#AmItheFilm Blog Post Guest Channi V:
For the longest time I struggled with identity. A product of Liberian parents but born in the United States—only by chance. Although my mother and father both studied in the United States as undergraduates on student visas, they both returned to the Liberia to start a family. My older brother was also born in America during the time my mother was completing her studies. He returned to Liberia at age 3 with my parents. I, on the other hand, was conceived in Liberia but my parents had no intentions on birthing me in their homeland.
Monrovia Liberia 2010
My mother always said, “I wanted to give all my children the same opportunities. I know first hand what opportunities could be afforded if only you were born in the United States, just like your brother, I wanted to give you that same privilege—because Chantal, Americans take for granted what it means to be born in America.”
I never really understood what that meant until I became much older. Liberia, similar to our neighboring country of Sierra Leone, had undergone a severe civil war. Only the American Bald Eagle on the Great Seal stamped on my brother and I passports provided us rescue during the terrible conflict. While my mother remained of immigrant status, our passage to America allowed her to work hard and provide opportunities to bring many family members over one by one. Our story wasn’t unique to many Liberians; many of us had similar resettlement stories. Thus the challenge of identity discovery or rediscovery began.
We settled in Philadelphia, PA. Most immigrants settle in urban areas because of access to jobs, social programs, and public transportation. Public schooling in an urban community can truly test a child of immigrant parents. Although we lived in America, our Liberian culture remained present in our home life. Trying to assimilate into American culture, or black American culture was far more difficult when I was trying so desperately to remain true to my African roots. There was a constant struggle and challenge to reconcile the different cultures: African, Liberian, Black-American, African-American, and American.
During the early 90s, it was easier to cling to Caribbean culture, particularly Jamaican culture. Jamaican music had swept the hip- hop popular cultures with the likes of Patra and Shabba Ranks, two of the most modern dancehall reggae acts. They popularized their culture with the local dialect of Patois. This somehow made it cool to be different with a foreign accent. I fully embraced it and became that. I felt it was easier to explain and the Caribbean culture was a close resemblance of my own.
Over the years I started to become my own. College created a space where I was inspired by my own culture. I learned so much about my culture both in the intellectual sphere as well as on a personal level. College is where I discovered my own truths. As a result my outlook on the world began to evolve. My thesis, which explored “How Micro-financing can foster environmental sustainability and women empowerment in Ghana,” was influenced by heritage. Following college, my career aspirations incorporated international development and African relations. After having majored in English and Political Science, I furthered my education to with an advance degree in environmental management because I believed it would have an impact on the overall natural resource governance in many African states. Today my short and long term career goals encompass repatriation to West Africa where I hope to do the following:
Undergrad graduation, Seton Hall University 2007
Graduate graduation, University of Pennsylvania, 2012
My husband—who also happens to be West African descent—share similar aspirations. Together we hope to carry out our goals in Africa. I’ve dated people of different cultural backgrounds from Caucasian to Puerto Rican; however I always found to have longevity with those closest to my cultural background or those who at least shared some cultural literacy.
At age 28, I’ve noticed that my fashion and style trends have been influenced by culture. Within recent years, my yearly trips to Africa have exposed me to different patterns and trends. I never found my mother’s African clothing very flattering when I was growing up. I’m not sure if it was due to me wanting to guise my African heritage in order to assimilate to American culture or because I simply did not like it. Nowadays the new African or I should Afropolitan looks are much more suitable to my preference. In many ways the styles merge Western and African trends. I love it! It is even more fascinating to see these trends in major High street stores such as TopShop, Zara, Aldo ect. Some see it as the West stealing, “our” style. However I see it as showcasing, “our” style on a larger stage. Exposing African trends to mainstream audiences have inclined Africa fashion week in places like New York and London.
Monrovia, Liberia on my 28th birthday 2013
As I reflect on how I have come to rediscover my own identity, I wonder what will become of my children. My children will be second generation Liberian-American (after me) and second generation British-Ghanaian (after their father). How will they identify themselves? I guess this shall be determined by where they grow up. Will it be London, where we reside now, America, or Africa?
Regardless, I hope that I will have a better influence in shaping whom they become by having a better hold on merging their African heritage with any other culture, no matter where they grow up.
Post by Channi (Representing Liberia)
Note from the Editor (Nadia Sasso): In my research and documentation I plan to explore the preservation efforts made by generational immigrants in order to unveil some of the tensions made accessible via the stories of those participants interviewed in/for the film and this blog post series. One anticipated outcome of the film and blog posts would be to generate qualitative insights into the fusion of US and African experiences as well as new identity formations for those immigrants beyond the first generation. Support the Film: Am I The Film IndieGoGo