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Immigrant Heritage Month: Reflections of a First-Generation African

By: Antonette Kamara

America, while some may feel differently, is a country of immigrants. Firstly, It is disrespectful and irresponsible not to acknowledge how this country came to be, through violent and forceful colonization that killed and displaced millions of indigenous populations. American culture is often to erase and hide, and the true story of the first European colonizers is not discussed widely. The reality is to this day indigenous populations of America have yet to receive proper acknowledgment, reparations, and representation from our political system, and that is something we should all be aware of and actively work towards.

What is a border? In the USA it is in some places a very physical real blockade. In other ways the barriers immigrants face are harder to see, but just as real. The culture, the language, the practice of going about things, all of it, and everywhere you go there is more to learn, and often there is no one to teach you. No one to hold your hand when you come to a new land. A land where those with dark skin are feared and carry generations of pain.

I never personally made the journey across the ocean to America. My mother came from Sierra Leone to Minnesota about 3 years before I was born. My dad came earlier in the 80s and together they made a home for us here. They didn’t have parents or anyone outside of our community to fall back on, which created a drive. A deep desire to make a living and provide for their family not just here but back home as well. Growing up my parents were always working. Always, always working so hard. And they have passed that on to me.

Work and work, hustling, building, and grinding are the anthems for many immigrants. The need to get an education, seize every opportunity, and succeed for not just you but everyone before you. That pressure is a unique and stressful one, but pressure makes diamonds, and we survive.

Obviously, every immigrant or first-generation immigrant’s experience is not exactly the same. The world is huge and we come from all over. We are not a monolith although there is a common thread we can all relate to of experiencing the US anew. While it is almost inevitable that many of us embrace aspects of American culture, what we have is special, it is beautiful, and it is important that we keep pride in what we have known for generations. With our different foods, attire, and culture, oftentimes ostracized before being appropriated, it is a similar need to protect and keep traditions alive, away from greedy American hands.

This month, as you reflect on your heritage, I hope you also take the time to rest. I hope you follow where your heart takes you, and know that you are making those that came before you proud. Your very existence carries history, strength, and generations of pride. Know that you are doing well, and enough.

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