Originally posted on VerySmartBrothas.
When I was watching the first episode of Black-ish, I felt a certain level of understanding of Anthony Anderson’s worry of his kids retaining their culture/identity/hood pass, as I’m sure most of us did. For me though, it extends beyond the “black in America” experience. As a first generation child of East Africans, what becomes a bigger part of my consciousness is my concern for keeping that very important part of identity for my future children.
My parents are from a small group of islands of the coast of East Africa called Comoros, a hop, skip and a jump away from both Madagascar and Seychelles. Although I was born in Montreal and raised in Harlem, I’ve always identified as African first and foremost, and Comorian specifically. It’s where my roots are, where my house is being built, where I plan on getting married. My mother always made sure I knew where I came from and that I understood my culture. We had manioc (cassava) on the Thanksgiving table. French is my first language. I talk to my family back home weekly, sometimes daily, and assist financially whenever I can. This summer, I’m going back with my mother so that we can start to plan the land where she wants to retire.
My much younger brother, on the other hand, identifies as a Black American first. He’d rather eat a burger and fries than plantains. His French is still a work in progress (to be fair to him, by the time he was born my mom was far more comfortable speaking English around the house). This past summer was his first time spending an extended amount of time with family in France – and while he loved doing an award tour of the south of France for two months, he has no sincere interest in going to Comoros.
I think there is something to be said that identity is self-determined; while I’m not a Comorian citizen, I definitely say that I’m a Comorian, and on a greater whole, an African (but NEVER an Afropolitan. That is a rant for another day). But what will my kids say? If I raise them in the US, can I expect them to identify as a Comorian first? What if my brother has kids? How will they become a part of a culture that their father doesn’t identify with?
The concept of the dilution of immigrant heritages to assimilation is a tale as old as time. Some groups handle it by creating their own well-established communities (i.e. 3rd-generation Italians), but as someone who’s from an African country that doesn’t have as strong a US presence as Nigerians, Ghanaians, or Senegalese folks, to name a few examples, that thought seems bleak. Not to say that there isn’t value in connecting with my friends in my age range from other African countries (speaking of which, Happy Belated Naija Independence Day). There is plenty of shared experience to find comfort in to be sure, but at some point you want to have a space for your unique culture, no matter how fun it is to Azonto.
The other thought I’ve had is to send baby Halima and Hassan (in my head I’m having two kids) back home for an extended stretch. However, unless my lifestyle changes astronomically for the better, the cost of sending kids thousands of miles every year is pretty substantial (to give you a gist of how far it is, there’s no direct flight. You have to either stop in Charles De Gaulle in Paris or Jomo Kenyatta in Nairobi). There is a practice of some African parents who have Western children sending their kids back to their home countries for their more formative years (we all thought it was a joke until the first kid that was acting “too American” never came back from vacation) , but it doesn’t seem to be adopted by my generation – nor do I think I would be able to handle being apart from my children for years at a time.
Unlike Sway, I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, especially since my kids are about as real as Iyanla Vanzants accreditations. As I continue to move forward in my life and eventually find a partner that I want to share it with, however, these are conversations that we will definitely need to have. Until that time comes, Yatruwasiwa Komoro damu ndzima. We Comorians are of one blood.