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Letters: The Diaspora

2016

There is a kind of loneliness overseas which is truly bad.
— Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo,

These Letters are for you, for me, and for anyone who has ever felt lost. 

Sometime in the last two years, I lost myself. Like the spin cycle on a washer, I couldn’t hold onto anything stable that defined me. In 2004, I had arrived in the U.S., a fresh faced teenager and now I was nearing 30 in the midst of America’s reckoning with its systemic racism and my own grapple with identity as a Black Kenyan immigrant. The trauma of living in a Black body in America was becoming too much. Meanwhile, I had never felt more Black, yet significantly less Kenyan and less African—an unsettling thing when these are the things meant to define you. 

When I talked to my diasporic African friends, we talked often of home. When I talked to my Black American friends we talked often of Blackness. But what we all wanted was the sense of belonging. That the spaces we existed in were indeed our homes; places that would protect, love and nurture us. In 2016, courtesy of the Jerome Foundation’s Travel and Study Grant, I got the opportunity to travel and conduct a series of conversations in place on what home means and who we are as a global diaspora of Black folks. 

The conversations spanned two continents and three countries with individuals who, collectively, have lived in twelve different countries and identify as African. I imagined each of these dialogues as Letters: letters to each other as Africans, letters to the things we want to remember and the things we have forgotten. Letters to the people we have been and the ones we want to be. With each Letter, I asked the question, “What does home mean to you?” The answers, though not always direct, were illuminating. 

*A special thank you to every single person who made the time to sit with me, whether formally or informally in the creation of these letters. And to Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo’s seminal book, Our Sister Killjoy: or Reflections from a Black-eyed Squint, that gave me the truth I knew had always existed.