Iryna Wiggam / by Michael Falco

Who is Iryna Wiggam?

Iryna Wiggam is originally from Ukraine. She has lived in the United States for the past 17 years. She originally came to the United States to study as an exchange student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she studied Educational Administration. While there, she met her now husband, a Cheyenne native. After marrying, they moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, for nine years and then to Cheyenne for the last five. Iryna and her husband have four children together and she works as a paralegal in the Attorney General's office. The family moved back to Cheyenne to be closer to her husband's family. Iryna is a Protestant Christian and her hobbies include reading, cooking, fitness, traveling, and spending time with her children. .

Excerpt from interview with Iryna Wiggam by Whitney Dow, 2018

Q: Before you came as a student, in Ukraine, what was the community like in Ukraine? Was it like a very homogenous community? It was all Ukrainians? Were there people from other places, immigrants, people of color?

Wiggam: [01:02:05] It was very homogenous in Ukraine when I was growing up. It was predominantly white people, educated people. Education and literacy in Ukraine is of high value. So just about everybody I knew growing up had either gone to college and had an undergraduate degree or graduate degree or knew they would go to college and get that degree. So there was really no option of dropping out of school and not going to college. And if somebody did that it was really frowned upon. So that's the kind of community I grew up in. When I got to be about maybe high school age and college age, that was a little while after the Soviet Union collapsed, when the doors were opening and new things were coming into our life. We also started getting some foreign students. A lot of them were from Africa. I knew they liked to come to universities and get a degree, especially a medical degree. So some of them ended up marrying Ukrainian girls and staying in the community and having children. I'd say lots of people were kind of suspicious of that kind of relationship, especially the oldest generation. You know, they were only used to a certain way. We're white; we're a white society. So if a Ukrainian white girl married a black guy there was always a questioning behind it. Why would they want to marry them? So there's some, I'd say some stigma attached to that, especially at that time. And I'm talking twenty, twenty-five years ago. So this is what I was observing. I didn't have any black friends. I don't think I knew anybody from a different race. Certainly we had some people who migrated from the Soviet Union Republics that were closer to Asia than we were. So they had a different culture. But I personally didn't have any friends like that.


Q: How would you feel if one of your children married a person who was black or Latino? Like another race? Would that be an issue for your or your family, to have children that look very, very different from you?

Wiggam: [01:22:37] So if one of my children married somebody from a different race or culture I think it would take some adjustment just because if it's a culture that I'm not familiar with it would be different. And I would probably want to learn about that culture just so we can embrace each other and understand each other. I think it would be different and I think it would take some getting used to, just like lots of unfamiliar things do and we're not talking about a thing obviously but about a person. Regardless it would take some getting used to but still I would accept that spouse and I would love the grandchildren and support them and we would learn and grow together [laughs] in being diverse.

Interview Transcript