Am I really writing about this?
It’s something I’ve talked about several times with my husband because we frequently have conversations about race and our experiences in our home. While there are some similarities in terms of the fact that there’s a history of oppression both of our ancestors have experienced, there are many differences. Instead of ignoring them, we frequently like to discuss them over a cup of coffee or during our morning commute in the morning, listening to NPR.
But this topic, each time I bring it up, is often tinged with a bit of sadness.
You see, my husband can pinpoint the exact town his side of the family comes from. He knows the name of the region where they’re from, he knows the language and knows that he is Korean. His last name is a name that he knows the meaning of. He has cultural traditions and will be able to share those traditions and the Korean language with our future child.
For example, every New Year’s Day, it’s important to bow and say a phrase in Korean that means that you are wishing them well in the new year to your elders.
He knows that there’s honorifics and certain words or suffixes that you use for elders versus peers.
He knows the different types of kimchi and that you should have seaweed soup for your birthday and rice cake soup for new year’s.
For me, I know that I am African-American. I do not know the country I come from or the tribe of my ancestors. I do not know the language my ancestors spoke or what their names were. I don’t know the cultural traditions or beliefs. Aside from the region, which I know only because all slaves came from West Africa, I know nothing. I cannot share those things.
I have spent the past six years, off and on, trying to find something to let me know something. I’ve heard things from family members and tried to search up information based on what I’ve heard. I tried searching my maiden surname and my grandmother’s maiden last name to try to find records that could lead me to more information about where my ancestors came from. I even tried looking up my great grandmother’s maiden name. That was as far as I got, before realizing that I could not find anything.
As a result of the slave diaspora, which would take too long to explain in this post, many families were separated and displaced. This has led to many people like myself, not being able to track their ancestry.
This is why when people appropriate our culture and our hairstyles, it stings because in some ways, since our culture was stripped from us the moment we stepped into the country, we created our own here.
We created our own customs, some that were derived from some of the customs our ancestors maintained and others we developed through our own experiences here.
While I would love to know where my ancestors came from and to know more about them, I am also content knowing that I still have history, culture, and traditions to pass down to our children.
I realized that the culture that we’ve created in America is just as beautiful. This is our culture. By not knowing the exact tribe where my ancestors came from or whether they came into America by way of Europe or the Caribbean, doesn’t change my identity the same knowing wouldn’t. It would provide closure and it would be awesome to know, but it would not change my identity.
Yes, I may not know what tribe my ancestors come from, but there’s so much African-American history and experiences from within my own family that I can share with them.
Yes, I may not be able to share with them the language , but I can explain to them how many influential African-Americans before them have contributed so greatly to the society we live in today.
I can tell them the stories my grandmother shared about living through the Great Depression and the Civil Right’s Movement.
I can tell them the stories my mother told me about growing up in South Philadelphia and my own experiences growing up there.
I can share with them about how there isn’t a family function that goes by that we don’t play “Before I Let Go” by Frankie Beverly and Maze. That every time we play it, we still dance as if it’s the first time we heard it, whilst singing the lyrics at the top of our lungs.
I can share with them about how on New Year’s Eve, we always have collard greens and black-eyed peas, because of the symbolism behind it.
I can share with them how we have a plastic bag full of recycled plastic bags in the kitchen.
I can share how the cookie tin never has cookies in it and that any container that’s clean and has a lid can become a Tupperware container.
I can share with them about how we pray before the New Year comes in.
I can share with them the wise words of wisdom that have been passed on from generation to generation and family to family.
I still have culture and traditions to share with them, even if they aren’t the same ones I would have shared had I known the tribe where my ancestors are from.
I can still share with them the richness of African-American culture just as much as my husband will share the richness of his.
Can you relate to this?