African Women Voices
Yesterday I got an award from the Rome Municipality for my “outstanding journalism effort and achievement at such a young age”. Being titled the Intercultural Award, the prize was for my effort in bringing together different cultures. It felt awesome to have been given such a recognition, not for the award itself but for the opportunity given, once again, to speak about issues relevant to many of us.
If you’ve been reading Balobeshayi for a while, you probably know I was born and raised in a small town in Italy but my parents are from Africa. So after ages of trying to define myself as either Italian or African and yet being somewhat rejected by both definition, I finally found some peace of mind when stating like the great singer Aretha did before me: “I am what I am”. What you are only matters to others, it helps them to define you because they believe that’s how they’re going to learn about you, that’s how they’re going to get to know you. Why bother to have a cup of coffee? Go out for sushi or have a simple, long chat on a bench to get to know you? Because it’s much harder.
And that’s what I believe is ruining the human capacity of getting to know other cultures: laziness. Knowing someone, as everyone who has ever dated would agree on, takes effort, time, patience. And that’s the same if you’re getting to know a date, a migrant, an Asian, an African, whoever… and it takes time. The same time you need to pronounce a name correctly, like unfortunately they weren’t able to do when I was given the award. Not everyone is gifted with bucket of patience, not everyone cares.
Anyway, the whole point of the above digression was to get to point when I share with you my first line when I got on the stage of the Parioli Theatre in Rome. The presenter asks me: “So, you’re from Africa?” And before I knew it my mouth was moving: “If we can consider Genzano di Roma Africa, yeah sure!”
It might not be straightforward to someone who is not from Italy but you can probably take a guess and ask yourself whether Genzano di Roma sounds like an African city…. it doesn’t, because it’s most definitely not.
Why did my brain decided to act on its own and give that answer? Probably because for the last decades it has been overexposed to the same concept over and over and over and over again: if you are black and you speak perfect Italian, damn! you’re definitely not from Italy, you must be from somewhere else. And this profound thought is often followed by the question: where are you from, really?
What? People think I’m joking about my birth place? Does it change something where I was born, why I’m dark? I’m getting heated so I better drive towards the conclusion, which is a line of the letter I’d write to everyone sadly unaware that diversity is even within their own blood:
Dear resident of your country,
do the world a favour, start learning from people around you who are different and just for this, so resourceful. I myself don’t hold the greatest academic achievements but have learnt more from the diverse people I met then when I was reading in my classroom in high school. The best way to do that is the Matrix approach, “free your mind”, forget what you thought you knew and start fresh.
Please, Next time you see someone looking different from you remember there are no labels sticky enough to hold on someone, you have to actually step forward and chat if you want to know others.
Ok, that was more than one line but I hope it was worth sharing. What would you say?
Great post and congratulations! I had the same identity issue, being born in Essex to Nigerian parents. It took going to Nigeria to settle the issue – I was much more British than Nigerian. So when people say “where are you from orginally” I tell my story and my parents story. It’s a great opportunity to educate. I call myself a British Nigerian from Essex. My identity is Essex girl, Londoner, British, woman, activist, creative, thinker, writer, but most of important to me: Christ follower. So as you say, if you don’t know get to know, we all have more dimensions than the colour of our skin.
I’m thrilled you shared your experience too! Thanks, and feel free to share even more in a blog post, just write me at balobeshayi at gmail dot com.
Having more than one identity is such an enrichment, people should acknowledge that more often and not be scared! Thanks again and keep posting!