I just returned to NYC after spending a couple of weeks with my sister and my new nephew in California. My sister pretty much grew up in the United States. She left Ghana at a very tender age and has not returned since; not even for a visit. I have tried convincing her to come with me on one of my visits, but she would simply respond, “for what?” So naturally in my little book, my sister is “lost”. As Chimamanda Adichie would say, she is a total “Americanah” now.
But I had quite an astonishing experience during my recent visit that I felt compelled to share. For my nephew’s christening, my sister insisted that she wanted him to wear traditional Kente cloth to church. This was so important to her that she had the kente shipped all the way from Ghana and then had it sown into a beautiful outfit for my nephew. If it wasn’t for this situation, I would have never guessed that my sister still remembered some of her family members in Ghana. She made phone calls, figured out a shipping method, and made sure she got the kente cloth right in time.
I was stunned because I never expected my sister whom I assumed was so out of touch with her roots, to be so adamant about her son wearing kente cloth for his christening. I asked her why this was so important to her and she replied,“It’s the least I can do for him. If nothing at all, I want this to be his foundation. He will grow up in a different world but whenever he looks at these pictures, I want him to be reminded that he is Ghanaian first.”
I thought very hard and long about the symbolism of my nephew wearing kente for his christening, which in the Ghanaian culture is viewed as the first time a child is “introduced to the world”. At that moment I was very proud of my sister.
Culture is important. Culture makes a central composition of our identity. There were moments in my life where I wanted to be “cool” and being African, looking, talking or sounding like an African was everything but cool. My parents were the the very strict type that made it very clear that “twi” would be the local language in the home, and we would learn to not only get accustomed to eating African food but how to cook it as well. My parents feared that their children would assimilate, and they went above and beyond to ensure that we understood who we are, our culture and our people. Today, I am grateful to my parents for going the extra mile. It’s probably the best gift they could ever give me.
My experience with my sister has restored some hope that perhaps the next generation will seamlessly bridge the gap. It’s not the big things, but the small things that makes all the difference. If we give our children the right foundation, we will never have to live in fear of them loosing their identity. It is very possible that the next generation will fall deeper in love with Africa than our generation, but it all starts with us and the little things that we do from the very beginning.
And now, meet my oh-so-adorable nephew King Rawlings Agyeman, in a symbolic outfit that will most likely be the foundation for his life on earth: