New Voices: Emmanuel Lucenge Siriwayo

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(Host) This week on VPR we’ve been hearing from some of the people behind Vermont’s changing demographics. Among the new Vermonters who’ve been adding to the state’s diversity are Africans – close to a thousand of them, from 28 different African countries.

Today on New Voices we hear from Emmanuel Lucenge Siriwayo of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A graduate of a Congolese University, he worked for the U.N. in several different countries. His troubles started when he returned home in the midst of the Congolese Civil war.

He spoke with us in the Burlington storefront office of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont. The group, which he helped start, assists African immigrants with cross cultural problems.

He has also founded a drumming and dance troupe to teach African culture through drumming and singing. Ngoma Ya Kweto performs occasionally around the state.

(Siriwayo) “When I went back to live in my country it was a bad period. Many, many, many people died. Right now they estimate that more than four million people died, four million people.”

“I begin to get trouble with some leaders. I think they thought I had some political reason to come back.”

“And they captured me and they keep me for a long time. And after that the missionaries do their best to help my family to…. let them come here.”

“My family came to Vermont… because we knew some friends here. From the time they leave Congo and me to come here to join them it was two years. They don’t know where I am.”

“My wife was with six kids two years alone. It was very hard, very very hard.”

“I came here and I know that I have a college degree. I have a background of experience and I said that, Okay, I will get a job.’ When I came over here it was another experience because… if you don’t have a U.S. degree you will not get a job in your field. That’s what we are facing here. So you begin like someone who is not educated.”

“And the other thing is that it is not the same society. Where we were in Africa, in Congo, we know that people live closely. It is a family. The family is not your wife and your children. No. It is big family. When we came here we feel that we are isolated. You go from your work. You come from work, you rest a little bit and you don’t have time to socialize with people. No, no. it is very, very hard.”

“So when we came here… we begin to discover some friends…And one day all the friends were there, they were Africans, and we say, okay, …why can we not start something, an organization where… all Africans can feel comfortable to explain what problem he has.”

“And we begin it was January, 2000.”

“We are now between two cultures, African cultures and American… So we don’t want to lose our culture… But we have to… integrate ourselves into American life with our culture. So the association try to found just the middle. Ha ha.”

(Drums and voices in hall)

(Siriwayo) “The drumming expresses many things. It is a language. Drumming is a language.”

“And it is the responsibility of the eldest to teach the kids. We don’t want them to lose the culture.”

(Host) Emmanuel Lucenge Siriwayo was injured lifting a 50 pound sack at his job feeding the animals at a research lab. He’s currently taking classes in American accounting at Community College of Vermont.

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