Through fashion immigrants and their children are able to hold onto their cultural identities. Through the blending of the culture from the home and new land biculturalism is born. It’s like have the luxuries of dual citizenship.
An American flag printed t-shirt with big, black curly hair, large brown beads on wrists, a tribal printed headscarf and a chain with a pendant of the Ethiopian cross may not sound ideal for someone working in a office but this is the style of Sarah Gembremedhin.
“I wear what I wear because it’s what I feel the most comfortable in. Once upon a time I tried to blend in with the New York style but I didn’t feel like I was being my genuine self. I am originally from Seattle, Washington so moving to New York was a culture shock. But now that I’ve been hear for a couple of years I’ve realized that I’m in a city where people come from all around the world. I can be who I am and still be “fashion forward.” I am Ethiopian and I am proud of that fact” said 23-year-old Sara Gembremedhin of Brooklyn, New York. Gembremedhin was born to Ethiopian-born parents. As child growing up in New York, parents often encourage their children to stand out and be different when all children want to do is blend in and have friends. A red flag is flown when children dress differently. Immigrant children and children of immigrants may have a culturally different style. For these children attending public schools outside their neighborhoods bullying and pointing of the index finger may occur.
New York City is considered to be a melting pot, a mixture of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, which is what makes it so unique. Immigrants and children of immigrants embrace their cultures and their ethnic flares through their fashion choices. Holding onto elements of their culture.
According to Philip Kasinitz and his team of researchers to acculturate selectively means children taking what works best in their parents’ communities and combining it with the best of what they see around them among their native peers. It’s like mixing the old with the new, combining vintage clothing from a thrift shop and pairing it with a dated item of clothing. Kasinitz is a professor of sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center and Hunter College. Kasinitz and his team of researchers wrote “Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come to Age,” which is a research study on immigrants and how they assimilate into American norms.
Living in New York City is a challenge within itself. Competition is steep everywhere, the world of fashion is no different. “Fashion is taken seriously in the Ukraine, girls are made up everyday, killer heals, make-up is always done. Girls will not go outside without make-up. Even with brick pavement, women walk around in four-five inch heels. It doesn’t matter how long hair takes to be done, it just has to be done. They are very fashion forward, dedicated to looking good is embedded in the culture” said Olena Romanyshyn. Romanyshyn is 25 years old; she is Ukrainian-born but came to the states at the age of 12. She currently lives in Queens, New York.
New York is a white-collared society; immigrants have to assimilate in some way shape or form. Assimilation is when what was once distinct and separate groups come to share a common culture and merge together socially. Traditional garments of the homeland may not be seen as appropriate for the workplace. But there is a way to hold on to elements of culture through fashion Hijabs, turbans, Ushanka’s and Pysanka inspired prints have taken high fashion runways by storm in recent years. In the spring of 2007 Prada debuted their turban headgear on the runways with bold colors of fuchsia, electric purple and crimson red. Ushankas, which are better known as fur ear hats appeared on Michael Kors fall 2009 runway. Even well renowned designer, Oscar De la Renta took note of culturally inspired trends as Hijab inspired head pieces played a role in his Fall 2011 women’s collection. “In the summer I wear floral tops with native tribal stitching. In my country we call this Vyshyvanka,” said Romanyshyn.
“I think it is important to sustain a degree of cultural identity. I understand that many can’t wear all their traditional clothes from their countries but there are still ways to take pride in your heritage. I see people of the time on the train with tattoos of their country’s or cultural symbols” said Romanyshyn. Tattoos are another accessory of fashion used to maintain cultural pride. “I have six tattoos, and three are in my homeland language, Tigrinya. My first one goes down my spine and it’s four letters and spells out Shocurina. My whole family and Ethiopian community in Seattle calls me Shocurina, it means beauty beyond the ordinary, rare honey, sweetest girl. They were my inspiration to get that one. Second, I have an Ethiopian orthodox cross on my wrist, shaded in with the colors of the Ethiopian flag green, yellow red. And below that in Tigirinya it says Ade Maaraye, which means my mother my love. We call my grandmother Ade. The third is Abo Neguse Eyu meaning my father is King. I am a daddy’s girl. From those three alone you get I am very connected with who I am and where I came from. My culture the language and so on” says Gembremedhin.