Charlene and Emmanuel Anom bring together the best elements of their culture
By Chris Muise
Emmanuel Anom is senior pastor at Community Life Church and a food scientist with Perennia Food & Agriculture, wife Charlene is a teacher with the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board. They’re deeply involved with both community and family, and they’re raising a nine-month-old daughter, Janelle.
But they still turn heads when they go out together in Truro; in most parts of Nova Scotia, mixed-race couples are uncommon. “I find that we draw a lot more attention from the older population, but I do notice a lot more attention—more than I personally like,” says Charlene. “I can understand people’s curiosity, because it’s different, it’s not something you see a lot of.”
While Charlene was born and raised in Canada, Emmanuel grew up in Ghana. He came to Canada in 2006 to pursue a graduate degree at Dalhousie University. “It was quite a transition for me,” he recalls. “I was leaving a warm climate and coming in in the fall, and winter was fast approaching. The weather was one big change for me.” He found the food a lot different, too, as well as the culture. Nova Scotians, while very friendly, were a lot more reserved and private than he was used to.
There was one more thing that stood out. “I never knew that I was ‘black,’ or was a minority, until I came here,” he says.
Rather than sequester himself among only those of a Ghanaian background, Emmanuel saw an opportunity to step outside of his cultural comfort zone.
“What I wanted to do was experience the multicultural experience that was available,” he says. “I didn’t want to limit myself to segregating myself culturally. People want to get to know you. People want to get to know where you’re from, everyone is interested in why you’re here.”
That’s how he would come to meet Charlene. She became friends with the family of one of her students, and was often invited to dinners and other functions. She was the only non-African at the family’s New Year’s party on January 1, 2013, so she stood out to Emmanuel.
“I was really impressed with the way she was able to connect easily with everyone. It’s rare, unless someone has had exposure to Africans, for them to really relate,” says Emmanuel. “She was very easy to talk to, really jovial. I said, there’s more than meets the eye over here.”
“He made a point of getting my number,” Charlene adds.
They were married by August of the following year. But they knew that they had to address the great cultural gulf between them. “The unique aspect of what Charlene and I have is that we’re not only interracial, because you can have an interracial Canadian family, but we’re actually an interracial, multi-cultural family,” says Emmanuel. “Two cultural backgrounds coming together results in a deeper, richer relationship but also has some potential obstacles that have to be clearly identified, and has to be frankly addressed.”
Those obstacles need not be grandiose; it’s actually the small things the couple talks about having to overcome.
“I would make a lot of Canadian food, for example, that has a lot of cheese in it. But Emmanuel doesn’t like cheese,” says Charlene, who has to consider the diet of a Ghanese man when making family meals. “I love the African food, and I love spice, and I like trying different things. That’s an example of bending. It’s a little thing, but it’s something to consider.”
Emmanuel agrees. “As a multicultural family, we need to bend, we need to flex, we need to compromise, and we need to accommodate each other’s contrasting ways of looking at life,” he adds. “It takes humility, it takes courage, and it also takes a willingness to give up some of your desires in order to meet the other person’s needs.”
It also takes a lot of effort. “Living in Nova Scotia was a challenge enough for me,” says Charlene, who hails from British Columbia. “I visited Ghana, and I really enjoyed that experience. But one discussion we had the other night was around moving to Ghana. A lot of my personal lifestyle would change, so I actually realized, ‘oh my goodness, I actually have some fear about that.’ And it made me aware, too, of how Emmanuel would have felt coming here. That would be a huge step.”
They try to build their marriage by drawing on the best of their respective cultures.
“You have the incredible opportunity to make a difference work for you,” says Emmanuel. “It is important that both partners educate themselves and their family about the other culture…if they will discuss the positives and negatives of the two cultures coming together, they have the choice to put together the parts that will best fit their relationship.”
The biggest benefactor of their multi-cultural union, Emmanuel says, is going to be their daughter, Janelle. She will also be the one least likely to see them as just a mixed-race couple.
“Your children are not going to see you as both different. Your children are just going to see you as your parents,” he says. “She’s going to experience both worlds.”
Despite their vastly different upbringings, one thing the Anoms agree on is the impact their Christian faith has on their lives. “Heaven is going to be a multicultural place,” says Emmanuel. “There’s going to be every nation represented in Heaven. So if we can’t get along on Earth, then we’re going to have a really hard time getting around in Heaven.”