Children of Kenyan Immigrants will not be Kenyans

Tue, 04/14/2015 @ 12:36am 41 views 16 comments

Comment 16

I will not bore you with statistical research, but one thing is for sure; the last two decades have seen an unprecedented number of Africans immigrate to the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia. A good number is slowly settling in the UAE, China, Japan, Russia and South America. A large proportion of these African immigrants do so in search of education and others for greener pastures, already highly educated from their countries of origin.

One other thing is that a significant number of the immigrants are young people or young families. Once settled in their new cultures, they do what is necessary; those without families court each other, get married and start families.

Even as the new immigrants face their unique challenges as “invisible immigrants,” their children face an even tougher challenge.Where do the children belong; their parents culture or the new culture they grow up in?

They attend local schools where they find, like in the case of the USA, that the society they live in is a “tossed salad,” where people of all colors, races, creed, and regions have created a seamless co-existence. The children find themselves as minorities among minorities, more invisible than their parents.

They soon realize that they fall under the amorphous tag of “African Americans.” But wait, there lies the issue. There are “True” African Americans; you know them- Chris Rock, Ice-T, Tryvon Martin, Malia Obama-you get the gist. Our Kenyan-American children do not fall into this category.

Their names sound different, like Joe Mark Kamau, or Alice Nasieku. Their parents love chai, muthokoi, githeri, ugali, chapatti, kienyeji, and uji while their dads adore nyama choma. Their friends at school prefer pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and mac-n-cheese. How do you tell your grade four desk mate that last night you had Ugali na  sukuma wiki without sounding crazy?

Their parents love watching Paul Mwai, Loise Kim, Emma Kosgei, Jimmi Gait, Nonini, Nameless and Wahu on You Tube. For the children; Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Jay-Z and Beyonce will do.

By high school they realize that their African American peers do not like them. They are not American enough. Their white peers prefer them because most of them are mellow, likeable actually. They are not brash like their black colleagues. So you see their identity is under the society’s microscope every day.

While they know they are different from other black Americans, this ethnic difference is not obvious to other people they encounter. It is only when people look closely at how they walk and talk that they realize they are not like other black Americans.

Most often they have lost their parents’ accents but have not yet adapted the African American slang. What a dilemma? And you know sometimes you need to check a box when filling some forms to indicate whether you are white, Hispanic or Black American. How do you speak when you are with “real” black American friends and then you have white friends to deal with.

Talk of language multitasking-code switching the same language- if there is something like that.

What if your parent find you with a group of your friends and start chatting you up in Swahili, Kiembu, or Kimaasai? As a teen, you would pray that the earth opens up and swallow you that moment.

Most first generation African immigrants’ children are very well educated, according to research. This has been attributed to their parents themselves being educated or having been brought up to respect good educational papers.

Both mom and dad, even though busy with two or three jobs, are by any standards doing very well financially.

Back in Kenya, they send a combined Ksh. 70 billion per annum. They are some of the ones building those shiny apartments in Thindigua, Kitengela and along Thika Road. But for whom are they building them? As they get busy negotiating for “plots” in Shanzu, Syokimau, and Kisaju, their children are busy joining American colleges and universities, and believe you me, they are doing very well in school.

Soon they will graduate, Samna-cum laude. They will start building their own careers. They will soon start their own families, they will settle in middle class suburbs. They will not buy land in Shanzu, Kitengela and Kisaju. They will not cook for their children chai, ugali, githeri and kienyeji. They will not understand a word of their mother tongue. Their “Kenyan-ness” will have long dissipated.

Their parents will be retirees. Maybe the parents will have long relocated back to their shiny apartments in Thindigua, Kitengela and along Thika Road.

Who will inherit their daily farms, their matatus, and their shiny apartments? Definitely not a fully accultulated American citizen busy building a life very far from Miti Mingi or Mwisho Wa Lami.

You see for these children, Kenya is the place where mom and dad came from, not where they themselves will go back to. They are here to stay. They may not be Americans, they are not African Americans, but when they visit Africa, they realize how American they are.

By Peter Gaitho |

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