Which life model should we the “Sudanese Diaspora” adopt: Jewish Americans' or Italian Americans' model?

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Thursday, 12 February 2009 22:50
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akol_5_0(Burlington, Vermont, USA) -Zachariah Manyok Biar had exhausted most of what I wanted to discuss for this topic. But nonetheless, I find it very compelling to bring it up again because we the Sudanese Diaspora are at the crossroad of debating this issue now. We cannot afford to wait for tomorrow to talk about what our children's lives will be 100 years later when we are all dead.

Here were two American communities settling in the New World “North America” in the first half of the last century but had different life outcomes 100 years later.

Similarities

Both communities came to the US with nothing: they had to build their lives from scratch without any wealth “whatsoever” transferred from Europe to be invested in the New World. That is where the similarities end and everything else has to do with stack differences.

Differences

Whereas Jewish immigrants were almost exterminated in the faith of the planet by Nazi German under Hitler, Italian immigrants left Italy without existential threats facing them in Europe.

Whereas Italian immigrants had their homes and nets of kin still intact back in Europe, Jews had nothing left in Europe and if anything it would be the bodies of their slain loved ones dumped in mass graves in Europe.

Whereas Italian immigrants were looking for economic opportunities in the New World with the hope of going back to Europe with their newly earned wealth, Jewish immigrants were looking for a place where they can live and develop as their home.

Whereas Italian immigrants considered their newly inhabited nation as a temporary place to harness wealth from and hoped to go back home “in Italy”, Jews weren't looking back to Europe but rather looked at this new place as their final home to inhabit and develop.

Whereas Italian immigrants considered themselves as individuals coming from Europe with the goals of enriching themselves and their families back in Italy, Jews considered themselves as one family wherever they live around the globe and that is why we cannot tell the difference between American Jew and Israeli Jew because they see themselves as one family routing for the same destiny which is dedicating everything they have to defend the state of Israel from being “wiped off the Map” by its enemies.

Results of the models

Did these two models affect the successes of these two communities here in the US? Yes, without any doubt Jewish Americans so far had succeeded economically, intellectually, and politically in achieving whatever it was that they aspired to do far more than Italian Americans had.

The explanation given by many sociologists both Italian or Jewish Americans alike had been grounded on the fact that Jews planned for their long term prosperity since they knew America was their final home whereas Italian Americans' goals were short term in nature since they did not think they would stay in the US for a long haul.

The realities of life ensued in a sense that Italian Americans never returned to Italy but their short term goals of (making money and remitting it back to Italy, not “bothering” about education, not opening businesses here in the US, not building and buying houses) never lived up to the realities of being an American when the hopes of life back in Europe exited through the window. I am not in any way implying that Italian Americans have failed; no, they haven't but their being shortsighted about the possibility of not returning to Europe did not serve their long term economic successes when it turned out that their imminent exodus back to Italy became impossible.

In contrast, Jewish Americans who all along knew they weren't going anywhere succeeded because their long term goals of (opening businesses, lending money to fellow Jewish entrepreneurs, employing fellow Jews, building the best American Investment Banks, building and buying houses, and sending their kids to the best educational institutions in the lands) all paid off, and they literally control America today. Jewish Americans send their kids to Jewish schools to be trained Rabbinical Law so that they do not forget their faith, and their routes. They send their kids to Israel in order to firmly ground their faith in defending the state of Israel. And by the way, they find it easier to do all these things because they are economically positioned to do what they see fit. Money isn't a problem to almost any Jewish American. Are there a few losers, slackers and drug addicts here and there? Sure but there aren't many.

So, I do not care if you live in the US, Canada, Australia or any other nation outside Sudan, the question I am asking all of us is what model can we adopt in order to succeed wherever we live and also to serve the interest of New Sudan (South Sudan) if we become independent?

Begin with assessing where you are right now. If you are not paying attention to how you will succeed wherever you are but are waiting for the day when you will go back to Sudan, you are probably taking the Italian Americans' model. Unfortunately, I am really sad to say that chances are you may not go back to Sudan at all but you will have overlooked those opportunities that would have served you and your children as well as South Sudan's interests in the hope of going back only to realize you are not anymore. Are you going to visit or work in South Sudan? Sure. Will you move your family back to the village in South Sudan? Maybe but chances are probably not. Then figure out something permanent where you are after all it does not harm if you decide to move back to South Sudan down the road.

If you are planning for your immediate success wherever you live, you are taking Jewish Americans' model, and that will not only serve your long term interest but also the interest of South Sudan in the long run.

What do I mean by planning to succeed wherever you are? I mean doing things like starting a business, taking chances to advance your education because data has consistently proven that education has never ever been a losing endeavor, building and buying houses, and being involved in local politics, among others. All of these will contribute to your success in the long run and will free your time and resources to help South Sudanese in whatever way you want to get involved.

Here are few ideas of how our successes here in the west can have positive impacts on how we help in South Sudan:

If you become influential in your area, you can influence local politics in favor of South Sudan.

If you become wealthy, you can help organize other philanthropists to donate money to help supporting the right causes in Sudan.

If you become a doctor, you can travel to South Sudan and treat people pro bono (without pay) because you are intellectually and financially positioned to do so.

If you have a house, you can travel to South Sudan, take time to help in whatever cause you have passion in without the fear of having your little ones evicted by unscrupulous landlords.

I mean if you live by paycheck to paycheck, there is no way you are going to pay attention to what goes on in South Sudan because your time will be taken by worrying about keeping roofs on your family's head and putting foods on the table.

Therefore, in my view, Jewish American model is the best model we can adopt not only for our own sake but also for the sake of the nation we hold dear in our hearts - “the New Sudan”. I believe in building our lives wherever we are because our successes will free our times and resources to do greater things back home in South Sudan. I know we can succeed like American Jews even without electoral power.

We can prosper in here in the US and back in South Sudan doing just causes but only if we pay attention to how we succeed here in the western world.

Just like American Jews who hold dual citizenship with the US and Israel, we the Sudanese Diaspora hold dual citizenship with South Sudan. Just like American Jews who travel freely to the nation of Israel committing their wealth to building and perfecting that nation, we the Sudanese Diaspora are now traveling back and forth between the South Sudan and western world but the only difference is we are still poor and haven't yet figured out our own lives.

It is going to be hard but we really need to succeed here and everything else that has to do with influencing the western world to support the South Sudan or committing ourselves to building South Sudan will be no brainer.

I am not going out of my way to tell other Sudanese Diaspora the way to live their lives but I am right to say that we haven't answered the questions of whether or not we will ever move back to Sudan. I am still wrestling with that question but it is the right debate because finding the best answer to that question will determine our influences in these western societies we live in and will also determine how we position ourselves to pursue the right causes that we care about in South Sudan. The truth of the matter is we cannot accomplish those goals when we are still poor as we are not educated, and are still renters who could be evicted by landlords anytime. Sure a few young southerners like Alek Wek and Luol Ajou Deng are above the fray but everybody else is struggling.

Personally, I am still poor, not well educated and still renting someone's apartment. I am still all of those three things but I am still figuring it out how I will not be any of those in the long run. That is the debate we should have now.

I have seen bright spots for the last eight years that most of us have been living in the west. I have seen a number of southerners graduating from colleges and moving on to graduate schools in big numbers in all fields ranging from business to medical schools. I have seen many southerners traveling back to Sudan and opening businesses there. I have seen some southerners settling in their careers and buying homes here in the west. These are initiatives towards the right direction but they aren't enough. We need to build on those initiatives. Not just a few but all of us. If anything, let's debate this issue. If someone has a counterargument or additional idea out there, bring it forward.

This is a healthy debate to have at this juncture. I believe we have to continue with this debate even as controversial as it is because we the Diaspora have so much at stake. We have to find our niche moving forward in South Sudan History. I do not think we have that niche at the moment.

*Akol Aguek Ngong is a Master of Business Administration (MBA) student at the University of Vermont; an Assistant Director of Admissions at the same institution and a New Sudan Vision Contributor. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.