Integration is about respect and admiration too

Political leaders must use their position in society to foster harmony. And as migrants we need to do our part to contribute to our host community

How do you manage to persuade someone to let go of his values and beliefs, and take up those of his host? You ‘go to Rome and do as the Romans do’, and yet it’s easier said than done: things are more difficult without an integration policy in place for migrants and new members of society.

I have questioned my own credibility in doing a piece on integration, simply because I have been open-minded enough to adapt easily. My early education, coupled with an exposure to the western world through my passion for entertainment, came in handy to help me integrate faster. Others are not as lucky, and that’s why there is the need to have a system in place to bridge the gap between the hosts and the migrants.

I see the tug of war between liberal and conservative ideologies to be irrelevant when these two can co-exist harmoniously: a classic example is the recent recognition of civil unions in Malta. After dancing to the political tune of the church for so many years, the island had to come full circle to realise the need for church-state separation.

The first step to integration is breaking the language barrier.

But this does not take away the important role the church plays in society. It simply delegates the church a social role. Whether this is right or wrong can be debatable, according on which side of the spectrum you are.

Democratic societies agree that a person has the right to exercise his freedoms as long as they don't infringe the freedoms of another. When communities are open to respecting each other as human beings first, the torch is lit to brighten the future. To me integration is celebrating other peoples’ culture, while staying true to who you are. This can never be realised until we free our minds from their rigidity.

The first step to integration is breaking the language barrier. People have a tendency to open up to you if you speak the language they speak. I have experienced this more than once. My family moved to Kenya from Somalia, when I was still three years of age. I guess you are more receptive to change at a young age. I was lucky because our mother allowed us to let our imagination run wild while still connecting us to our roots: so she put in place rule, allowing us to speak English and Swahili, the Kenyan national language, everywhere except in the house, where we communicated in our native Somalia.

We were able to interact with the locals freely without forgetting where we were from because of this.

Stereotypes have no place for integration to be realised. It’s difficult enough not to have certain perceptions of certain communities, especially in a world that is keen to divide rather than unite. After 9/11, people tended to associated Islam with terror; the hijab that Muslim women wear to cover their heads is frowned upon by many – but that doesn’t mean that covered women are terrorists.

Even in Malta, I have touched upon the ‘us against them’ mentality. Africans are looked upon as one group of people. Many are unaware of the fact that African migrants come from different walks of life, with various religions and cultural beliefs.

I am a clear example of the blend of conservative and liberal make-ups. I was born into a conservative Somali family; my father was a strict religious man. He disapproved of my passion for music, acting and fashion. My mother was, on the other hand, more liberal compared to my father but conservative on some issues. My sexuality pushed me to be more liberal, but I still hold on to some values that were dear to my parents.

The key here is the middle-ground based on respect and admiration. The government must create the necessary groundwork and policy to foster integration. And political leaders must use their position in society to foster harmony. As migrants we need to do our part to contribute to our host community.