An Ode to Pan-Africanism
By Gyana Guity
Discussed: domestic abuse/violence
This poem is dedicated to culture, lost identities, and the truth that it’s never too late to connect back to your roots that were taken away from you.
My grandmother is a beautiful Garifuna woman, who sacrificed everything for her children. She wrapped her identity inside her arms, and led herself across the Caribbean sea until she found the United States. She started her life again with my grandfather in New York City, creating four Garifuna children. One of them was my mother. My mother, born speaking a language of colonization, only had Spanish to connect her back to Honduras. The bridge that connected her to Garifuna culture was soiled when my Grandmother made the decision to not pass down our true language. And with that decision was also the rejection of celebrating Honduran traditions and Garifuna holidays. My mother would joke Sometimes, saying that we were just an African-American Family who learned to speak Spanish fluently. Born from a Honduran woman and a Jamaican Man, I was the only one in the family to be a “cool mix”. I had Jamaican Culture in my left hand, and Honduran culture in my right. But if you were listening closely, you would remember that my family didn’t pass down much Honduran culture. My mom didn’t pass down her Spanish, so I was now a “cool-mix” who knew nothing but English. I didn’t eat or know any Garifuna dishes, and I didn’t even know where Honduras was on the map. It felt like an insult to Honduras to even say I was from there. But this taught me something very important: that borderlines didn’t create your culture. Your personal experience did. I was also a child born from my mother’s hatred, Hatred for a country I had no choice of being connected to. Sometimes I wondered if she hated me for having Jamaican blood running through my veins. My only depiction of Jamaican people was my father, and he loved my mom through gifts of black eyes, chokeholds, and constant bruises. He loved her by stealing the money she hid inside of her mattress to afford my baby formula and diapers. He loved her by disappearing on the day she gave birth to me and coming back to threaten to throw me down an incinerator. He loved her so brutally. I had this idea that all Jamaicans were like this because this was all my mother knew. This is all we knew. And from her story, I made a vow to my mother that I would never immerse myself in Jamaican culture. That I would never acknowledge the blood in me that belonged to him because we convinced ourselves that Jamaica was a place of pain and not beauty. It took me years to show any sign that I was Honduran and Jamaican. I would constantly ask myself what made me any different from African Americans, And forced myself to bite my tongue and show some more respect. To be African American means to be stripped of my identity and culture. So disturbingly that it’s become difficult to walk myself back to a specific country of origin. Where the names of my ancestors were lost in the books that tracked all slaves that were transported from West Africa to all across the world. To be African American means that I have to create my own story from the remaining shards of history that I know. The Maroons, Jamaica’s descendants of Africa, were kidnapped settlers from Nigeria and Ghana. I think this is my beginning, just before the Maroons mixed with the indigenous peoples of Jamaica, and created the creole Garifuna and Mascogos cultures. My story is washed away within the Caribbean Sea, and my only way to connect back to my history is with a DNA test or unsympathetic Google results. How could I be proud of my history, when I felt so disconnected from it? I could memorize that Garifuna people were once exiled from St.Vincent and migrated to the coast countries of Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua, but I could not distinguish myself from other African Americans who did not have culture. I was just someone who followed the breadcrumbs left behind. But that wasn’t cultured. That was simply curious, not distinctive. I felt a different kind of freedom when I got to college. I met all kinds of new people, and learned from them. I found myself emerging in Nigerian culture, hearing stories of childhood as I learned to make Egusi soup and Puff-Puff. I met other Jamaicans who had so much to teach me about life back in Jamaica, and how they would personally teach me what culture is like when I told them I had no resonance with my Jamaican side. To see them all together, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Ghanian, Sierra Leonean, Liberian…. It was something I’d never seen before. To feel so proud of where you come from and to know so much about it. To fit so well together. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Seeing this made me so curious, rebellious even, to know more about myself. And this is when I started to break free from a lot of things. A parent is not your culture. And it’s never too late to find what cultures you resonate with. I’m still figuring myself out, which is the beauty of life. And a lot of my thanks belong to so many of you in this room, for teaching me that it’s never too late to learn your culture, your history, and to find where your spirit calls home.
I wrote bits and pieces of this poem in my journal, until they all fit together into a poem that needed some edits here and there. I’m really proud of this piece because of its vulnerability, and I think it shows what I’ve been thinking a lot about this spring semester at college: my identity and story. My sense of belonging, and what I’m learning about myself day by day.
Gyana Guity is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in Bronx, NY.