MY FIRST GENERATION EXPERIENCE
My parents and one of my sisters moved to the U.S from Liberia (🇱🇷) in the mid-80s. I am the first person in my extended family to be a natural born U.S citizen. (Strap in for a long one 👓)
- •The historyGoogle will explain this better than I ever could but basically, Liberia was founded by freed U.S. slaves. What most textbooks won't tell you is that, much like the sitch in the US, when "settlers" (in this case freed slaves) arrived in Liberia, native people (who had migrated from Egypt, Mali, etc) already lived there. My family is native, which is relevant to my story because though no slave blood runs through my veins, slavery in the United States completely defined my past and my present.
- •The history IIWhen freed slaves arrived, most of them were severely traumatized. The way our elders tell it, many of them admired slaveowners because they had wealth and status. Because of that, the freed slaves began to replicate the abuse they had suffered on the natives. Most natives were either enslaved or forced servants with little pay and even now, descendants of freed slaves remain wealthy and natives remain unbelievably poor. My parents are natives who wanted a brighter future for us, so they left.
- •The quirksUnless you live in Minneapolis or Providence, chances are you have never met a Liberian-American person, which is a shame because we are quite the quirky bunch. We all are 5'7" and under, we all are in agreement that the moon landing was staged, and most of us eat white rice at every meal. I would describe the accent as somewhere between Haitian and Nigerian. My people love politics, scrabble and soccer. Though we are a coastal country, absolutely NONE of us swim due to a distrust of the ocean.
- •The pressureJust like every child of immigrants ever, I feel immense pressure to make sure that the sacrifices my parents made were not in vain. I have known that I wanted to write and direct television since I was around 7, and when I told my parents they thought I was pulling a prank on them. Not being a doctor or a lawyer was a blow to my family, but they have supported me unwaveringly because they can tell I am dead ass serious about this.
- •The langaugeBecause of our roots, the national language is English. Liberia also has many native tribes with their own languages, so 90% of Liberians are bilingual/trilingual. I am routinely asked if I speak "Liberian" which does not exist and makes me think you don't have internet access. I belong to the Kpelle tribe and am routinely shamed for not being great at the language. But!! Its!! Really!! Hard!! We have words that start with "Gb", silent k's and vowels that sit low in your throat. I can't!!!
- •The tribeThrow away all your prior notions of what being in a tribe is like because they're probably dead wrong. Being in a tribe (to me) just means incorporating your culture in everything you do. Its a commitment to being "actively Kpelle" everyday even though I'm in the U.S, which includes eating the food, wearing the clothes, and listening to the elders. At parties and family meetings, we always start by doing a prayer for the ancestors and even pouring out some beer for them. Yes! That came from us!
- •The strifeBeing Liberian or Liberian-American means getting used to constant tragedy. In my lifetime alone, Liberia has gone through a civil war, famine, and Ebola. Each time we face a new catastrophe, I feel a strong sense of survivors remorse. My family has spent the last thirty years running from their lives in abject poverty, and I've been over here getting a Northwestern education and selling bras at Victorias Secret.
- •The racismI've always known white people looked down on West Africans, but Ebola brought out the worst of it. Every Ebola joke further demonstrated how white people do not see us as people. During Ebola, we were seen as dirty or perpetrators of our own strife. People posted online that the United States should have "let Liberians die off because they did this to themselves", ignorantly forgetting that Ebola spread because families refused to let their loved ones die alone. It was devastating.
- •The futureIn five months, I will be visiting Liberia for the first time. I am nervous that my family will see me as an outsider. I am excited to be in a land where everyone looks like me. I am scared of seeing the dire circumstances my people live in. I grew up in a primarily Liberian community (the Liberian population in MN is HUGE), but I know the "real thing" will be so different than anything I've ever experienced. I am veryyyy anxious about the future, but I have real hope for Liberia.
- •There may be a part II because I have so many stories! Hope you enjoyed and maybe learned something. (This is me and my sisters in some traditional Liberian clothing at graduation)