes you stick out like a sore thumb and job opportunities are far and in between…and especially if you arrive with just your high school diploma or even a first degree from Africa. The jobs that will be open to you will be menial. Discrimination will be high on the bill and therefore the more reason for you to learn how to settle in and play by the rules. The other option is get a job and go to school in order to get an even better job. It does not come as a surprise that the couple went for months without a job. Now that is a myth that needs to be put to rest: Jobs in America are not hanging like ripe berries on trees for the picking!

Small time America cops do their job thoroughly and you cannot bring your home tabias there and expect to get away with it. The rules are clear. You are not allowed to drink excessively and then beat up on your wife, kids or husband. Violence is violence and the domestic type is the most despicable. Harm a child and you will go to jail…or die trying! There is no justifiable vehicular homicide and especially if the alcohol-meter says you had no business sitting behind a wheel. You break the law and take someones life, you are considered a threat to the community and they will take you out if you do not surrender. Obeisance is paramount here and and there is no defense in “I did not know”. These guys will call you “sir”…very respectful, as they cuff you and haul your butt down to the “cop-shop”! The take down is brutal but very civil unless you begin to plead your case in which case they will only listen to you once you have been processed at the station.

My point here is that while we all sympathize with the family, this is not an issue that is high on the SBPD’s to do list. It will be explained by the circumstances which in this case amount to the gentleman being considered rogue having had issues with the law known as priors. He is reported to have had a problem with alcohol, which most Kenyan men, and sometimes women too, do not seem to realize that they cannot continue to imbibe in the same copious amounts and attempt to drive, like they did at home. Hakuna “kitu kidogo”! It is sad that the other story coming out of Seattle involving the drowning of a young Kenyan boy is also being tagged to excessive alcohol in-take in the name of fun at the beach.

I was drawn to one comment in that standard where a Kenyan immigrant in the US (gentleman) said that when you arrive in peoples country as immigrants, it behooves you to learn the rules of the community in which you hope to settle. Life is hard and especially seeing that you do not have the regular support systems we have in our African communities, there is need for restraint and trying to make it work for the mutual benefit of the family. Life is already hard and there is no point in making it harder just because either party finds it difficult to acclimate and adapt.

When couples arrive here and I have seen it here, they are first lovey dovey and showing their best sides. Then they get jobs and now it becomes this is mine and that is yours. The law suggests that certain things should be done together if you want to avoid high costs…like filing your taxes and claiming your children . Equality becomes a reality and there is division of labor and no one is king of the hill in the house. Mutual respect must abide and the woman wearing pants as item of clothing should not be construed as usurping of powers conferred by the elders in gichagi! When this arrangement seems to not work then take the other route of seeing a counselor na ikizidi muone wakili wa talaka…Not to engage in mortal combat with kids as collateral damage!

This young family certainly did not have a chance. Some couples come here and they find their median very quickly and settle…not to say that they never have probas…but they know how to deal putting their mission at the core. Others fall apart very quickly. Like this family here. I hope the two families involved in this saga find peace and understanding that they will have purchased at a truly great cost…the tragic loss of a father and son, a daughter and grand daughter!

©njeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations professional and a College Speech Communication teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.

Kenyans Doing Really Good In The Diaspora!

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A Kenyan media friend of mine Ann FB’ed that she had google-stumbled on  a Kenyan in The US that is doing very good in an industry that most find very difficult to penetrate…and especially if you are from the netherworld dubbed “Third”. She in fact said she thought he was an Italian…a Black Italian because they are there…but on reading on was pleasantly surprised to find that Edi Mue Gathegi…is a Kenyan. I will not go into how she thought he was Italian with a name like thaaat!

I myself live here and had never heard of him. And that, I discovered, is because I am not exactly a fan of TV series like House. I am impatient and cannot understand why I have to wait til next week to find out if the man died!  It took a prod from his aunt Rosemary Mulembo née Mue, an old good friend of mine and my sisters’ from Kenya National Theater Balcony halcyon days, to go watch a movie in which her nephew was “starring”. I was like “what?…Starring where?” I was even more stunned when she mentioned the title of the movie “X-Men: First Class”…and now I was convinced that we in the diaspora are sometimes crazy and like to tell stories!

I hauled myself off to Princess Theater and sighed as I settled into my seat to watch keenly in case I missed the flicker of a miro dude in a crowd scene who might resemble people from my motherland. I can live with that. And I had to tell Rosemary that I went because she would catch me later on FB (can you tell I live there?) and would ask if I had been. Lordy! Lordy! Somewhere and sometime into the movie a guy appears and Yes!…He’s cute and has the most adorable accent I ever heard…Nice! Needless to say the experience was riveting and I resisted the urge to turn around and tell the guys behind me that “Darwin is Kenyan…and I know his Aunty!”

I guess most people have missed out on who Edi is because he certainly did not grow up in theater in Kenya and is relatively unknown in Kenyan theater circles. He discovered himself and his acting inclination when he was already here in the US. Rosemary Mue sounded so proud, and as she should be, when telling me about her nephew. She startled me more when she told of how far he has come from his birthplace in Uhuru Estate to the dizzying heights of Bel Air Los Angeles and the US film industry in general. He has truly made it, one can say, judging by his resume of work and his most important roles as Laurent in the films Twilight, its sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Darwin in X-Men: First Class.

Born March 10, 1979 in Eastlands, Nairobi, Kenya, Gathegi grew up in Albany, California. As an undeclared undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he was more interested in playing basketball and was good at it, until he injured his knee; this plunged him into a depression so he took up an acting class as an “easy course”. That is where he discovered his love for acting. Afterwards, he studied at New York University’s Graduate Acting Program at the Tisch School of the Arts, graduating in 2005. Gathegi’s career began in theater,and his stage credits include Two Trains Running at the Old Globe Theater, As You Like ItTwelfth NightOthelloA Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cyrano de Bergerac, among others.

Gathegi’s first professional role was the Haitian Cabbie in the 2006 film Crank. Though he had originally auditioned for the role of Kaylo, the producers gave the role to Efren Ramirez and instead offered Gathegi an appearance as the Haitian Cabbie. He was dubious at first about performing a Haitian accent, but was coached by a Haitian friend. In 2007, after guest-starring on Lincoln Heights and Veronica Mars, Gathegi went on to star as Bodie in Death Sentence, Darudi in The Fifth Patient and Cheese in Gone Baby Gone. He later had a recurring role as Mormon intern Dr. Jeffrey Cole on the television medical drama House, his character was often mocked for his religious beliefs by Dr. House, who himself is an Atheist.

He also guest-starred on CSI: MiamiCSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Life on Mars in 2008 before being cast as Laurent in Twilight. When Gathegi first auditioned for the 2008 film, adapted from the same-titled first book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, he had not heard of the series and was not aware that his character was a vampire. He now has read the whole series and calls himself a hardcore fan. He also played A-Guy in Son of Magnet and he portrayed Eddie Willers in Atlas Shrugged (2011), based on Ayn Rand’s novel of the same name.

That is some really good resume that I dug up on him after watching a few of his movies. And he truly is a gifted actor taking his roles seriously and making a recognizable effort to portray his different characters accurately. He never looks the same in the different roles and that is the mark of a seasoned and marinated actor. Edi has great comportment and carries his interviews on his roles and career exceptionally well. He def has to do a good job seeing he has had to act with and against some of the big Hollywood names like Kristen Stewart (she is the poster child of the Twilight movie), Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, Hugh Laurie (Dr House), Omar Epps, David Caruso (CSI: Miami)and Morgan Freeman (Gone Baby Gone). He is certainly for me an actor who is also in the league of other African greats like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba.

He currently features on The CW’s Beauty & The Beast as Kyle, ABC’s Family Tools as Darren Poynton and ABC’s The Red Widow as Leon. In 2011 he was nominated for Featured Actor in a Play for the role of Franco Wicks in the Geffen Playhouse production of “Superior Donuts.

Edi is young and certainly has a long way to go in his chosen industry. I am amazed at how he has curved a niche for himself and grown his art and standing in this industry quietly without the attendant maua or kelele that some of us make when we get a walk on role or appear in the local daily caught in a crowd scene. He has humility and those who have met him speak of how he is so easy to get along with and talk to.

He is certainly a guy to watch out for and a sign to other upcoming actors that it can be done if taken seriously. He also signals that one needs to take their craft seriously enough to also get some book knowledge behind it. He epitomizes Kenyans doing really  good in the Diaspora.

©NjeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations Professional and a College Speech Communication Teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.