“My children, I want them to realize that when you are in my home, our home, you really are within an African context.”
Thanks to the documentary film, “Am I: Too African to be American or Too American to be African?” directed by the incredibly talented filmmaker Nadia Sasso, I am inspired and I am encouraged!
“Am I?” speaks to the core of those of us who are continually negotiating our identities, and those of us who find that “where we come from” is a very subjective idea that can connote many different associations all based on where we find ourselves, or how we find ourselves, in the world at that particular moment. It is a film that speaks to those of us who have ever taken a little longer than a moment to answer that, at times, dreaded question, “where do you come from?” We all know too well how we are never able to really share what feels like is a “real answer” all because we fear being too simplistic if we say we are just American, or we fear being dishonest and having to explain our accents if we say we are just “Malawian, or Ghanaian or Nigerian or Kenyan.” Or we fear the world not completely understanding and connecting with us if we spend too much time explaining how all these elements do actually manage to come together in the emotionality, mentality, spirituality, and physicality of who we are!
I found that one of the most interesting notions the film engages with, and one that really spoke to me and further nuanced how I think about middle space identity (I explain the middle space identity here), is that even within this middle space where most of us children of the diaspora live, there are a myriad of diverse experiences and stories on how we as individuals come to define our identities. You will find in the film for example those who reckon themselves American first, and then their country specific “African”* identity afterwards, and then there are those who first identify with their specific African identify first and then their Americanism afterwards, and then there are yet still those whose definition of what they are is contingent upon what context they find themselves. It is one of the most captivating happenings in the film that just goes to show us how the way we negotiate our identities is not only complex, but is very much an extremely subjective experience that is both culturally inspired and has both patent as well as obscure political insinuations.
Without giving too much of the film away, as I might have above, there are a couple of other moments that were extremely impressionable in the film that I want to share before I leave you to go and watch the film for yourself! Again, it’s extremely fascinating in “Am I?” to hear how the individual processes of accepting the coming together of many different cultural identities was so different for all the individuals that were sharing their stories. But of course there were also plenty of relatable moments which speak to all of us. This includes this idea that was reinstated in us by our parents that no matter how long we live outside of the borders of our home countries, outside the borders of Africa, they (our parents) were forever going to raise us the African way. Y’all remember those moments too well huh? Fighting with your mom and the first thing she would remind you is how you are not American and as a result, should not be expected to be treated as one. And of course there was that difficulty of coming to age with our African identities as a result of the ways in which the African continent and African peoples were presented and represented both by media and by the books within the classrooms we grew up in! And we can’t forget the shared misunderstandings between Africans and African-Americans which are result of imperialistic conceptualizations of the black body. I mean y’all remember the questions “how many monkeys have you killed? Do you live in trees in African?” “Why are you so black?”
These everyday realities on the complexities of identity negotiation are reflected throughout “Am I?” and are worth a semester long course because what I shared here does not even come close to the power that is the film. For more information on the film, check out amithefilm.com Go and watch this film, and don’t forget to share your thoughts! Unravel Away Artist!
*I use the term African not as a means of being simplistic or choosing to forget the diversity and differences that are the 54 great countries on the continent, but to simply to allude to the so called “African” similarities that were shared amongst the many stories in the film. The individuals sharing their stories came different countries of the West Africa region.