The Misidentification of Evelyn Ngugi
I’m an in-betweener. A shape shifter. A people pleaser. When someone asks, “where are you from,” my response is “what do you mean”. My next answer depends on who’s asking. Who am I trying to identify with & what do they expect me to say? I am here to be relatable. I am one of you. Please like me.
At times I feel that the first generation American experience is shaped by the quest to be “authentic”. It’s an impossible standard to reach because it’s a problematic notion to buy into. Who is authentically African? Who is really Black (American)? And who the hell am I???
To the middle-aged Ethiopian taxi driver, I definitely look Kenyan. I have no idea what it even means to “look Kenyan,” but I guess he’s right? I have to answer yes, but with a qualifier: I’m not the one from Kenya. It’s my parents. I’d feel like I was lying otherwise. Every taxi driver – Somali, Ethiopian, Nigerian, it doesn’t matter — they all guess correctly. How do they even know to guess? I don’t care, because the ride’s always nicer (sometimes free! Rarely though.) because I’m an African sista.
To the long bearded, loc’d up guys in the black student association meeting in Brazil (I studied abroad), I was noticeably more worthy of inclusion in conversation because I wasn’t “regular” Black American. I don’t know why I had the strong urge to play the non-American card. Maybe it was because they had an extremely afrocentric aesthetic, moreso than black student associations in the U.S.? I was a foreigner and just wanted to fit in. “Where are you from,” they asked. They expected me to say a U.S. state. But I hit ‘em with the “my parents are from Kenya” in my best Portuguese. Instant smiles. Head nods of approval. East Africa. They all pointed to it on the huge map of the Motherland plastered on their wall. I’m so in.