“You are fortunate to have a strong community. I find that immigrants to the States connect with their ‘people’ better than those of us here all along.” Mika (non-Assyrian American) wrote to me privately in response to a blog I posted on LinkedIn.
A majority of self-development books like “Never Eat Alone” and “The Last Safe Investment” emphasize the importance of developing friendships and networking. Silicon Valley’s books mention the importance of building a tribe – even Seth Godin wrote a book about it with the same title. Robin Chase wrote about multi-billion dollar businesses like Airbnb and Uber that are built on the concept of shared economy in her book “Peers Inc.”
We, Assyrians, have this relationship naturally; I call it – Cousin Inc.
In America, Assyrians tend to gravitate toward each other and refer to each other as cousins. “Cousin” is a building block of our social life. He or she could be a real cousin, someone from our extended family, a tribal member, or any other Assyrian person. This practice is powerful enough to cross Corporate America and even international boundaries.
Our family, tribes, and friendships are our life equity. We can easily become friends. This is something people like Mika envy us for. This is the real value in a gregarious culture. It decorated our quotidian life in palpable ways.
The “cousin” way of life has pervaded my life since I migrated to America. Thousands of Assyrians live in Chicago, Skokie, and other cities in different states. These “family ties” and friendships have helped me in many different areas – big and small. From things as simple as free parking and valet parking to something a bit more valuable, like entrance into to the better nightclubs on a Saturday night in Chicago.
Cousin Inc. even got me my first job.
It’s helped me remodel my house and find a good mechanic to work on my car. One time, thanks to my Cousin Inc. connections, I was even upgraded to a first class ticket on an airline. And as I have traveled, family members have opened their homes for me to stay during holidays in Sweden, Holland and Australia. My “cousins” pick me up from the airport too.
And just a few days ago, someone I’ve never met or spoken with on the phone, messaged me and offered to help me get a job with Microsoft. All have been Assyrian cousins. This is our tribal form of Airbnb, Uber, Angie’s List, and LinkedIn.
More importantly, it is my cousin that owns a 7-Eleven Store who allows my retired father to spend his idle time socializing with other Assyrians who hang out there. Which I am sure, has helped keep my father from slipping into depression.
I’m personally grateful and value my cousin equity more than money. We have a shared life journey. Each one of us represents a link to our past – and our future.
To give it a full social understanding, I would share the following true story.
About five years ago, I was working at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) as Sr. Programmer with Accenture. One day my manager and I went to get a coffee at a nearby building. As we entered the Starbucks, I spotted a guy engaged in a conversation with his co-workers. I turned to my manager and said, “He is Assyrian!”
“How do you know?” he replied.
“From his facial contours, plus he looks like a guy I’ve seen at a party.”
“Sorry, are you Assyrian?” I asked after our first eye contact. As expected, he was, so we chatted for a bit. Ever since then, we have been friends. I visited him at his house in Chicago on my last vacation. He always expands my knowledge about investments.
The “cousin” has become a wonderful phenomenon between Assyrians in America. Maybe it should be written in capital letters “COUSIN” or established as a standalone institution. It’s the “cousin” equity asset in the Assyrian ecosystem.
These intangibles are paving over the bumps on the road of life. This is how relationships are impacting the strength of our Assyrian community and creating a collaborative economy. This is the essence of a gregarious culture.
My grandfather’s way of life in the north of Iraq has just re-emerged as a new trend in places like Silicon Valley and the Bay Area with concepts like “tribes” and “community living”. Maybe we don’t need to “Reinvent Capitalism” as Chase indicated, but simply change the American culture from rugged individualistic to gregarious interconnectedness.
Maybe all that is required to do that, is for me to pay in to our communal account, when the opportunity presents itself, by returning the basic human brotherhood that has been given to me so many times.
At the end, I want to build enough “cousin” capital to survive the rest of my life in an uncertain world.
If you enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy my insights on the Cultural Differences between Iraq and America
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