I’m sure you’ve all notice the recent uprise of interest in the African culture. From dashikis to natural hair styling, all the way down to the beads and shea butters. EVERYONE wants a piece of something African. And as much as I love how we embrace it now, this wasn’t always the case. As of right now, African culture is trending, and I must say I’m a little confused.
Let me break this down a bit. I am a “first generation” American(this is an ambiguous term but will have to do to get my point across).My parents came to the United states from Sierra Leone in the 80’s. Growing up I had some cultural confusion. I lived in America but embraced just a small part of the culture. Yes, my parents came to America to start a new/better life for themselves. However, instilling their cultural ways, morales and values in us came first before anything I learned. To the world, I’m basically Sylvia. When I step foot inside my home, I’m Olayinka.
My parents raised me how they knew. The clothes I wore, the food I ate, even the way my hair was styled. How I conducted myself in public, all the way down to my name was all was all a reflection of their culture and upbringing. I am a proud product of Sierra Leone parents.
In my early childhood I lived in Montgomery County Maryland which was a diverse suburbs. Neighorhoods and schools were made of people from many countries. I remember having Indian, Russian and Asian neighbors. Everyone was different but embraced other cultures. In school, I used Olayinka and felt comfortable. I understood I wasn’t completely American because my parents didn’t embrace American activities such as sleepovers which was very popular for a little girl. Never the less I never felt like a sore thumb.
The African culture wasn’t openly embraced amongst American children in certain areas. The sad part about it is, I never noticed a difference in my upbringing until we moved to a predominantly black community.
Around age eight I moved to Prince George’s county and that’s when it hit me that my parents weren’t really “American”. I mean I knew that, but these kids reminded me daily of how African my parents really were. They teased me about my clothes, my hair, and even made fun of my grandfather who walked me to school. My name was a joke and getting called African booty scrather became the norm.You could not convince me that being african was great at this time in my life.
Like I said before, my parenrs raised me how they knew best. So I was natural in elementary school when “Just For Me” relaxer was popping. My parents wore uniform going to school, so fashion wasn’t on the top of their list when shopping for school clothes. English is a secondary language in my home. My clothes had a peculiar smell because of the aroma from the african dishes my mother prepared; which took a couple days to clear. Yes, I wear “africanas” to family functions. Yes, my mom wears super cool head wraps and my dad wears tan mandals(man sandals) will all summer outfit. That was me and I was happy with that! I couldnt wrap my head around the fact that people with the same complexion as me teased me for having African parents.
Let us fast foward 10+years. African is the “thing” to be! Everyone is rocking natural hair. People are even asking me to have my grandpa send some african beads.People are drooling for cassava leaves and jallof rice. People, especially Black Americans, want to reconnect with the motherland like they weren’t alredy connected.
I’m just wandering what brought about this change? Speaking with my dad, he said, “Our culture, the dahsikis, food and what have you arent normal for Americans; so it trends from time to time. This fad was up in the 60’s but died down, and is now back again. Unfortunately for you, it wasn’t “trending” when you were a kid and it seems that some black communities weren’t exposed to the rest of the world. For that reason you were made fun of.” That wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but he’s right.
grandparents in Freetown, Sierra Leone
This is normal life for me. I can’t wake up one day and stop eating the food or understanding the dialect. I can’t detatch from Sierra Leone and act as if I don’t have family living there currently. I can’t stop wearing africanas or lappas because it’s not the fashion trend. My culture is with me every single day of my life. I love that we are embracing Africa again, I just dont want it to die down again and have my kids go through what I went through growing up.