The Idea of “Foreignness”
During our interviews, one of the biggest observations we had was whether our participant was born here or came here at a very young age, they felt like they were “foreign”. Many times when we had conversations with them about their identities, many touched on the idea that even though they may be American citizens they are not truly “American”. One of our participants, Yewande, specifically touches on how her mother told her she’s not Nigerian-American but instead a Nigerian in America. The language our participants use to describe themselves avoids placing their American identity over their African one.
In “What It Means To Belong” by Kristina Simonsen, a case study focused on Muslim 2nd generation immigrants to Denmark, they talk about a similar phenomenon, with the participants in that study being much more comfortable identifying with being an immigrant and their parent’s country than calling themselves “Danish”. Similarly, many of our participants were much more literate in English vs. their parent’s home language but still seemed more comfortable being called “Nigerian” or “Ugandan” over “American”. In the same Simonsen study, participants felt that they were “othered” by Danish society and much more readily accepted into the cultures of their parents than the majority Danish one and that’s why they felt more comfortable identifying with those cultures. Another one of our participants, Sam, talks about how when she came to the US she had a hard time getting along with other African Americans, despite also being black. Stereotypes of Africans “othered” her and acted as a barrier between her and other Americans, despite being the same race.
Hierarchy of Language
Another observation we had as a group was how literacy in certain languages was valued by our participants. All of our participants are fluent English speakers and many are also fluent in another language or at least grew up around another language. Many of our participants describe how the language they learned from their parents are often associated with being ties for them with their home culture. In “Multilingualism and identity: articulating ‘Africanness’ in an American high school” by Liv T. Davila, she talks about how the African immigrant students she interviewed view their native languages as a “home resource”, something that connects them to other immigrants like them. One of our participants, Sara, talks about how in the Sudanese community, knowing Arabic is seen as someone connecting with their Sudanese roots.
English instead is viewed in a very different light by our participants. It’s viewed as a necessary language while living in America, but there are many conflicting opinions on the language and having to speak the language. Sam and Prosper both mention how it was implied in Uganda that if you spoke English your family was “well off” and educated. Here English is not only a valuable resource but makes you seen as a more valuable resource. Sometimes English and the native tongue are at conflict and one must be sacrificed for the other to exist. Anthony is a unique case because he had trouble learning how to speak as a child and so his parents were told to only speak to him in English. Yewande, on the other hand, felt she had no trouble balancing English and Yoruba. Each participant’s experience with balancing the languages was unique but each had their own struggles.
Connection Through the Arts
Whatever their language skills, many of our participants found the arts helped them connect with themselves and their culture. Neil Swapp in his article “Creativity and Academics: The Power of an Arts Education” talks about how students being connected to the arts helps their self-confidence and self understanding. Brenda talks in her video about how becoming literate in creative writing helped her develop a voice when she didn’t feel like she had one after moving to America.
For many of our participants, the arts acted as a bridge between them and American culture. Naniel describes how she dances quite a bit and she finds it interesting how African-American culture and African culture exchange through dance.
The Arts seem to allow our participants express themselves and connect with others in ways that traditional literacy just does not allow.