#AmItheFilm Blog Post Guest Rudo Mawema Gray:
When I saw the title of Nadia’s short film, I was immediately filled with excitement! The title:
Am I: Too African to be American, Too American to be African,
suggested that someone else had been asking the questions I have found myself asking on several occasions and with that came hope of getting answers to my questions.
I came to the U.S. from Zimbabwe in 2005 to pursue a college degree of some sort, because that’s what I was raised to believe I was supposed to do! Also because America gave me the opportunity to do this on a full scholarship while playing hockey, something that would make my parents proud and save them money. I was the only one of my close friends that moved so far away from home and anything familiar, as all of my friends opted to go closer to home by going to neighboring South Africa. I had always been the adventurous one and the idea of starting somewhere new where no one knew me, or of me, and I could be whoever I wanted to be seemed quite exciting.
I had grown up in a higher social class that I always felt awkwardly placed in. I wasn’t sure if I quite fit with the other people in this class but I had a family name that carried a certain weight and came with several perks and expectations. The idea of going somewhere where no one knew that name and had no expectations on what that should mean was almost a relief and a weight off my shoulders. I moved to a city where I had no family and no close friends. There were two other Zimbabweans at the same University I picked, one who I didn’t know at all and one who I vaguely knew through an interaction on a hockey trip a few years before that.
After arriving in St. Louis, Missouri I quickly realized that the things I thought I knew about myself—my social class, cultural and even ethnic identity, were classifications I had used to box myself while growing up and now no longer applied. I became “boxless” and it wasn’t so exciting as I began to question where exactly did I fit in. The people I would come into contact with had no idea where Zimbabwe was located and thus put me into the category “the girl from Africa.” Ironically, because most of the people in my environment had no context for who people from “Africa” were or what “being African” meant I was subsequently lumped into the “African American.” As far as they were concerned, I fit the bill because (1) I was brown, (2) surely I ate the same food they did, (3) I knew what Kwanzaa was, and (4) of course I knew Coming to America by heart.
I quickly formed close friendships with other international students as they were the only students that could identify with my experiences. They were the children of immigrants and understood the cultural conflict I was beginning to develop. They knew what it was like to not belong. As I started to have a new set of experiences different to that of my parents, I maintained the way I was raised because that was an important aspect of who I was.
I married a man who although American at least he looked like me, as we were the same color, much to the relief of my parents. Much to my own relief this man was willing to accept the culture I was raised in. When the discussion of Lobola (dowry) came up he was willing to participate in the cultural ceremonies and aspects of marriage that were important to my family.
I have always felt blessed to have a wonderful family that has always been supportive of me. Even though we live thousands of miles apart with the use of iphones, skype, whatsapp, and facebook — you name it we remain an integral part of each others lives. I have also been blessed with a wonderful set of in laws who have taken me in as one of their own and have always made me feel as if I was genuinely part of the family. However, several years later and after feeling a part of both an American family as well as my own Zimbabwean family I still find myself not quite fitting in.
Every time I speak to my sisters or the friends I grew up with they make fun of how American I sound and how awful I sound when I try to speak our native language Shona. I am also often told that I can’t comment on or relate to anything in my home country as I have not been there for a few years and have not lived there for almost ten years now. On the other hand my American family often point out how funny I say some words and how strange my choice of cooking ingredients can be. I can’t relate to the set of experiences they had growing up as they were completely different to my own and because a bigger part of my twenty seven years of life were spent in Zimbabwe. I am still more of an outsider to them. Another conflict comes in having a two year old daughter that is both African and American. As I implement words into her vocabulary and ideas that are from both cultures I often find there is a struggle to claim her within both my families, everybody wants to feel as though she has a piece of them which is understandable.
I have found that it is my combined family as well as society’s nature to try to put you in a box to understand who you are and decide whether you are one of us or one of the others. I feel like I remain in the land of limbo where I don’t quite have a box. I hope that with the way the world is quickly globalizing– where people grow up in one place, get educated in another and end up living in a third or fourth country sometimes, the need for boxes disappear. However because it has been my own personal struggle to remain a part of both sets of what make me who I am, My Zimbabwean upbringing and My American life, I am not sure if the internal need for someone to claim me as one of them will ever disappear. I think we all want to feel like we belong somewhere and maybe what will come out of watching this movie or writing this blog entry will be peace of mind- peace of mind with the idea that I do not belong in any specific box but I am accepted as I am.
Post by Rudo Mawema Gray (Representing Zimbabwe)
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