Lives in Me...
This is the blog I have been waiting to write since the Afrimerican Culture Initiative was formed over 2 years ago. A blog about the journey from the dark into the light. A journey back to your roots in Africa via the Africa that lives in you...lives in your DNA...
Afrimerican Culture initiative devised the 'Connect IV' program to be a pathway for those in the African diaspora to make this journey 'back to Africa', alas, this blog and a series of connected workshops will give one lucky winner this opportunity to connect. To many a dream too far away and way too expensive to realize, now someone will find out what lives in them.
So as God would have it, a few months back I happened to meet a truly beautiful, sweet and humble individual, for the sake of privacy we shall call her Yvette (apparently an alias she once used in her high school French class). After introducing myself and what the Afrimerican Culture Initiative does, I recall her look with particular interest when I spoke of our DNA testing partners, African Ancestry. She quickly informed that she had recently taken a DNA test with African Ancestry and was awaiting her results.
That was when our professional relationship slowly began to turn to friendship, as we both were fascinated with the potential of her NEW reality she was about to experience. In order to do research for this blog, I sent her some questions to answer once her results came in. So I may adequately capture her emotions to communicate to YOU the reader. I must admit the wait for her results had me bursting with anticipation, so I can imagine how she was feeling. Well her results came in last week and she wrote this glorious write up on her experiences leading up to her getting her results. Enjoy!
'With each passing year, I’ve always wondered where my family is originally from. I was no longer satisfied with sharing that my family came from Southwestern PA. It didn’t feel right and didn’t represent me as these towns were predominantly white. My family relied upon incomplete family trees that could only go back as far as my maternal Great Grandmother could recall. I envied individuals who could share their lineage while I could only say that I am African American. There’s no celebration in stating that you’re African American as we continue to exist within a visible framework of white systems.
While at work, I had the opportunity to connect with an African American close friend and colleague and learn about his African Ancestry DNA experience. His warm heart and natural storytelling caused me to do my research about African Ancestry. Most importantly, I was envious of his commitment to furthering his study of his tribe, the language, and the way his people live by making annual pilgrimages to Africa. His spirit and declaration that I too could claim my history renewed my spirit.
I ordered the DNA test from African Ancestry around Christmas 2017. The test was simple. I filled out an identification card with my contact information, followed the directions upon swabbing my cheeks several times, sealed the envelope, and placed it in the mail. Estimated arrival of my results was 6-8 weeks. As I waited for my results, I became very nervous and scared because I had no expectations other to find out what culture I truly was a part of. African Ancestry shared helpful resources via email throughout the duration of my wait to let me know more about the organization, their process, what happens next, and celebrities that have also completed the test.
I didn’t immediately share with my family that I was completing a DNA test. This was by choice because I didn’t want to explain why without having the final results. But with everyone in Boston, I openly shared. My results actually arrived later than expected. Every day, I rushed home hoping that my results had arrived. The delay actually made me feel uncomfortable, more nervous, and doubtful because everyone seemed to be waiting with me. “Did you get your results yet?” “When will you get your results?” “Where do you think your family is from?” These were the questions I was asked. Realizing that my response was I’m not sure, No, or I don’t know made the experience become more unbearable because I wanted to know just like everyone else. I wanted to be able to celebrate and feel connected to something.
When the results finally arrived, I was extremely nervous. I had my boyfriend take photos of me with the package, record the entire process, and also take final photos of me with my certificate. Upon reading the results, I cried as it was a very humbling experience to know that my maternal DNA aligned with the Bamileke people of Cameroon by 99.7%. It wasn’t until I began to do some research about traditions, dance, music, and the country of Cameroon that I was able to feel connected. I feel an immense sense of pride knowing that I can now say that I belong to the people of Bamileke from Cameroon, that I am learning about my culture, and look forward to meeting new people who share the same culture and eventually visiting. This is truly a blessing.'
Needless to say, after reading her write up I quickly called her to ask if I could just copy and paste what she had sent me by email. I had not right to tamper with the genuine emotion she had conveyed to me. Yes, Yvette and I made the adjustments to hide her identity, but apart from that the above is exactly as she sent to me in response to my questionnaire.
When I read Yvette's write up somethings stood out to me...
- She could not identify with where she was from in the USA because it was predominantly Caucasian. There was NO CELEBRATION in claiming African American. She so rightfully claims the lack of pride stem from not living in a FOR US BY US culture but instead 'within a visible framework of white systems'
- Her spark (or moment of realization of her African Cultural void) when exposed to her colleague became more intense and Yvette grew 'envious of his commitment to furthering his study of his tribe' until she began to affirm for herself 'His spirit and declaration that I too could claim my history renewed my spirit.' POWERFUL WORDS!!!
- The DNA testing itself was relatively easy and self-explanatory. The wait was nail biting, but African Ancestry made efforts to educate in the interim. Afrimerican Culture Initiative also see much value in keeping our clients calm and relaxed during this life changing experience, we educate during this time on general African norms and traditions. 'I became very nervous and scared because I had no expectations other to find out what culture I truly was a part of'
- The external environment plays a major part in the experience. Yvette doesn’t tell her family until after she gets the results. The people she openly shared her experience with were constantly adding to her stress (even though it was inadvertent and coming from a good place'. They also were a source of strength, direction and support like her colleague and to some extent Afrimerican Culture Initiative and I.
- The stress of not knowing is significant and extremely emotional, 'the experience become more unbearable because I wanted to know just like everyone else. I wanted to be able to celebrate and feel connected to something.' 'I cried as it was a very humbling experience to know that my maternal DNA aligned with the Bamileke people of Cameroon by 99.7%'
- There is a need to celebrate and document the day the results arrive. So, some sort of impromptu ceremony is recognized, 'I had my boyfriend take photos of me with the package, record the entire process, and also take final photos of me with my certificate'
- After learning about one’s new culture, Yvette was overwhelmed by a desire to research more. 'I began to do some research about traditions, dance, music, and the country of Cameroon that I was able to feel connected. I felt an immense sense of pride knowing that I can now say that I belong to the people of Bamileke from Cameroon'. We at Afrimerican culture Initiative believe that this is vital. We must expose Yvette to as much Africa as we can find here in the diaspora. We use Culture Guides...people from the closest geographical location living here in Boston to continue the 'oral tradition' of education. The guides help to explain and teach vital concepts.
I must say I was truly touched by Yvette's write up and even more inspired by her words to continue to take the message of ethnic identification and cultural self-empowerment to all that would listen and support. We are pleased to report that not only does Yvette want to visit her native country, she wants to adopt a name of her choosing from her Bamileke tribe of Cameroon. She wants to be finally recognized for the Africa that lives in her and be called by the name God gave her... and as she simply said its truly a blessing... AMI...