Every month, I take photos of LJ on her X month birthday. I try to have a special outfit for her that is unique and relevant to that month. I’ve really only been doing this here in Georgia, and I really only started with her 3 month birthday. So there haven’t been many monthly photo shoots, but many are coming – and when there’s stuff in the pipeline, I get to thinking.
LJ is mixed – she’s half Nigerian (meeeeeeeeeee) and half central African (not meeeeeeee). And yes, I do count that as mixed, thank you very much. Having grown up as a Nigerian-derived American citizen, I can assure you that culture is very important and you will feel it when your cultural identity is not homogenous in some way. Anyway. The point is, she comes mainly from two countries – Nigeria and Uganda – that both declared independence from English colonial rule in October in the 60s (’60 and ’62, respectively). While some people in some countries were fawning over the Beatles, other people in other countries were trying to shake off a tether that had no right to have been tied in the first place.
I think about this every year. My wearing of the green, as it were, is only a thing because of England. If they’d never come and meddled on the African continent, I’d only be Ijaw. And, as far as I know, the Ijaw don’t have a color or crest or any other visual identifier. We have our names*, of course; our language and our food; but I don’t think anyone would get it if I symbolically jumped into a pool filled with pepper soup. So now, on this day, I wonder who I am, really. In the face of global superpowers, would neighboring ethnic groups have banded together and formed their own countries? What would those boundaries have looked like? What would the official languages be? What would those identities be?
And speaking of identity – how do I teach LJ about her Ijaw/Nigerian identity while also honoring and teaching her about her Ugandan identity? I know nothing about that part of her. How can I help her be balanced when my own knowledge is a black hole? I did a little research about that side of things while making the baby name list, but I felt woefully out of my depth and unsure that I was understanding and interpreting what I found online, correctly.
For better or for worse, then, it is handy that African nations have these Independence Days. And perhaps rather than thinking of them as European-oriented, I can see them as the beginnings of modern African national identities, as people across a continent deciding who they are and what that means. And that’s very human, isn’t it? It’s stressful to have to do, but it’s also a moment of power, when you decide the old way is dead and you’re going to make something new, perhaps from scratch. In the process of that making, you’ll work with what you have, you’ll decide what compromises you can live with, and you’ll describe yourself as victorious, because you control the narrative. It sounds kinda like sewing something that’s beyond your skill level and then blogging about it, actually. Or like having a baby you weren’t prepared for and moving 1000 miles from home to figure out how to provide for it! (…And blogging about it, hah.)
We’ve already gotten the ice cream we (my parents and I) plan on eating to celebrate LJ’s five month birthday. But I want to do one more thing – I want to make bloomer shorts and a little sash, in the colors of both the Nigerian and Ugandan flags, so she can rep her colors during her monthly photo shoot. I may (currently) know nothing about Uganda, but I do know something about navigating two cultures and telling one’s own story, and that’s what I’m going to teach her to the best of my ability.
*In case you were wondering, LJ’s actual name is indeed Ijaw. She doesn’t have any English name. But in the interest of privacy, I’ve given her an English internet-name because nothing could be further from what I actually call her.