We were on our way to interview the lead character in our documentary production. Four girls. College students majoring in journalism. Two white, one Mexican, the other African. Somehow we started talking about culture. We were talking about why it’s important to hold on to it. How it’s kinda sorta part of us–especially for the African and Mexican girls. The latter said she sometimes felt like she didn’t belong whenever she was around her immediate family. That’s because she speaks English with no trace of an accent and to top it off she can’t speak spanish. For that reason she said she often felt like an outsider. She said when she is with her American friends, even though she is American born and raised, she also feels the same way. Her friends are quick to point to the fact that she’s Mexican. They expect her to know everything about her culture. They expect her to speak Spanish. So in the end, she feels like she’s stuck in the middle–not entirely Mexican and not entirely American.
“As an African, do you feel that way too,” one of the white girls asked the black girl.
“Yes, yes I do,” she replied.
The three girls waited for her to continue, to elaborate, she didn’t. She didn’t have to. The Mexican girl had summed it all up. Most of it, at least.
That was almost a year ago and now, I do want to elaborate. Expound. Annotate. I want to explain her point of view according to how I, “as an African” see things. Finally, I want to clarify.
I am an African woman born and raised. My mother used to say, to know where you’re going you have to know where you’re coming from. I do. I’m African and I’m proud. I have never seen myself another way. Problem is when I talk to my African friends back in Nigeria–even via Facebook–they say I’ve become “a typical American.” Funny, because how can you make such an analysis from a computer screen? They are quick to point out the things that make me “so American,” and for anyone who’s wondering, an African saying another African born person is acting or coming off as American is rarely ever a compliment.
On the other hand, my American friends are quick to point out the things that make me African. The accent, the hairstyles–before I landed a job where Afrocentric hairdos are not exactly conventional–the mores, the everything. They usually do this with a smile though. They appreciate it. At least the culturally astute ones do. Strangers stop and smile and chat and ask questions when my siblings and I are out and about speaking our language. Still sometimes when I tell my American friends that I am Nigerian, they say, “No, you’re American. You live in America.”
One woman. Two very different cultures.
It is cause for pondering though. It’s like living in Diaspora. Now, after ten years of basking in a big and culturally diverse city flowing with people from the motherland, I’ve moved to a small one where I have to drive miles and miles just to find the closest African store.
There’s sometimes this feeling of Middleness–yes, I just made up a word. Like I’ll never be completely and totally African again because there are all these things that kind of make me American. Things I can’t completely turn off when I’m interacting with Africans. Then there’s the fact that I’ll never be American either because there are all these things that make me African. Things I want to hold on to for the rest of my life. In a way, it’s kind of the same feeling my documentary friend alluded to, and it’s a feeling many of my African friends who now live in the U.S understand as well.
That’s the beauty of life, though. It is an adventure. It’s a mixing of cultures and people and places and customs and things. It is a journey. I’m still trekking. I live in the U.S now, but tomorrow I could be in South Africa, India, Australia or back to Nigeria. The possibilities are endless.
To my fellow immigrants living anywhere in the world, yes, there can sometimes be a feeilng of “middleness,” but let it be known that we’re not stuck in the middle. We’re experienced. Experienced in various beliefs, ways, norms, traditions. We are Diversity.