I was born under the East African Sun where the Lions never sleep and the days seem to last forever. Kenya, which smells like samosas, looks too beautiful to be true and sounds like Swahili love songs, was all I knew. Until my parents packed everything up and moved us to America, the country filled with an abundance of opportunities.
Like most Immigrant families, culture is very important, so with that being said, my parents made sure to raise me with Kenyan culture. But the culture inside my home was vastly different from the culture I observed outside my home. And the culture in my homeland was incredibly stronger than that of the one I was raised with.
So like most children of diaspora, I struggled with my identity. I didn’t completely feel as if I belonged in America but then again when I returned home, I found that I didn’t belong there either because I was always two steps behind when it came to my culture.
In order to receive a deeper comprehension of the struggle of searching for an identity as an immigrant child, I interviewed 2019 college students Diana Kahindo and Suzie Njunge.
I asked Suzie if she, as a Kenyan Immigrant, felt like there was a struggle in finding her identity as either a Kenyan or an American. The Temple University student said, “Yes, and there’s also the struggle with balancing both cultures and between gaining acceptance between both cultures.”
Curious to know more about why she felt that way, I asked Suzie to describe her experience of growing up sandwiched between two cultures. Suzie said, “I just wanted to belong and it’s weird because I never saw myself as super different from the other kids. But they saw that I was different. It was obviously there for them. I was black and I was African. Everything was a curiosity to them and so they treated me as such.”
“In a bad way?” I asked.
She shakes her head, “Not necessarily always in a bad way but they just didn’t view me as the same to their white and American peers. And I think as an immigrant, you feel those subtle innuendos and behaviors and that’s where the sense of realizing you’re different and a need to belong stems from.”
Her last comment about the feeling of needing to belong sparked a question in me. Where do immigrant children feel they belong? Is it in their birth country or is it in the country their parents moved them to and raised them? Where is home to them? Where do children of immigrants who belong to two different countries consider home?
“Diana, where are you from?” I questioned the East Stroudsburg University (ESU) student.
“This is by far the hardest and most difficult question for me to answer. I’d like to think that someday when someone asks me where home is, I’ll know how to answer,” She admits. “I’d like to think I’ll finally reach a place of self-assurance in my idea of home, that I won’t have to struggle to fit into crevasses that I have outgrown. Home is Kenya, home is America, home is ESU, and home will eventually be wherever else life takes me. How then, can I call a place home, when home is everywhere, and nowhere all at once? How can I call Kenya home when I don’t even know how to get to my cucu’s (grandmother’s)? How can I call America or even Kenya home when people see me as an outsider?”
Her response made me realize that the idea of home, as for many children who grew up in a different culture than that of their parents, is something we struggle with. To have home be everywhere and to still not have a definite home isn’t for the faint-hearted. How can you call a place home when the only sense of home is the physical location? And what if this physical location has no personal connection to you but only the connection through nationality?
With that thought, I switched up my question and instead asked Diana where she considered home is, based on her personal definition of what home is.
“Home is everywhere, but nowhere,” Diana replied. “Home is wherever my heart feels at peace, wherever I am at the current moment is home, it might not be the picture-perfect definition of home, but there’s beauty in not being tied down to an idea of what you think must be. Home is where my heart is, therefore, home must be me… no, home is me, I am home.”
Before wrapping up my interview with Suzie, I asked her how she came to love and appreciate her Kenyan identity. She said, “I think I just learned and came to realize that my differences from everyone else is what made me so unique.”
Her words personally hit home. It made me reflect on my childhood and early teenage years when I relentlessly would reject and try my best to disconnect to my Kenyan roots, all because I wanted to fit in, to feel like I belonged. It took me years to learn how to love and appreciate my culture and not just consider it as my parent’s culture that I’m in without a choice.
I blossomed when I realized that there was nothing shameful about my Kenyan side because it’s just as good as my American side. I can be both Kenyan and American and I can speak Kikuyu, Swahili and English. I have half of my heart in America, the other half in Kenya, but at the end of the day, it still beats as one.
“Do you have one last thing to say to immigrant children?” I asked Diana.
She nods with a smile, “Here’s to us, those who have had the privilege of being third culture kids, to the ones who might have not always fit into the places they called home, and perhaps will never fit in, to the ones who were outcasts in all of their homes. Here’s to the ones who still struggle about the future of their home, to the ones who wish they had something that tied them down to a home.”
Perpetual Kahindo is a second-year political science major. PK973548@wcupa.edu.