I have recently begun to define my cultural identity as Somali Black American. I am proud of my cultural background and able to exude the best qualities of them.
My Mother and Father are both Somali Americans who immigrated to this country when I was really young, My parents raised me as an American. While we sometimes ate Somali food and my parents taught me about my culture, I never really identified with it. My elementary school friends were primary Somali Americans; I suppose that we all grasped that we were different but for the most part, we were all just kids with similar interests and common experiences with the world.
Since my parents wanted me to better understand my Somali heritage, we often traveled to Djibouti. I never could relate to my Somali relatives. I felt so different from them -So American. I remember arguing with my cousins a lot during those overseas visits because of cultural disagreements.
During my younger years, my immediate family and friends primarily influenced my cultural identity. The summer after my fifth grade my family moved back home. This move changed my cultural identity. Suddenly I lived in a country where my skin matched everyone else’s. I became better acquainted with my Somali family. One continuing problem was with my Father. When moved to Djibouti, he seemed to expect me to instinctively know how to behave as a Somali Child. I remember frequent arguments with him, he couldn’t understand that the reason I was so American was that he had raised me that way.
How have you arrived at your present understanding of diversity? My family and Friends are the main reason I arrived at my understanding of diversity. For a very long time in my life, I never wanted to be in touch with my race. I felt like I was not black enough for my African American peers. While I was in High school my African American classmates would say to me “ You are not black, you are Somalian”. Thinking back to comments like that, now I feel like that was the reason I was so conflicted about calling myself, Black. Over the years I have come to the realization that I need to learn how to differentiate my Race from my ethnicity.
My Parents still have a hard time differentiating the two. When my Mother is applying for jobs, and the application asks her to mark her race. She will very often pick the bubble that says “other” very intentionally and will write down that her race is Somali. My parents say that African Americans call themselves Black because they don’t know where in Africa they come from. My parents can’t fathom that Being Somali is our ethnicity and that Black is our race. My parents grew up very differently from me, they grew up in a country where a race was not a factor in their life. For me, it’s different because I was raised in America and I am very aware of my race which plays a huge role in my daily life.
Today when people ask me about my cultural identity, I tell them that it depends on who I am with, or who is asking. I’ve learned to foster the best cultural traits from American tradition and Somali traditions. For example, Americans are very individualistic people, while Somalis are family oriented and dependent. I’ve combined the two, learning to be independent while still highly respecting my family. Somalis have a relaxed attitude when it comes to career but American is different. They tend to be stressed about work, school, and family. I am learning to balance those two difference. From a career aspect, though I am very much an American and I care so much about my career.
For me, the way I have come to my cultural identity has had many trials and tribulations. There were many times I was confused, even rejecting parts of my identity especially my race. However, I have learned that my cultural identity is a blessing. I love culture.
Do you currently feel powerful or powerless when talking about diversity? Can you explain why? Personally, I believe that Power has the capacity to direct or influence the behavior of others. Due to my race, I feel powerless I don’t believe that I have the capacity to be able to ever feel powerful. For example, when it comes to school I believe that Professors have so much power and the way they bring power is through the materials they select for their classes. The activities they design for Students and the way they include students, especially students of color in the classroom.