One night, as parents often do, I was assisting my youngest son with his assignment. It was Cultural Diversity Week at his school and all of the students were required to research their culture and heritage and bring back information to present to the class and to put on display. All I could think of was “here we go again.” My reaction didn’t mean I didn’t want to participate, but rather I had a difficult time figuring out HOW to participate. Although this was my third child doing this activity, it still wasn’t any easier this time around.
I imagined children with German, Chinese, Russian, and Italian ancestors bringing family recipes and foods that represented their countries or displaying pictures that they could easily print from the Internet, but what were we going to do this year? Of course my son picked Africa as his country, but I still couldn’t think of what to do.
Africa is a large CONTINENT comprised of several countries. Each with its own culture, language, beliefs, traditions, foods. Where and how was I going to direct my son with this project? I probably put more time and energy into this project than other parents would have, but this supposedly simple task bothered me to my core. I know my heritage is rooted in Africa, but from where? From which country? We can all speculate, but very few of us can actually say with confidence, “I am of the Yoruba of West Africa” or “of the Zulus of South Africa” or “of the Nubian tribe of North Africa” or “of the Somalian people of East Africa.”
And here we are, a people stripped from our own heritage, culture and history trying so hard to celebrate a condensed version of it because that’s all we know, because that’s all we’ve been afforded to know. Yes, I do enjoy learning facts about what African Americans have done for this country and the strides that we’ve made, but my history begins long before the feet of the ancestors of my great-great-great grandma Classy Ann Miller hit the shores of America. Now that’s the type of history I’m searching for.