Friday, September 7, 2012

A Blended Global South?

First let me say that my senses are on overload. That is expected when moving to a new place. My eyes, ears and mouth are all becoming alive with the sights, smells, and scents of East Africa, and all it is offering me. The adjustment is going well. It did take quite a while to adjust to time and sleeping patterns are improving. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my loved ones are preparing for bed when I am preparing for my work day. When I’m not engrossing myself in project planning documents and research materials for my master's paper, I enjoy the art of people watching, introduced to me by a good friend years ago. Living in Nairobi is amazing. Culturally, this country has quite a bit to offer as there are many different ethnic groups and it is also influenced by the surrounding countries, as well as the continents of Europe and Asia. As an avid foodie, I am in heaven. Curries, pastries, spices, seafood, and I can go on. As a lover of artisan crafts, I may end up broke. The dancer inside of me moves with along with an African rhythm.

Upon various outings, mostly having to do with day to day chores, one thing has come up as striking to me. In Nairobi, when I look around I see so many people that look like me. They have the same color skin, hair texture, and another striking and similar quality is the parents with them are two different colors. Yes, this is solely a visual reaction from just people watching that I notice. Being a person of mixed race, it was few and far between that I saw someone with a family composition similar to mine growing up. That is what is so striking, that today this is prevalent in Africa, Europe, Australia and the Americas. I see mixed couples of many different compositions, producing unique children. This is quite refreshing to me.

As a child and young adult, I struggled with my identity. This is being documented in a project I’m working on with the intention of creating a book. Not only did the idea of identity plague me, but being a product of a broken family and spending the majority of my childhood being raised by grandparent(s) also affected me. I am much more comfortable with myself and my identity as a multicultural individual as an adult. I do see myself as a person of color, but that color is not defined by society’s classifications. It is defined as the color I was born with given the combination of my parent’s backgrounds. There are still those that challenge my self-classification/identification and I can’t blame them, especially given the fact that the current U.S. president considers himself the first Black president. Why can’t I just pick already? Many choose this path, as it is the least messy. I wonder how the children I've been noticing view themselves. I wonder how the young adults /adults I notice view themselves and their identities, if it is similar to me or have they decided to choose one side?

Societies have evolved from the one-drop rule, the tragic mulatto stereotype, and El sistema de las Castas. How these blended families came about in the global south is a new topic of interest that has come up. Someone mentioned to me that these growing numbers of children are possible byproducts of tourism, the sex industry, or expats that marry locals. The fact that they are conceived must be acknowledged by everyone, because it took this act of realization and acknowledgement for me, and I imagine others, to notice all the people that look like me and thus have multiple layers of in betweeness. Acknowledgement and acceptance are two very different matters. Acceptance is a long way off but the first step is acknowledgement. Next is that we (society and development practitioners alike) need to talk about this more. While I would like to see the sex industry completely dismantled and made illegal for many reasons, if children are a product of these unions, they must be supported. From my experience, I know that it is not easy living in between, and support is what they need. Just as many countries acknowledge that they have many different peoples, they need to address those of us in between. In doing so, we can have a place in society that is accepting of our experiences and that makes us feel comfortable rather than conforming to the already existing (and may I say outdated) classification structures. I can’t help but feel happy/accepted when I see an option for myself on a racial questionnaire. The fact that I choose not to fill these out is a post for another time. I know many disagree with me and I understand that stance very well. This is a debate that has been on-going for centuries. It won’t be resolved by this post but if I get people talking I will have superseded my expectations.   
Having multiple identities is not just seen solely in racial terms, but also those who have dual nationality. In a globalized world it is a reality. I have many friends of dual nationalities, both recognized and unrecognized formally in the form of multiple passports.  Again, we must talk about this more.  The example from this article of Afua Hirsch, both British and Ghanaian, really helped me understand both examples of blendedness I offer in this post. I, like Afua, denied one part of myself at times during my childhood. I had a hard time understanding skin color, hair texture, religion, race, culture, customs and being apart of a blended family. How could I have explained this as a child when I didn’t even understand it?  When I am out side of the U.S., and often times when I am in U.S., people always ask where I am from. The response, "the U.S." or "here", is usually not sufficient and I am further interrogated with questions like: "where are you really from? Your parents? You know everyone from America is from somewhere else." Sometimes people then categorize me or call me names (they think its funny I think its a form of bullying).

Imagine having multiple countries to call home and multiple cultures. Some refer to the term as “TCK”, better known as third culture kids.  David Polluck defines a TCK as, “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.” Another example of this is documented in Mo Yaxye’s article, “Coming home to Mogadishu.” I find this article so compelling. Mo recently returned to his birth country (Somalia) feeling isolated. “Somalia, Somali or Waryaa (as my Kenyan brothers/sisters would say) has been the identity I have been carrying for more than 30 years – an identity that I have come to accept but never understood. I was born in Mogadishu but left at around 4 years old never to return until a sunny morning on July 26, 2012.  Growing up in Kenya and later in the UK, I was constantly reminded of my otherness.” 

Otherness and blendedness therefore comes in many forms. This phenomenon is large but one thing that is certain is: there will be many more people like Afua Hirsch, Mo Yaxye, and I. I’m not a Mel B fan but a quote of hers rang true to me, “When you're mixed, you're living proof that society has changed, that barriers have broken down and people are coming together a lot more, so you should be standing proud and saying: "Yes, I'm mixed." I say we should further that and say, "Yes, I’m proud of my otherness!" After all, most families are made up of many compositions and blends. We all have a feeling of otherness that is not solely defined by race or nationality. However, the reality of embracing this is still an elusive dream. 

Clara Como El Agua is another interesting example of otherness.
Clara como el Agua is a ten-minute short fiction film about the tales and half-truths that surround the origins of Clara, a light-skinned black girl with kinky, blond hair and gray eyes, who is incessantly teased by her dark-skinned peers; until she ventures into the magical waters of the bioluminescent bay to change her skin color and possibly herself. 
For more context on this subject in the context of Latin America, see:

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