The people of Sudan, commonly known as the Sudanese, bring with them numerous traditions and cultural mainstays when they enter the United States. Their history, culture, medical practices and traditions provide them with a sense of home, and allow them to continue to preserve their past while allowing them to lead better lives. However, while their traditions and culture are vital to this preservation, their new positions in the United States often lead to struggles and conflict. This paper will outline the culture of the Sudanese, and will examine how that culture has altered in response to life in the United States.
One of the main differences in culture and medical practices lies in the circumcision of females in Sudan and in the female perspective overall. Female circumcision is a common practice in Sudan, since it is believed to ensure the virginity of young Sudanese women. In Sudan, circumcision is required to attain any form of socio-economic status, and required for acceptance into the community (Halim, 18). Almost all females of middle class and wealthy families are subjected to the practice at an early age.
Once in the United States, however, the practice is viewed as barbaric, and as an insult to the women of Sudan. Many immigrants who find themselves in the care of doctors, nurses, and midwives in the United States are often confronted with confusion about their circumcised condition, anger towards the practice, and even discrimination (Halim, 18). What was a cultural requirement in Sudan is looked on as a savage and archaic setback in the United States.
Another health related cultural change is that of overall health care. In war-ridden Sudan, health care is not generally available. Pregnant women seldom seek prenatal care, and common diseases such as appendicitis, flu, and bronchitis are either treated at home or lead to death. Upon their entrance into the United States, the immigrants, not used to attempting to receive health care or prenatal care, are inclined to continue with their traditions of self health care, often resulting in a portrayal of negligence (Anderson, C13). As with female circumcision, self-healing, which was a norm in Sudan, is considered in the United States to be a derogatory practice.
Another cultural difference that can cause difficulty for Sudanese families in the United States is that of the dominance of males over females and children in Sudan. For Sudanese males, dominance over the family is tradition, and is a part of their every day culture. Many Sudanese males see the laws of the United States against domestic abuse and child abuse as the cause for their loss of control over their families. Women in the United States are given many more freedoms, and for some male dominated Sudanese families, this causes a great conflict (Matre, 16).
Still another cultural difference is the people of Sudan often deal with problems in their communities on a local level. When a person in the community has a drinking problem, for example, or is violent, other members of the community deal with him or her. In the United States, the culture instead looks to the government for assistance, a concept that is foreign to many Sudanese immigrants (Eastburn, 1).
Part of the struggle of these immigrants results from a lack of formal education, and English language training. For many, formal education was unattainable in Sudan. A recent study of Sudanese immigrants in Lancaster County, Nebraska, showed that less than fifty percent had attained even a high school degree. This same study showed less than seven percent speak fluent English at home (Anderson, C13). These types of barriers make the effort to find employment or gain access to welfare and other social programs particularly difficult. Further, the language barrier often equals difficulty in dealing with police and other authority figures (Eastburn, 1).
Clearly, there are barriers and drastic differences in the cultural norms of Sudan and the United States. Sudanese immigrants may find it difficult to accept the culture of their new home, and may require assistance in dealing with the changes necessary to ensure their success. In order to fully assist these individuals, more effort needs to be placed into discovering the core of these differences, and designing programs to assist those of this country that are most in need of these services.
Anderson, Mark. “Sudanese Refugees Lack Skill to Negotiate U.S. Culture.” Lincoln Journal Star, 19 May 2004, C13.
Eastburn, Kathryn. “Circle of Refuge.” Colorado Springs Independent, 23 January 2003, 1-2.
Halim, Abdel. Honorable Daughters: The Lived Experience of Circumcised Sudanese Women in The United States. June, 2003. Retrieved from Ohio Library and Information Network database. 5 October 2005. http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd/send-pdf.cgi?acc_num=ohiou1061240934.
Matre, Lynn Van. “DuPage Agency to Aid Refugees from Sudan.” Chicago Tribune, 14 February 2001, 15.