Throughout the process of collecting literacy narratives from 1.5 and 2nd generation Black Columbus immigrants our group has learned more about the ways nontraditional forms of literacy can affect one’s identity, especially those who straddle the line between multiple cultures. By hearing first-hand accounts of how different mediums like music, television and film impacted our community partner’s identity while growing up, our team was able to get a personal look the way identity and literacy are closely correlated. Our team also learned the ins-and-outs of the interviewing process, scheduling times with a large group of people, and different editing techniques that helped us culminate all of our work into a final presentation.
During the term and length of this research project, I personally was able to learn more about the importance and individuality of personal narratives. I am not Black or an immigrant so most of my knowledge of Black immigrants came from readings, videos or the media. Although I had some close friends who had shared their own stories of growing as a Black immigrant to me, it never went further than a short conversation. However, as I was doing this project, I was captivated by the stories we heard. Many of those that we interviewed were my own friends, yet there were moments where I was learning things about them, I had never known. In certain interviews my friends would open up on a completely different level and became vulnerable in front of the camera and us interviewing them. As a result of this I learned the importance of listening and creating spaces to allow people to share their stories. Even as close friends, I realized there were still topics we did not delve into or feel the need to share with each other.I am reminded of a talk I once heard by a journalist where he talked about how it is not so much as giving voice to the voiceless, it’s giving them a chance to speak and be heard. It was not my research project or group that was uncovering these great realizations or truths of what it was like to grow up as a Black immigrant in Columbus, instead these stories have always been out there, but someone had finally decided to listen to them.
I felt immensely grateful and humbled that I was able to hear these narratives and use them as part of our research project. Being able to incorporate the stories of those close to me made the project even more personal to me and important. Everything I did in the final workings I did it with my friends in mind, who I knew would some of the first to see the project. While editing clips together and analyzing them I kept in mind that these were not just anonymous stories set at a far distance from me. Even though on paper many of my friends and those we interviewed were all 1.5 or 2nd generation Black immigrants who grew up in Columbus, their narratives could not have been more different. While there were common themes throughout, this project also reiterated the fact that all of us carry unique narratives and are not limited to a monolithic story.
Being a second generation child of Black immigrants myself, it was almost expected for me to take this assignment personally. With a sense of relation to the study topic, came a mindset that at first created a mentally preconceived narrative that was likened to my own. Mainly, I thought my experiences as a 2nd generation would be universal to every person interviewed. However, after going through the preliminary assignments and readings, I realized how working by assumptions limits the truths of each person. Each reading text added a new layer to both the interviewing process and essential factors to notice while the interviewee is speaking. The first interview exposed me to how big of an impact perception has on a person’s identity. While I was aware that identity is the main focus of our research, I was not aware of how assimilation to Black-American culture was a determinant of feeling “Black,” despite being from another country or having immigrant parents. Having grown up in a different environment, my perception and level of blackness were never questioned due to how ingrained I was in both cultures since I was young. With that said, the common theme of straddling the line in terms of ‘Africanness’ and ‘Blackness’ was something that was all too relevant to me. With this research topic being relevant to my own life, I still had a pride within that I would be able to understand where everyone was coming from or almost expect what route they would take with their interviews through how they answer the questions. However, to my surprise, I gained knowledge and was educated throughout the interviewing process. Whether it was the history of my own country, Ghana, or the Black diaspora and how they connect to the continent of Africa, the interviewing process was a huge eye-opener for me. The value of the arts as a form of literacy was so often mentioned that it makes me want to do research on the single topic as well. After going through every interview, I can honestly say I was not expecting a lot of the things I heard from the interviewees. Each person’s outlook varied, and while some of these people were friends of mine before this experience, I was able to see a different spectrum of them through the video lens. Being able to gain insight on each person expressed literacy will and forever be a testament to the importance of not aligning myself to a single story, especially if it is my own.
When I came into this class, I was fairly confident that I would know mostly everything we’d be talking about. As a black 2nd generation immigrant myself I assumed that I already had the answers. I thought I would interview people, upload the videos and then be done with the class. But I am happy that I was very wrong. I think something that was extremely interesting to me was that I learned to listen closely to people. In a lot of instances, we try to control where conversations go. There’s nothing wrong with that, but being conscious of the words I’m using to ask questions and allowing people to speak until they have nothing else to say was a very eye-opening experience for me. I noticed I have a talent for listening and tried to implement that concept more into my everyday life. With the readings, it was exciting to see how the concepts we were learning about directly impacted our analysis and work with our target group. The readings helped me decipher all of the data we had found and give it meaning. Also, I learned that the community of 2nd/1.5 Black Columbus immigrants is so diverse. Even when we interviewed people who were from the same country, we got vastly different answers on certain topics such as how they learned their language to what their home life was like. That’s why I feel as though the interviews we collected and analyzed are so important. Even though it’s been over twenty years since the first “surge” of black immigrants into this country, there’s been so little research done on what their kids have experienced. From our interviews, we learned that even though adult immigrant stories and these 1.5/2nd generation stories had some overlap, this population of 1.5/2nd generation immigrants have things that only they’ve experienced. This generation of 1.5/2nd generation immigrants are practically adults on their own now and having information about them out there so the general public can understand them better is important because it allows us to understand each other better. Our stories deserve to be heard and I feel like our work has helped provide some information to the world that can help fill that disparity.