Monday, September 9, 2013

Through her eyes - Meet Aliesha part 1

San Francisco Bay Area
Growing up I was always asked ‘what I was’.  I hated this question because, even though I knew people were just asking my ethnicity, it came off as if they were asking my species. So naturally “I’m human” became my response.

My racial ambiguity makes it easy for me to be from anywhere. I’ve gotten Brazilian, Cape Verdean, Lebanese, Portuguese, Argentinian, Columbian, Spanish, Tunisian, you name it! No one ever guesses I’m a bi-racial American (outside of America that is).  My mom is mixed Irish and German decent from Ohio and my father is Fula from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.

5th grade- my sister's 1st birthday
Responding to the “what are you?” question was always more work than it was worth, meaning it needed more then a 5 word explanation (mostly due to the fact that most people have never heard of Guinea-Bissau). And what did I know about Guinea-Bissau that I could tell people?  Not much. I knew how to locate it on a map and I had a little drum in my room that was from there (when I was 5 or 6 I would bring this drum into show-and-tell and share what my dad had brought back for me from a trip to Guinea-Bissau). That about rapped up my knowledge about the place.

As I got older I boiled my ethnicity down to black and white, for simplicities sake. But I learned that when you say black you lose the cultural context that comes from being African. Some people wouldn’t think twice about the answer I gave, but occasionally I would get someone who would then ask why I didn’t act or talk more black or why I didn’t have similar shared experiences with the black community (not in those words exactly, but alluding to something like that). To avoid further confusion and questioning, I went back to saying I was half Bissau-Guinean. 

I can’t explain my understanding of Guinea Bissau with out explaining my relationship with the men in my life who are from there, my dad and step-dad.

My dad is an Imam, a Muslim spiritual leader, in Alameda, so I grew up in his home practicing Islam. But I never knew where the line was drawn between African tradition and Islamic practice.  We would eat with our hands, take showers out of buckets even though the shower head worked perfectly fine, and use water and not toilet paper when we used the bathroom.  I really only had these experiences in snapshots because I would visit my dad every other weekend. I was young and just took it all in stride, not ever questioning why we did these things.

High school -  Davis Legacy Soccer Team senior year
My dad’s ethnicity is Fula, but I didn’t have any context to explain what that meant. I remember a couple of times in High school I googled the Fulani people out of curiosity. I saw stereotypical pictures of African women dressed in traditional clothing and I read a couple paragraphs about the Fulani people on Wikipedia. I even found an English to Fula dictionary. But this did very little to give me what I was looking for. It was too impersonal.

Come back tomorrow for - Through her eyes - Meet Aliesha part Two

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