What Is a Diaspora
Diaspora is a word that is used to describe a group of people who are not in their homeland. The African diaspora can be defined as people who are of African descent but do not live on the continent.
The African diaspora is a term that is frequently misunderstood. It’s often thought of as a term reserved for the descendants of slaves. In reality, it refers to all African descendants. Regardless of whether or not your ancestors were slaves, if they’re from Africa, you are part of the African diaspora.
I’m three years into my journey abroad, and I’ve begun to notice something strange. I feel out of place among my brothers and sisters around the world.
It’s weird to see someone who looks like me yet we’re unable to communicate on the most basic of levels. It’s even stranger to try and converse but have to resort to a third-party language.
My mother tongue is English, and the African people I meet abroad usually speak the language of their forefathers. Here in Spain, we find our common ground in Spanish.
Anyone who speaks Spanish can tell you that it’s not overly elaborate. It doesn’t provide the same depth of expression as English.
That’s a problem for me because I often want to pick the brains of my brothers and sisters here, but there’s only so far that I can go in a language that is not my own. It creates a disconnect.
Severed at the Roots
As a child, my father would talk to me about how slavery and racism have been the most successful forms of brainwashing ever invented or implemented. The oppressors and the oppressed were both tricked into believing the same lie.
In my opinion, the most egregious crime of that entire period of history is the deliberate severing of family trees.
My father and I would often have deep conversations about the plight of our people. He spoke to me about the disconnect that exists amongst Africans, African-Americans, and every other person of African descent around the globe. It wasn’t until I arrived in Spain as a grown man that I fully grasped the significance of his words.
There was one thing he would say to me that remains at the forefront of my thoughts to this day. If everyone had to pack their bags and return to their ancestral homes tomorrow, most African-Americans would be homeless.
That statement always stuck with me because it reflects an innate desire to know your history.
Yes, we came from Africa, but where? And if we tried to go back tomorrow, would we even be accepted?
Where Do I Fit in the African Diaspora?
I hate that I am not 100% certain of which part of Africa my ancestors descend. When people ask me where I’m from, all I can offer is, New York.
Then comes the dreaded follow-up. “But what are you?” I reply with a simple, “I don’t know,” and that generally ends that portion of the conversation.
I never realized how much it bothered me until I had to answer that question for seemingly the one-millionth time. The best way to describe the sentiment is like having a hole in your soul.
Lavapies is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Madrid. I love going there because I feel a little closer to my roots every time I visit. I love seeing the African diaspora so well-represented in that corner of Madrid.
It fills me with an immense sense of pride to see my brothers and sisters surviving, thriving, and maintaining their roots even though they’re in a foreign land.
As proud as I am, I can’t help but feel jealous on some level. I don’t get jealous because I believe they’re doing better than me or anything of that nature. I get jealous because I don’t belong to any of the groups. So many African countries are represented in that neighborhood, but I have no idea which one is mine.
Whenever I’m there – typically to eat – and someone approaches me speaking in an African tongue, I’m like a deer in headlights. I have no response. All I can do is ask them to say it in English or Spanish.
It’s like a punch in the stomach every time it happens.
I’ve spent so much of the last two years feeling sick and disconnected from my roots. Well, I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and disconnected.
If I can’t connect directly to the roots of my ancestors, I’ll to plant my own.
Building a Bridge
This year, I went on a tour through Morocco. I was extremely nervous about going, but my girlfriend gave me the push I needed (she bought the tickets before I had a chance to change my mind).
It was surreal to place my feet on African soil for the first time. As the first member of my family to return to the motherland, I was doing it for them as much as I was for myself.
I had a wonderful time in Morocco. I camped in the Sahara Desert, and I danced the night away with some performers from a neighboring country.
Our natural rhythms were in sync as we instinctively followed the beat of the drum. They asked me where I was from, and I gave my standard reply.
But this time, it was different. There were no negative feelings on my end. The performers and I were both taken aback at how we had the same rhythm and the same moves. They would demonstrate a dance move and then stand back to watch me emulate it. I did the same for them.
For the first time in my life, I felt a real connection to Africa. It was in my spirit this whole time.
That evening in the Sahara was one of the best nights of my life. I remember lying on my back and staring into the starry night sky as my mind wandered. So many thoughts raced through my head.
I wondered how many of my ancestors had passed through that same desert. How many of them had slept on the same sand that I would be sleeping on that night?
I know that my dad’s side of the family is sub-Saharan, and they’re from somewhere in the northwest of Africa. That’s as far as my knowledge goes on the subject.
For all I know, I could’ve been dancing with some of my cousins that night.
A New Mission
The trip to Morocco helped me begin to fill the hole in my soul.
It also filled me with a desire need to explore Africa even more. When I initially left the United States, I didn’t have a specific goal. I just wanted to experience something new.
Now, I have an objective, and I’m forever grateful for that.
Morocco provided me with so much relief. There was a part of me that believed I’d never set foot on African soil, so now that I’ve done it, a tremendous weight has been lifted.
I don’t know how or when, but I do know that I will see more of Africa in the future. I will find my place among the African diaspora.
As African-Americans, we’re not always cognizant of how our broken family trees impact our lives. I believe that we should all make the journey to Africa at some point.
Maybe you’ll find something that you didn’t even know was missing.
A Jaded ’80s Baby