Where Are You From?

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As I stated in an earlier post I am in Saas Fee, Switzerland in a short term Media & Philosophy program. Participants in this program are from a variety of countries and since we are in the 3rd day of the program I am meeting new people and inevitably someone will ask “where are you from?” This question always makes me uneasy because all I can say is America, when Africans ask me this question I grow more uncomfortable because they sometimes think I am African due to my name (especially Nigerians). I have sometimes replied “I am just from America” because the furthest I can trace my roots back is North Carolina where my family was owned by the Alston family who were the largest slave holding family in America (for more information about the Alstons read
Family Name by Rev. Alston).

When asked “where are you from” I am always reminded of the fact that my family’s history and heritage was stolen, identity is essential to understanding yourself, your past and your future. When a huge piece of your identity is missing you feel a sense of loss that cannot be replaced. Though, I know my ancestors were brought from Africa it is also important to know which country and tribe you are a descendant from because this information is essential to understanding yourself. I know African-Americans have created a powerful culture that blends Africa and our experience in America but we are still missing a essential piece of our cultural puzzle by not knowing about the roots we have grown from. All Africans were and are not the same so by claiming “Africa” in general we miss something particular about who we are. Identity is the foundation of our development and without it we can be like boats drifting in the sea of a Western society that does not honor us and we can not honor and respect ourselves.