African Roots, American Family
By Tim Pompey
Most of us come from families which have emigrated to the U.S., assimilated, and become modern day Americans. Such is the case with the Wakam family: father Bon and mother Irene, children Bonarene, Glenn, and Daniel.
When Bon and Irene moved to the states from Cameroon in 1980, they both attended Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. They started dating there and got married four years later.
Bon, who received a degree in chemical engineering from Wayne State and a master’s degree in business from Central Michigan University, worked in the automotive industry for many years. In 1998, he opened KHAM (meaning peaceful), his own business brokerage firm in Ventura specializing in business sales, business evaluation, mergers and acquisitions. Irene became a board certified family practice physician and has an office in Ventura.
For Bon and Irene, their home may be America, but many of their values are rooted in their Catholic faith and their Cameroonian culture. “The way that I grew up in Cameroon,” said Bon, “that’s what I know. When I grew up, I was careful not to do something that my neighbors would find out and tell my parents. I had to be respectful of other people in the community. This has kept me grounded.”
He admits, however, that the issues facing today’s parents are more challenging. “Raising kids today is different from raising them in the 50s and 60s,” he noted. “Television, internet, cell phones. For parents today, it’s more about adapting to their children’s environment. You do your best and hope that you’re lucky enough that your kids learn enough good values to keep them on a straight path.”
For Bon and Irene, the key to successful parenting is patience and flexibility. “I think that we need to be patient and take the time and try to understand each child, their strengths and weaknesses, and to try to [help] them be the best they can be. If you look at a child with an open mind, that child can achieve great things, and the sky is the limit,” Bon explained.
And something else they have focused on—the importance of education. “My parents were both business people,” he said. “Their emphasis was always that education was the key to being successful in life. They knew that education was the most important thing they could give to us. So we went to the best schools in Cameroon and we emphasized that with our kids.”
As a result, Bon and Irene’s kids graduated from St. Bonaventure High School. Bon and Irene then gave their children the gift of an undergraduate education and paid for it without any scholarships. Their efforts seemed to have paid off. Bonarene graduated from Harvard and is currently working in marketing. Glenn graduated from Princeton and is attending UC San Francisco’s School of Medicine. Daniel recently graduated from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon with a degree in economics.
For two busy professionals like Bon and Irene, working full-time and raising children has its challenges, but Bon emphasized that the key to making it all work is to be respectful. “No matter whether we agree or disagree,” he said, “we have one common goal—what benefits the family. We don’t always have to agree but we always have to respect each other’s decisions.”
Bon loves living in Ventura where the temperature is “never too hot and never too cold,” and he has participated extensively in local community life, including being a member of the Chamber of Commerce, serving with Rotary Club, the Boys and Girls Club of Ventura, and being a board member for AYSO. “The way I see it,” he reasoned, “when you’re involved in a small community, you take a lot of satisfaction in giving back to the community.”
While Bon holds tight to his Cameroonian roots, he also enjoys life in America. In particular, such things as jazz and classic TV comedies like “Sanford and Son” and “The Bill Cosby Show.”
He talks about the benefits the U.S. has offered to him and his family. “I’m glad for the opportunities that are available here,” he said. “This country provides lots of opportunities and allows for everybody to work hard and succeed.”