A Culture Within a Culture
Bright colors, feathers, glitter and all the windin’ you could ask for fill streets in cities like Washington, D.C., and New York during carnival. But we cannot forget the Caribbean, which has some of the most prominent carnivals in the world. Though I’ve never been to Africa, the Caribbean seems to have the most genuine parts of Africa still within its culture. Perhaps it has something to do with slave ships stopping at the islands first before America, and those islanders having a better grip of African tradition than anyone I have ever met in the United States who called themselves “black.”
In Little Italy neighborhoods across the country, Italians own most of the businesses. Italian is the main language – used just as frequently as Spanish in the Bronx – and the Italian culture is alive and well.
During my first year at Howard University, I noticed the connection of the Caribbean students. They sat together, they ate together and they even partied together. They were always happy to dance, play Frisbee on the yard and sit under their tree with flags representing different islands swaying from the limbs as the wind hit.
A good friend from the Virgin Islands also has this cheerful and joyful spirit. She is proud to be an islander. I noticed the same spirit when I interviewed a Nigerian for a class project or interacted with a young Nigerian man from my friend’s class. They are proud to be African or proud to be Caribbean.
Many African and Caribbean students have had a strong commitment to sciences and health. Their parents have pushed them to become educated, and the children feel they owe it to their parents to succeed. Although their parents seem sterner, this doesn’t mean that African American families in the United States do not want the same things. Any child can have the mindset to make their parents proud.
Something hits home when I think about the mentality of all African descendants. Some people from Africa and the Caribbean go to Europe to have better lives or come to America for “the American Dream.” Many African Americans migrated to the North for better lives or the American Dream. We are all intertwined, and our senses tell many of us that migration is the best; migration is the only way. We are connected as Africans even if the word “African” is so broad. It fits because I, like many blacks in America, don’t know my lineage. By my own calculations, it’s a mix of a little Native American, some white and a lot of African.
All I know is a little southern state named Louisiana, where our most popular city, New Orleans, was home to many Caribbeans, mostly Haitian. It’s a city that incorporates a Zulu Mardi Gras ball and parade every year for Fat Tuesday. What’s Zulu? Who’s Zulu? How can I find Zulu? I’m often googling my way around history in America, and African American history is a popular one, as I did with the Gullah-Geechee people who make up the Carolinas, Georgia and some of Florida.
“Where’s my Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans, Senegalese or Trinidadians ?” I have often shouted. Where’s my proud label that I can where on my shoulder? America, I wear you proudly, but I don’t. I want a connection like that, not to a group, but to a place – a place with vibrant culture, dance-hall music, its own rum and traditional spices.
Yes, I have to admit there were times during my freshmen year when I was jealous – jealous that so many islanders and Nigerians had a strong tie to their traditions, from clothing to celebrations. But then I have to remember our culture in America. We have contributed so much to America. We have invented things, so many things – the light bulb, hair products, peanut butter, electronic devices, surgical procedures, the Super Soaker. And we can’t forget the music industry – maybe I went too far on the last one.
At the end of the day, I have so much to scream about when I identify with my Afro-American, Negro, Black, African American or, in its broadest term, African side.