Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Sunday, July 4, 2010

where are you from? (cause it's not America. . .)

This is a common question most ex-pats receive and ask as they travel about the city and meet new people. I have been asked this question many times. However last night I got an interesting response from a young man spending a semester in HCMC. His roots are in Cote d'Ivoire, but he will be going back to France after his term is up. We met him while eating at the kebab place on Bui Vien.
"Where are you from?" he asks in his french accent. "Are you from Cote d'Ivoire too?"
"uhhh, no, I'm from Chicago."
"Oh," With a scrutinizing look on his face, "but where are your Parents from? You look like you're from somewhere else."
"ummm, St. Louis" (LOL, must be the freckles)

This isn't the first time I am assumed to be straight from the mother land, but know one has gotten soo specific and ask where my parents were from. Another evening while I was out, and rocked the afro for the first time, my waiter asked if I was from South Africa.  So after eating our kebabs, my Viet Q friend asks in his french accent, "Well, do you know your origins??"

Unfortunately, no. And Mr. Cote d'Ivoire is probably right. Most African slaves were taken from the western cost line. I may have some Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia running though me. One day I do hope to do some investigating of my heritage. But I find it interesting that I am no longer viewed as AMERICAN. Nobody looks at me and says, "hey, there goes another American". When I say I am American, that does not satisfy their thirst. No, I am something other than that. They see the heritage, but why don't Black people see it. Why don't we challenge each other to find out our true origins. Unless we hear an accent in the speech, Black people will never ask other Black people:
"What country are your ancestors from?"

Even with the knowledge that most of our ancestors were not immigrants by choice, and with new technology in genealogy studies, most Black Americans do not take the time to investigate, What tribe am I from? What language did they speak? Where is my last name from? I personally think it would be extremely self-empowering for young children, boys and girls to be raised knowing that they have a unique history and blood line.

It's as if being "Black" is good enough. Yes, we're proud of how we look. But can we really say that we're PROUD of our heritage, when we don't know what it is???  My Viet Q friend Ludi, who has Vietnamese origins but was raised in France, is partially in Vietnam so she can feel Vietnamese. So she can feel this side of her heritage, so she can feel connected. She knows what it means to be French, to be a minority and to be in that "other" category based on her looks. But she does not want this for her children. She wants them to know what it truly means to be Vietnamese.

As you pass on knowledge to your children about financial health, lets also pass on knowledge of our rich cultural past. I challenge myself, my family and my friends, as we progress into the 21st century as Americans with an African and American president, lets search and find our true heritage.
We know it didn't start in America, so why should we stop there?






3 comments:

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  2. I get asked this all the time too. Apparently I can't really be African if I am white (or so some believe). I have an idea of where my ancestors come from, but it's not completely clear, I don't know the specifics.

    I think this is just the way the world is going. There are generations of Asians who are Canadians, Americans, South Africans, Australians. Everyone is migrating, usually due to circumstance or events. The world is becoming far more intertwined with multi-races and nationalities. Maybe this creates personal identity issues, maybe this is just how new generation identities are constructed, through mixing of cultures.

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  3. Thank you for your comments! I agree Michele. The world is becoming smaller and more connected, not just through technology, but through people being open, open to loving someone of a different culture, open to moving to different countries. We can't stay in our small national bubble anymore, we need a willingness to think globally.

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