JEFFREY: In Africa how the family is is very different. Here what your family is is your parents your brother and sister (Enter a small Caucasian family: a mother, father, and daughter behind scrim). In Africa it not the same. In Africa the family is my father, my mother, my brother and sister, my cousin, my nephew, my uncle, my aunt, my grandfa, my grandpa, my grandma—all these are my family (Lights up on Congolese family entering behind scrim one by one as they are mentioned). In the same way I take oft my mother—I mean, how I take care my mother, is the same way I take care of my aunt, is the same way I take care of my family.
In your family you are going to be kissed. You can be kissed by your aunt; you can be kissed by your uncle. You understand what I mean? That’s why in Africa we are united. Our families are very united. This is our force.
(Congolese family begins hugging and showing affection towards one another to represent a close family. The Caucasian family pulls out electronic devices and is not interacting. Lights out on scrim).
And marriage in Africa is not the same as US. Okay? For instance, in Africa a child will leave his parent when he get enough money to get married. If you don’t get married, your going to stay with your family, your parents in the same place. Because why? In order to get married, you need enough money to buy gift and pay dowry to wife’s family. This shows if you are able to take care of yourself and your wife. Before you get married, your mother will advise you, your aunt again will advise you—how you can take care of your children, how you can take care of your house, how you can take care of your future marriage. And then my pa, my family will give me advice how I can live with my wife and family one day. (To the audience) But in America, what do you do?
MARK: We just say, “Will you marry me?”
JEFFREY: Dang. That’s it?!?! That is all it takes to get married? You take a wife for free? Wow! Yah, is good here! Just a word. Wow. That is such a way of getting married. Another difference is in Africa if you get married, getting divorced is forbidden. We believe marriage is from God—it is sacred—and our foundation is the Bible. If you get married, you get married forever. But maybe I can have another wi–, I mean, can have a mistress. Yah, I can have it, but I can’t put away my first wife.
I live in U.S. now, but I go to visit my family. It was a first priority to get the paperwork for US immigration, to try to bring my family with me. I miss them very much. When I become a citizen, I plan to bring my mother, to come here. Family is important. I want a better life for us.
This scene originally appeared in Congolese Immigrant Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois.