Monday, July 7, 2008

Umi Says - Mos Def

My mother will act totally nonchalant when she lays eyes on my latest $4 Salvation Army find. Then. . . she'll go in her room, close the door and rejoice.

Who remembers the Afrocentric 90's ? My father had a jacket with kente clothe panels sewn onto the arms. We all thought it was awful. He wore it just because of that fact.

On Saturdays my mother would pack Cornpuddin' and I into our family minivan and and drive us to another elementary school where we attended a camp called "Project A.F.R.I.C.A.". At "Project A.F.R.I.C.A." we sung songs about Africa and made African inspired crafts. (Such as felt kufis ).

I have since forgiven my mother for all that. And I got her back good by falling in love with grunge and skateboarding.

I leave you with a video of one of my favourite songs ever (I'm not sure if this is that official video). "Umi" means "mother" in Arabic. The 90's were strange times. I remember never feeling "black enough" for many of my fellow black classmates. My roots, like many African Americans are fairly untraceable. When I was six, I drew a flag of India for my school's International Day, because it was easy to draw and apparently I have Native American ancestors. . . hence, "Indians", my six-year-old mind thought.

I think that identity is what you make of it. But a sense of self is something which gradually comes with time. Once you get to the right age, you know where you've been and you know where you're going. . . no matter how traceable your roots may be. Be happy with who you are. . . I am.

PS- There is a little girl dancing her heart out at 3:10. That little girl has more rhythm in her little finger than I will ever have in my entire body. I've accepted it gracefully. I am black. I have no rhythm. Shit happens.


K.Line said...

OK, that's hilarious. Just the kind of thing my mother would have done in 1975 - only not about Africa, more about "free to be you and me". And what's even more resonant is that my daughter is in a really cool but, let's face it, totally crunchy granola alternative school where you might have felt right at home :-) For starters, as we live in the most culturally diverse section of the most culturally diverse city in the world, my daughter's class is filled with students from everywhere. So the class celebrates literally every cultural holiday feasible. Like there's practically a celebration every day :-)

But the best is the school's eco (sustainability) proposition. No joke, my daughter's class maintains a garden. And every once in a while they go around the neighbourhood cleaning things up.

It's all about getting are kids to embrace the things that matter to us!

PS When I was growing up, I went to a really tony private school that was as WASPy as could be. And, since my background is Italian and Puerto Rican - not that I live close with either of those heritages in any way, mind you - I always felt out of place. I was always ethnic in a WASPy world or American in Canada etc. Never feeling tied to my past or my present. I wonder if we're all destined to feel "lacking" as kids, if adulthood is about getting comfortable with exactly who we are, not what we think we should be?

ambika said...

Love, love the top. And yeah, the 90s were strange. I remember all of the Muslim wannabes after Malcolm X came out. Strange to think about that in our current political climate.

etoilee8 said...

You're right k-line, it is about getting kids to embrace what matters to us. I'm sure my children (if I ever have any) would have something to say about my hippie dippy ways. I'm banking on it. But you're right having a completely happy childhood is nearly impossible unless you're good at ignoring the outside world a la Ralphie from the Simpsons. I hope my future children don't feel like they're lacking too much. But then again, I think feeling out of place, makes you much stronger in many ways.

And Ambika, it's amazing how far things have come since the 90's. But when I see people excited about Obama, it makes me so pleased!