Mama Africa: A Teenager Reflects On Life In Two Worlds
What's it like for a teenager to navigate life in the Miami Valley as a refugee from Africa? Today, we take an intimate view of this journey from Joselyne Kamikazi, a high school senior.
My name is Joselyne Kamikazi. I'm a senior in the media arts division at Ponitz Career Technology Center. I was born in Tanzania, but I'm culturally Burundian.
My older siblings have memories of Africa to keep them grounded. But for me and my little sister, it was a different story. Everything we knew of life before America was through the stories our parents told and the food we ate. We were too young to remember where we came from. So when it came to fitting in, it wasn't so hard to let it go.
My parents, like most immigrant parents, joined the workforce soon after arriving. Because of the language barrier, they were only able to do manual labor jobs. Most of their coworkers were also Africans, so there was never really a need for them to learn English. So while me and my siblings were in school being completely immersed in this new world, my parents weren't really along for that journey. There was a moment in my life when I could not properly communicate with my parents because while assimilating, I'd somehow managed to forget my native language. They could talk to me, and I could comprehend but I couldn't respond. It was at that moment that I realized just how much I changed all the excitement of a new country. How could I allow myself to forget who I was?
We all went to a public school that was predominantly African-American; our classmates often denied their African heritage, even though it was painted on their skin. How can you be so proud in all your Black glory while completely denying where it is that you get it from?
I remember times when we had cultural days at school where students were encouraged to dress and clothes from their countries. The looks and comments we received from our African-American classmates were shocking. It's not entirely their fault, though. They're navigating a world whose media and pop culture tells them that they originate from Africa but doesn't teach them all that entails. They aren't taught that Black history is so much more than just slavery and racism.
Black people, listen up, you are the descendants of kings, queens and warriors. Don't allow yourself to be shamed out of your rich history.
To most Africans, a woman's place is in the kitchen. She can have a job, of course, but she must also maintain her home and family. In America, we are empowered to do and be anything we want to. When you grow up in a society that allows women to be more than just wives and mothers, ideas shift and begin to contradict with the ones you grew up with and in your desire to fit in, you don't stop to ask how much can you assimilate before it's just conforming.
My parents always make sure to remind me and my siblings that just because we live here, our family and our people are elsewhere, so we don't exactly belong here. We came here to seek refuge, not to migrate. No matter how the situation may seem, this has and will always be a temporary situation.
I know that I'm getting a better education and more opportunities in the States than I would if I were in Burundi. I have family there, people that I have never really gotten the chance to know. I want to see them. Would I stay though?
Honestly, my future seems brighter where I am now. Would I be willing to give that up for a chance to meet the family I never knew, to experience a life I've never lived? I'm not so sure. I don't want to be unsure about meeting this family that I've never known or this life experience that I never had.
I did the story because this is something that I'm still working on about myself to this day. They say that the real American dream is to come here, get rich and return home to share with our people. Why wouldn't I be ready to give that up for family? They're still family, even if I don't know them. Why am I hesitant?
Joselyne Kamikazi is a senior at Ponitz CTC High School. Thanks to Ponitz Radio media arts instructors Joanne Viskup and Jeffrey Crowell. Learn more at the school's website: http://ponitzctc.org. Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, the Vectren Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.
Digital production help from Maddy Stephenson.
This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.