How my Parents Became my Africa

My Africaness has never been divorced from my overall personhood; mostly, if not entirely, because I am my parent’s daughter. Yes, I was born on the continent, and yes, my West African features give me away, but that is not what makes me African or in tune with my Africanness. My pride, my desire to know and understand more about my continent, my need to see it all from Dakar to Dar es Salaam, my Africanness as we can call it, I learned that. I learned this from my parents. I learned that one’s Africaness is not, per say, something you fall in love with; it’s something to cultivate everyday. For almost 13 years, after moving from Abidjan to the Washington DC area, I never went back to Cote d’Ivoire. I never saw the Basilique in Yam, I never visited the beaches in Assinie, I never sat and listened to stories from my uncles about life right after independence. I never sat on La Rue Princess eating attikee and fried fish, I never saw Meiway perform or learned traditional dances from my aunts. I was unable to experience the sense of Africanness that comes with the physical connection of being on the continent. I could have lost it, my sense of connection, but my parents never allowed such a travesty to happen.  My parents, and their Africanness, brought Abidjan to me everyday. And although I knew that I was blessed to be living and going to school in America, I also knew I was blessed to be from Cote d’Ivoire. They made it clear that I was fortunate to have Africa running through my veins.

In our townhouse in Maryland, we listened to Magic System, and Gadji Celi, we ate rice and sauce, we fried fish for Thanksgiving. I was an “African Princess” for Halloween 10 years in a row, wearing traditional pieces made out of African fabric and a velvet and gold crown. I wore silver bracelets with my grandmother’s name etched on them. I sat and watched as my mother searched tirelessly, in all of Maryland’s libraries, for the book my great uncle wrote on francophone Africa in the 1950’s. I listened to my father’s stories of his time at the University of Abidjan before a scholarship sent him to Florida for a new beginning. I defended Africa, called people stupid for asking me if I rode monkeys; I knew my parents would not stand for anything else, and thus nor would I. I was the poster child for all things Ivorian (well besides my love for N’Sync and Dairy Queen.) So, by the time I was able to visit Abidjan for the first time in middle school, things looked familiar, I had seen these monuments in photos. I had eaten this food, I was familiar with the music, I recognized family members, I knew the names of my parent’s villages. I did not feel lost, I was so empowered in my sense of belonging.

I say all of that to say this; I have been enveloped in Africa my whole life. Africa woke me up every morning in Maryland; it put me to sleep every evening. My pride in my culture, my ancestors, my continent was developed as soon as I was born. My parents hoped that their experiences, their understandings, the things they had witnessed on the continent, would eventually take the shape of my own Africaness. Now, as an adult, I have taken several trips back to Abidjan, have lived in southern and eastern Africa, and have done all of my professional and academic work on the continent. I have in a way reconstructed my Africaness through the lens of my own lived experiences. But as things change within me, I still know that without my parents and their own love for their Africa, I would never have fallen in deep love with my own Africaness. Many of you can relate, having Africa brought to you in London, NYC, Paris, DC, or Toronto, our parents have been our Africa for many years. So, I ask, can we ever really define our own Africanness without them?