Wednesday, 21 September 2016 03:41

Identity Struggle for First Generation African Americans

A question that a lot of people struggle with at some point in their lives. However this question has become a burning question in the African diaspora. Who Am I ?

The African Diaspora has a large spectrum of people. We have the people that were born on the continent and migrated at a young age. There are those who have never set foot on the continent but their parents migrated and had their offspring in another place. Then we have the people that were born and raised on the continent and then migrated much later in life. So everyone has their identity in terms of they identify with.

My DRC Roots

My story is quite interesting, I was born in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and my mom and I came to the United States when I was a youngster. So my memory of Congo is almost zero. My memory started when I lived in Gary, Indiana which is where my younger siblings were born. I don’t really remember being told I was from another country. My parents spoke the language in the house and we ate the food (which I hated) and listened to the music. As a youngster, you don’t quite comprehend race and ethnicity that well. So I did not know I was different until I went to school. When the teacher butchered my name and the kids laughed that is when I knew I was different but not in terms of race/ethnicity just different. I came home crying and asked my mom why don't have a simple name ? I will never forget my moms response, she said” there is nothing wrong with your name or with you. There is something wrong with them, and that is their problem not yours. My dad was adamant about people saying my name correctly. He said if people say your name wrong, you correct them.

Rediscovering my African Pride

At that point, I was starting to make sense of things. As life progressed, I did not really have interactions with any other Africans. However, I did not fit in with the African Americans at school. They had jokes about where I was from. Also I was not as advanced in certain areas, so I did not get the jokes. I was the outsider but I did not really understand why ? If we had the same skin color why would you make my life a living nightmare. I dreaded going to school. Fast forward to high school, I had my first African friends from Malawi! They kind of fueled my fire to be proud of all things African. So my sophomore year in high school, my sister and I and some friends did the talent show performing Awilo Longomba “Mondongo” even though we did not win. We got people interested in Africa. That is when I started identifying with being African. The African girls I hung out with were kind of like me, they came as youngsters so it was always refreshing speaking to them. We shared similar experiences.

The 'Unwanted' Feeling

University days came and that is when I really met Africans who were born and raised on the continent and came to the states to study. So the accent was super thick and their identity was solid. One guy I met in college told me he's like you are an American and at the time and I don't know why I took such offense to that. Subconsciously these so called Americans made my early years hell. So why would I try to claim a culture who excluded me. He made me feel like my own people did not want me. That was probably the first time where I felt not wanted by either place.

The African In Me Is Thriving

I questioned myself and asked who Am I ? At age 20, I was like I am all things African. I am Congolese by origin, by birth and by environment and I am Muluba princess. My family line is from Kananga. I might had to be raised somewhere for various reasons. I became very proud of where I am from. My dad always taught us, do not forget where you came from. There is power in knowing where you come from. That means no one can tell you who you are. So I tell people not just Africans, regardless of your situation once you know who you are, no one can take that from you or tell you who you are.

So if you ask me , who Am I ? I will tell you I am very much African and proud. Yes I was raised in the Midwest that is just a part of my story not my identity.


Samy Tshimanga

Samy is from Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds a BA in Political Science and is an aspiring publicist. She has worked with the International Visitors Leaders Program, multiple public relations projects and published to several magazines.


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