In the spirit of Black History Month, the stories of Black immigrants often find themselves overshadowed. It’s a poignant reminder of why it’s important to honor Black Immigrants, enabling us to celebrate not just American and African history, but also the rich tapestry of our cultural traditions.
I moved to New York City as a child from a little town in Quebec, Canada. My mother was from Ghana, West Africa, while my absent father was from England. While I was fluent in English, I was excruciatingly timid and had no idea how to navigate New York City.
Within a few weeks of arriving at a public school in Queens, New York City, I could not draw the American flag from memory. I had no idea how. Instead of instructing me how to draw the American flag, the teacher paraded my Canadian flag picture around the classroom and asked several of my classmates sarcastically if they thought it was an American flag.
The instructor tore up my drawing in front of everyone. “Isn’t your mother African?” shouted the white teacher to me. She said, “Regardless of your origin, you are now in America. I object to seeing a new flag every day. African, Canadian No. I simply want American flags in my classroom.” Canada is located in North America, but that teacher could not have cared less. It was not her argument.
While I quietly sobbed, a number of students in the classroom laughed loudly. According to my recollection, on another occasion, while I was still struggling with the flag project, one of the African-American kids gave me her flag drawing so that I could complete my task. I was appreciative of the learning lifeboat as well as the kindness. Some time after hearing the story, my mother purchased a small American flag for our home. My mother assured me, “Someday, you will become a U.S. citizen.”
That wasn’t the only time I was ‘othered,’ but I know I’m not alone because many immigrants struggle with acculturation.
“As a Black immigrant mom, there are numerous obstacles to overcome. Things will work out, but you must simply try your best,” Rose Ivy Quarshie, a project manager for a New York-based real estate firm and a Ghanaian immigrant, states: Black history for Quarshie, the mom of two children, means naturally bridging the gap between diverse cultures. Quarshie reveals that she invests a considerable amount of time in community activism and cultural and immigrant organizations.
Black History Month is a Chance to Honor African-Americans, Including Immigrants
Kim Tabari, Ph.D., an employee at the USC Equity Research Center and a community leader with Black Lives Matter Long Beach, is intimately familiar with the experience of Black immigrants. Teenaged Tabari immigrated to the United States from Guyana. Longtime California resident Tabari has vast experience as a university lecturer and campaigner for social justice. Social justice, education, research, and activism are among her professional and personal interests.
“Black History Month is an occasion to honor African-Americans regardless of origin. I attempt to adopt an intersectional perspective,” she says. Being the parent of a teen boy, Tabari believes that knowledge of Black history should honor African American icons such as Malcom X while also incorporating luminaries such as Guyanese political leader and academic Walter Rodney.
She says, “I want to honor my Guyanese-American heritage and pass on the knowledge and traditions to my son.”
Tabari further adds, “The belief that all Black people are identical is false. We must recognize individuals for who they are. We may have different cultural backgrounds. The African diaspora has more similarities than differences.”
As a mom in New York City raising two multiracial children, I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin. I wish I had done more to connect my older adolescent kid to our family’s cultural customs. My eldest kid does not always appear to comprehend or value my immigrant background, including my reverence for certain cuisines, specific holidays, and family traditions.
Recognizing the Struggle
The family of Rose Ivy Quarshie values education above all else. Her two children were separated by 11 years. While Quarshie’s mother provided full-time care for her older daughter when she was small, she died shortly after the birth of her younger son.
By the time her kid reached early adolescence, Quarshie was extremely concerned about negative influences and a lack of appreciation for West African cultural values. Quarshie made the extreme decision to send her 12-year-old daughter to Ghana to attend an elite boarding school. According to Quarshie’s recollection, her kid protested angrily about “ridiculous” requirements such as mandatory haircuts and uniforms. Nonetheless, she does not regret her choice. “When my son went to the United States to attend college, he was academically and culturally grounded and ready to study,” says Quarshie.
Family, food, and culture are all interconnected.
Liberia, West Africa, is Maimah Karmo’s place of origin. She is the founder and president of the Tigerlily Foundation. Due to political turmoil in her native country, Karmo emigrated to the United States as a teen.
“I wanted my daughter to accept her American culture and appreciate her heritage,” she says. “In Liberia, cassava leaves are consumed. We consume fufu. We consume food with our hands. We refer to it as the communal bowl. Family, cuisine, and culture are interconnected,” she explains.
Karmo, a single mother who raised her daughter, was diagnosed with breast cancer while her kid was quite small. So, it was crucial for Karmo that her relatives spend a great deal of time with her daughter.
“When my daughter was younger, I held African-themed birthday parties for her. We would be boisterous, dress in traditional attire, perform music, and serve Liberian cuisine. It’s possible that the American guests we invited were confused about how long the birthday celebrations lasted. We did not have a time limit. Several American parents thought that was unusual,” Karmo said chuckling.
Being an immigrant parent, I feel like I’m a work in progress in terms of my family. Absolutely, I frequently discuss Black history with my children. But, as a person with a foot in two worlds, I have wished I could have raised my children close to my family. Nonetheless, my children are keenly aware that their two immigrant parents wish them to strive for excellence and live the finest American life possible.
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