One Mom’s Ramblings: Heartbreaking Lessons From Her Son’s School Project.
As a mother, one of my main goals is to shield my kids from evil. This week, I realised that I might not be able to do it. At least not for long. And my heart sank. It sank because I got to think about the choices my husband and I have made and their effects on our sons. I got to especially think deeply about our choice to raise them in a different culture. A culture I have discovered, does not fully accept them. A culture that tends to emphasize that they belong somewhere else. That they are aliens, sometimes not just aliens, but “illegal” aliens. Outcasts. I felt hopeless.
It all started when my son brought home a project from school. He was to write about his culture, his origin. After scanning through the project, to say I was elated is an understatement! I knew this was his chance to shine. He was definitely going to score an A+. I knew I had lots to talk about; our rich culture, our heritage, our food, our peoples, our hospitality, name it. I even thought of how I would dramatise some concepts for him to understand very well. I was going to illustrate how the “Bakiga”, my Ugandan tribe dances until there is no dust left on the ground! I smiled wickedly. I knew the teacher would be mesmerized by his project. I even thought of calling my mom (his grandma) back in Uganda to fill in the gaps. I started bubbling with excitement, but it was short-lived……
“Mummy, I am Canadian. I want to write about Canada, my country of birth, my country of origin. I want to write about winter and snow and hockey, especially my experience watching that live hockey game at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, 2010. I want to talk about my roller skates and my visit to Whistler during winter seasons. I want to talk about snow fights with my friend Nyasha (one of his childhood Canadian friends).” My son interjected. My efforts to redirect him to write about Uganda were fruitless.
My son wanted to write about his culture. A culture very different from mine. A culture I didn’t really understand although I lived in Canada for almost a decade. A culture where young kids pick apples instead of mangoes. A culture where kids play in snow and build snow men and adorn heavy jackets and hoodies instead of roaming around naked almost all year round (often not out of choice). A culture where humans eat grass and raw vegetables like herbivores, and cheese instead of ‘kalo” and boiled yams. A culture where kids feel entitled to endless luxuries as opposed to where basic minimum requirements is a struggle. A culture where kids are pampered with toys (that change seasonally) as opposed to that where they strive to make their own balls and dolls from dry banana leaves.
But that is not really the point. And I am not bashing this culture. I especially love the opportunities this culture presents or else we would not be here. Rather, I am troubled by the fact that regardless of how my son feels, and identifies himself (and rightly so), this culture might never fully accept him as their own. There are species that will let him know (if they haven’t already) that he does not belong here. And I find this very disturbing. It is at this moment that I understood why many black friends of mine have for a long time dreaded being asked this question: “Where are you really really from?”.
You see, this question has never bothered me, at ALL. I proudly declare that I am from Uganda and that I am Ugandan, regardless of other citizenships I hold. Despite the sad stories of Idd Amin and HIV/AIDS, poverty-stricken and malnourished images of kids constantly aired on BBC, despite the current political turmoil with the country facing a possibility of having a president for life, I am proud of my country. My origin. Some of my fondest memories are surprisingly poverty related, like those days when, as a family of twelve we would sit on our mats in a circle, happily sharing not even a pound of meat, that we would get as a treat on those special days like Christmas. There are many things to celebrate about Uganda. However, I now realize that it was not about my friends not wanting to be associated with Uganda. It was the feeling of being singled out and told that they belonged somewhere because of their skin color. In retrospect, I can see why this question is actually very problematic.
My heart bleeds for my sons, and for other kids who grow up in a culture that is not “their own”. You see, our kids do not know much about Uganda. Although we have had intermittent visits and try to live like “Ugandans” in our home, our kids do not identify themselves as Ugandans. In fact, one of my son’s dreams is to be Canada’s Usain Bolt.
And this is why my heart bleeds. I pictured my son at 18, being interrogated from all corners as to where he was “really really from”. And maybe being told to leave and go back to where he belongs. And this breaks my heart. Because of this, I had a quick flash back to when I was teaching last year. After president Trump was elected, it was like students got a ticket to alienate the “illegal aliens”. Students would literally come to me numb. They did not know what to do. They were being bluntly told to pack their bags and leave. That they did not belong to the United States. Building a wall became a slogan in my class. “Where do you want these students to go? This is their home. They are born and raised here.” I would confront the perpetrators but my words seemed not to hold any substance for them. I pictured my son in this particular scene. Being told to go to his culture, a culture he barely understands and probably not able to speak the language. I know of immigrant families that jealously guard their heritage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their kids feel that they are from those cultures.
And this is what compounds this further. Our kids did not make a choice to be here, unlike us who made a conscious decision to leave our origin and come to settle here. While that does not make it justifiable, I can see how one can actually tell me to pack my bags and go back home. But how do you tell kids who are born and raised here to leave and go to where they belong? This is their home. What kind of human beings are we becoming? These are basic fundamental rights!
And don’t be quick to judge these “evil racist ” Americans. We are equally guilty. I remember growing up, (even today), we had people from other countries. Save for the whites who are still seen as a superior species to blacks (even by the blacks themselves), people from other nationalities have also had their share of ridicule in Uganda. You can ask any one from Rwanda, Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, or any other foreigner in Uganda for that matter. While we live with them, eat with them, intermarry, etc most of us have never fully accepted them. We keep pestering them of their origin and demanding that they go back to where they belong. We call them derogatory names. This is really sad.
I know its pure selfishness to realize that things are not right when they affect us personally. The fact that I envisioned my son living this life of explaining his origin makes me uncomfortable. But it is never too late. I want to add my voice to that of men and women of integrity who started this movement. People like Martin Luther King Jr. who never rested but looked for ways of fighting such injustices. We all have to be conscious to the fundamental need for love and acceptance. It is really not our business to probe others where they are “really really from”. Our task is to embrace humanity. This is especially sad when people in power, who are supposed to hold these fundamental human rights make remarks that incite violence and division. This has to stop! After all, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. All these things we are fighting for, the territories we are jealously guarding will not really matter much. It is only a matter to time. They will be left to the dogs. Let us be mindful.