The Third Installment of the AWWR Publication

This is the third piece that was published in the African Women Writing Resistance anthology in August.

Musings of an African Woman: Life in the Land of Opportunity
I. IMMIGRANTS IN A FOREIGN LAND
The leaves on the tree right outside my window gently stir with a wind that only blows about every ten minutes. The air is hot, sticky, and humid. The leaves rustle and move yet no breeze enters my room to ease the stifling heat. The air condition units of the neighbors kick on and drone out the sing-song voice of the man who is having a highly animated conversation next door.

As I gaze out and try to take in my surroundings, I realize how this crowded apartment complex reminds me of the Korle Bu flats back in Ghana, which houses civil servants who work for the government hospital. I think to myself, life in America is just a coated version of life in a so-called “third world” country. True, the thickness of the coating makes it easy to dismiss this theory. People work so hard all day only to retire to this in the evening–a conglomerate cacophonous display of miniscule living quarters! For the amount of money people pay for a place here, they could be living in a 5-bedroom ranch house in some developing country free from all the stresses of life. Sure, some of the finer amenities of life could be missing, but these should be minor inconveniences given the amount of space and peace of mind one would enjoy.

…I have finally gotten my body to understand that lying still, perfectly still, is the fastest way to staying cool and sane.

So, really, what makes this different from an average Akua (insert “Joe” or “Jane”) living in a developing country? Maybe it is the convenience of constant running water here whereas Akua would certainly have to be rationing or walking some few miles to a well or a community pipe. Or the electricity that seems to burn all day long, by which these people in the other apartments are cooling their living spaces. Or could it be the microwave, coffee maker, or George Foreman grill? All seemingly necessary appliances for existence in America yet, I beg to differ! These are all mere trappings of the life we choose to lead in this here “freedom country” to which members of “developing countries,” en masse, escape with hopes of amassing wealth and returning to establish a mini-America in their homelands.

Noble goals, no doubt! But realistically, how many of these people ever end up leaving America to return to their homelands? How many actually achieve that goal of returning home to recreate better versions of the lives they had here in America? I would like to purport…very few! The average immigrant Jane usually ends up caught in the lifestyle of consumerism. With the onslaught of bills, even a trip home to visit aging relatives or bury a dead family member becomes unaffordable, a debt to be added to the credit consolidators list, or for some a risk, the imminent danger of not being able to return because of immigration regulations.

As I write I wonder, whom I am really writing for. Who is my audience? My people, my fellow “developing country” citizens who, like me, have left oftentimes, better living conditions to come to America with the hopes of “finding greener pastures” and “making their fortunes” in this land of opportunity? If this is my audience, do they even care?

Funny, mass amounts of immigrants make up the bulk of the population in America; almost everyone left somewhere to come and “make it” here. Different reasons propelled each ethnic group that migrated here, but the one underlying reason, regardless of which group, seems to be the promise of something better.

In the process of “making it” we all lose important parts of ourselves: an accent, a-difficult-to-pronounce-name, the foods with which our clothing used to reek, the culture that used to emanate from our very beings. We lose these parts of ourselves in an attempt to blend in, become one of the majority. Sadly though, (or would it be fortunately?) for most immigrants, we can never quite complete that process of blending in.

Just when you think you’ve perfected the pronunciation of a word, or got the meaning of some idiomatic expression, some person somewhere comes up to you on the pretense of making conversation and asks, “so where are you from?” or my all time favorite, “what are you?” I love to give people like these hernias because I calmly proceed to say casually “the Midwest, Ohio!” Of course, they don’t get the subtle hint and so they continue to probe: “no, I mean where are you really from?” At this point they are practically beside themselves with frustration at you, oh no, not themselves! They know they are right, you look different, you sounded different just then, you must be different!

That’s when I kick myself for ever leaving my country, where I was not “different,” to “seek greener pastures.” What most people do not realize or refuse to acknowledge is the fact that this country, America, truly only belonged to one group of people, and much like my country, colonized by the British, these original owners were sacked and maltreated. America today is made up of centuries of people from other places; people who looked and sounded different back then when they first arrived, some brought in by force, others driven by the search for a better life, others escaping persecution; these very same reasons continue to bring immigrants in today.

So if we’re going to be so darn fussy, about who is “different” then shouldn’t we all return to our original homelands? But of course, there are quite a few Americans today who cannot trace their ancestry back to their original locations, so where does that leave them? May I suggest: Ambassadors for peace, embracing and extending warm welcomes to all new immigrants?

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6 comments

  1. Nice thoughts and questions in this piece. When I TA-ed intro to Asian American Studies at UCLA we had a whole class on the “where are you from?” question… or you could call it the “no, REALLY, where are you from?” question!

    I bow to you for asking these questions and thinking about them all the time.

  2. I enjoy messing with people’s minds when they ask where I’m from. If OH doesn’t suffice, I’ll mention some obscure island or a place in East Asia and the facial expressions that I get are almost always priceless.

    You forgot to mention the statement that immediately follows the “Really where are you from” … “Really? Your Englsh is soo good.”

  3. I just say it. I am from Haiti. And I get this : oh poor you look! Used to bother me, now I smile…..

    I always say it, claim it. Haiti. I smile because what they are really thinking, they can’t say.

    I love being in the US. I have found here what is most important to me, the right to be who I am. Haitian queer and proud. I’ve found a community of women who embrace and support my activism and my lesbian feminist side. It is also true that I don’t have the beach 10 miles from my house. But could I now in all selfishness be able to enjoy a beach in Haiti?

    Then one could say, why are you not there helping, the camps refugees, the earthquake victims? Why haven’t you made the choice of fighting poverty in your own country? Oh, I’ve made my peace with that. I am choosing unapologetically to live the life that I’ve created for myself here. A life where I can enjoy local theatre and independent movies every night if I want to, a life where I can walk on the street holding my girlfriend’s hand, a life where I can serve my adopted community and get the illusion that it’s making a difference.

    I do not dream of retiring to Haiti. I do not dream of being buried in Haiti. I am here.

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