Breaking Rules Has Consequences

As a nation of immigrants, we often bring with us traditions and customs that conflict with secular laws of this country. In the 18th century, many European pacifists emigrated here, but their beliefs in nonviolence clashed with Selective Service laws requiring physically fit men to serve in defense of this country. Eventually, legal accommodations to religiously based pacifist views allowed the men to enter into alternative forms of service.

Recently, a family from rural Iraq that had settled in Nebraska arranged traditional Islamic marriages of their 13- and 14-year-old daughters to Iraqi men 20 years older. Although this would have been acceptable in provincial Iraq, because of the girls' ages, the family had broken Nebraska law. The men and the parents of the brides now face potentially stiff legal penalties.

Ten-year-old Rosa arrived from rural Mexico knowing how to drive a car because her village had no age restrictions or drivers' licensing regulations. Before she started her first day in an American school, Rosa drove her aunt's 1979 Ford sedan to survey the facilities and arrived just as parents gathered to pick up their children. Rosa double-parked in front of the school while parents and youngsters gawked at her. Shortly thereafter, a police officer arrived and presented Rosa with multiple citations before driving her home. Fearful that her classmates would shun her, Rosa dreaded starting school the next day. However, instead of being an outcast, Rosa's popularity was ensured: She was the only one in her elementary school who knew how to drive a car.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist and author of the forthcoming book "Multicultural Manners" (Wiley & Sons). Tell her your experiences c/o Voices or by e-mail:

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