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Opinions of Thursday, 31 May 2007

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Identity Crisis - The Dilemma Of Ghanaian Immigrants.

Torn between cultures and continents, our children do not really know where they belong and don’t appreciate the sacrifice their parents made for them.

WITH THE STRESS-filled, busy, hectic, tough, tiring, demanding, mind-numbing, energy-sapping ,interrupted-sleeping environment , our minds are somehow constantly go back and forth, to recall memories back home in Ghana .By and large as immigrants, we’ve lost the sense of belonging and identity, but can our children ever truly understand what their immigrants parents have lost? Remember, we’re talking about the generation which hates waiting. Virtually, everything they want is either a phone call or a mouse click away. So how can they fathom the hardships, sacrifice and sometimes, tragedy most of us were forced to endure to provide the comfort they take for granted today?

Foreign-born children are the recipients of a windfall of opportunities that our generation and one before us never had. Because of the tremendous sacrifices made by us, most of our children now have the luxury of not having to worry about putting food on the table, clothes on their back, or a roof over their head. These children have picked up values at random which they learned from their surroundings, associates and newly-found culture—these values sometimes cause much pain, disappointment and discomfort. With all that baggage can we really count on them to carry the Ghanaian Heritage? What’s important to them? Are they going to walk alone or try to bring others along? Are they equipped to lift Ghana from its economic doldrums or shun it completely? What is their sense of appreciation?

As Ghanaian immigrants in the Diaspora, our children are more American, Briton, French, Dutch or Canadian than we their parents are. But, in reality they have inherited a sense of exile from parents. As parents we’re culturally displaced and our children are literally, forced to grow up in two worlds, simultaneously. They’re struggling to reconcile their new culture with their African heritage. And that is creating a lot of friction within the Ghanaian immigrants’ homes.

Ask ten Ghanaian immigrants at random of their memories back home, in Ghana and seven of them can paint a vivid picture for you. The images of home reverberate on a continent far, far away. The fragrance of a Ghanaian dish or a trip to an African grocery store can easily take you into a market day in your town in Ghana. Listening to a Ghanaian music or watching DVD movies from Ghana can transport you back home instantly. The truth is the hearts of Ghanaians immigrants living in the Diaspora, are still trapped in their youthful days in Ghana. In our quest for ‘better life’ ,our loved ones have been lost, friendships fractured and punctured and new triumphs like births and educational attainment are celebrated ‘.alone’— without those that really matter. I don’t know about you, but as a Ghanaian immigrant I sometimes, feel these conflicting emotions .I know I’m not alone, but few have been able to articulate their feelings of ‘loss, ’longing’ and neither have their foreign-born children really understood what they have sacrificed as parents and for what !

The Ghanaian immigrants are not only caught between cultures and continents, but they have come from half way across the world, leaving loved ones and a lot of good and bad memories behind. The majority of our foreign-born children also have their own unique issues to deal with. They’re struggling to find their own identity and balance their two worlds. They may never visit Ghana and they may try as much as to disassociate themselves from any Ghanaian culture, but they can’t break away as long as their parents struggled to sacrifice for their success in their so-called’ new home’.

The first and second generation Ghanaian immigrants—call them Ghanaian-American ,Ghanaian-Briton or what ever hyphenated name you want—face many similar conflicts in their own way. In some cases, the small part of the second generation Ghanaian immigrants are torn between family allegiance and choice. The most “obedient” ones sometimes do things to please their parents and meet their expectations. They also want to meet the expectations of their peers, in their countries of birth. But, there is always a conflict when it comes to things like: dating, living on ones own, having close friendships with the natives and selecting careers of one’s own choice. These things have been the cause of tension in some Ghanaian immigrants’ homes. Sometimes, the tension is exacerbated when these children’s Ghana part is unacknowledged and therefore negated by the host country’s uncompromising environment, and vice versa.

In most cases, Ghanaian immigrant parents are very fearful and suspicious of their “foreign-cultures”, which their offspring are forced to consume. Their children maintaining ties to African culture in general and Ghanaian culture in particular and preserving Ghanaian traditions in a foreign land, means a lot to them .This is a big issue because as parents we sometimes, feel like and treated as foreigners, no matter how long we stay in our new country. Unfortunately, our newly-minted acquired citizenship can not change the feeling of being an ‘outsider’. So we do struggle to hold on to our ‘identities’. However, our foreign-born children will never understand us or sympathize with us. They think of our ’predicaments’ as an indirect opposition to the reality of the world in which we live. We sometimes have difficult time getting our children to embrace our values. They hear us but don’t fully appreciate the message because they haven’t experienced the hardships, pains and other things we endured.

But, whether or not our children will maintain our culture depends largely on how we brought them up and how much they cherished the sacrifices made for them. The experience of being torn between one’s home country and the host country is not uniquely Ghanaian. It transcends many other cultures. For us, sometimes the disquieting memories of home and the hostile environment of our new home makes it very difficult –as first generation immigrants—to wonder if we really make the right decision to leave Ghana.

For traditional –bound Ghanaian immigrants, the challenges of the exile, the loneliness, the constant sense of alienation, the knowledge of and longing for a lost world are more explicit and distressing than for our children. The crisis of identity is more pronounced with the children. Most of these children can’t answer a simple question of:”where are you from?’ Can you blame them? How can they answer,”Ghana”, a place where they were not born and probably never, never lived? And, sadly, they can’t comfortably claim ‘citizenship’ of the country of their births when they know very well that their parents are also struggling to come to terms with their own sense of belonging, despite their new-acquired citizenships.

It’s a predicament all of us are struggling to deal with. We hardly discuss this at the dinner tables, but can we denial this profound question? With your newly –minted acquired citizenship, can you ‘comfortably’ say that you are a citizen of your new country? If you can not honestly say,’yes’ then there is a need to build some bond back home, as an emotional insurance policy.

As for our ipod- children—who are very busy trying to measuring up to their peers—have they recognized what their ‘new assignment’ at this point of their lives? What are their obligations to the folks we left behind and the country we love so much? Certainly, these are very difficult questions to answer. But, until they realize that they stand on the shoulders of ‘Giants’ who dedicated the better part of lives for their future, they will continue to wonder and struggle—just like us— for Identity and sense of belonging which even the superficial symbol of new citizenship or minted ‘foreign passport’ can not fulfilled.

So when you whip out your newly-minted foreign passport in public or at the airports, what does it say about you? You know who you are—you might think:”I’m an important person because I have different nationality and I don’t need a visa to get to my destination”. But the people around you might be thinking:” Look at him. He’s lucky!” And, some of them will look at you with disdain, just for seeing you with a foreign passport.

With all that attention you seek and get at Kotoka, with your passport, can you honestly say (with no reservation) that you’re a ‘citizen’ of your host country and, that you’re no more a ‘Ghanaian’? Your answer will betray your Ghanaian part, which is unwilling to negotiate with your new status.

Don’t get me wrong ! I am not against naturalization. All I’m saying is that since we can not honestly disown our Ghanaian part, we should try to maintain our heritage and teach our children how to incorporate that with their new culture. Sometimes, our tendency to focus on superficial symbol like foreign passport, as a measuring stick of ‘achievement’ can camouflage our deep sense of identity crisis.

Personally, I think our efforts to sacrifice for our children are not in vain because Ghana now has ‘future representatives’ in the western world. But, can they secure a future of prosperity and success for Ghana and hope for our old age? Are you there? Stop scratching your head!

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA
*The writer’s a social commentator and the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Educational and Apprenticeship Foundation, for the youth of Asuom, in the Kwaebibrim District.


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