There was a point in time when nearly every Kenyan desperately wanted an opportunity to settle in the US.
We had seen the movies.
They all did a good job in portraying the very green pastures that awaited us when we finally relocated. Perhaps we had living testimonies of relatives, who had gotten the opportunity to relocate and we could clearly see, how much their lives had transformed since the move. We yearned to be like them.
To go to a place where tribalism did not exist. Where many diseases had long been put in check. Bye, bye malaria! Where an employee’s efforts were duly rewarded with money that actually seemed to cater fully for one’s needs. Where there was gender equality and a man respected a woman’s opinions and allowed her to spread her wings and fly as far as she wanted.
Where civilization had happened eons ago therefore, the environment was way ahead of time as compared to ours. Where education was termed to be of better quality. Where there stood magnificent skyscrapers and spotlessly clean streets lined with well manicured lawns. We wanted to be the envy of our relatives and have them say “so and so is now an American citizen” in our absence.
My parents’ friends, a couple with two young children then, relocated to the US sometime in 1994. I was only 4 years old then but I can clearly remember the wife telling my mum the good news on a visitors’ bench at the Barclays bank, Eldoret branch.
She was even wearing a red dress that has stubbornly remained etched in my mind since. I surprised my mum quite recently, when I reminded her of the dress color her friend was wearing, the day she revealed that she was moving to the US. The land of opportunities. The family settled in Florida and have been there since.
But looking at my mum’s reaction back then I could already tell how much she would have equally wanted our family to be like theirs. I mean, anyone relocating overseas back then seemed successful. Blessed even. Unfortunately, social media hardly existed then and soon after, as much as my parents would have yearned to keep contact with their friends, they went out of contact. Occasionally, my mum mentions them and tries to imagine how they are as of date.
About a year or so later, one of my sister’s primary school teachers, a Mr. Were, relocated to the US with his family. And the reaction at the good news was pretty much the same. How we wished we equally had the same opportunity as them to have our lives transformed. To experience that exposure. We all viewed the US as a land where all our dreams had a sure possibility of coming true.
However, with the recent happenings, I guess we have been forced to rethink our views.
I’m not trying to imply that the US is nowadays uninhabitable. It is still a wonderful place, judging from the stories we hear from people of Kenyan origin, who have lived and worked there. I mean, they eventually got a Black president! One who surprisingly has Kenyan roots! So to some extent, Kenyans feel a deeper connection to this land of opportunities. I’m sure many of us would still want to relocate.
But the sad reality is that, Black people in the US still feel oppressed to some extent. Black men are increasingly dying senselessly at the hands of the police, who are tasked with protecting the citizen whether Black or White. If there wasn’t a problem in the US, then we wouldn’t be having movements such as the #BLACKLIVESMATTER.
From Trayvon Martin to Alton Sterling to Abdi Mohammed of Kenyan origin to Philando Castille to some who never got to be mentioned on the media, with Trayvon, a then 17 year old, being shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012. For the Black people in the US, they are starting to feel as if their kind is being targeted with violence of some sort. And they are increasingly getting pressured to speak up about it hence the Black Lives Matter movement. Just when did the world decide that dealing with a Black person has to be violent?
My intention in posting this is not to spread any form of propaganda. As a matter of fact, I have lived in Kenya all my life therefore, I cannot confidently state that I have valid reasons as to why there are such occurrences in the US recently. However, the world has since become a global village thanks to the internet and we in Africa, are getting to know about the happenings overseas.
We are starting to question whether we will be safe as people of African heritage if we got an opportunity to relocate to say, the United States, for example. Are we going to be appreciated for our heritage or are we going to be lumped together in the racial stereotyping, that a section of backward minded individuals have chosen to allude to?
The United States of America has come a long way in ensuring equality for all. I remember reading a feature on one of those Readers Digest magazines a few years back, where a story from a Black descendant of a Biracial woman in the United States is told.
This Biracial woman was unusually light skinned and could easily pass for White back then. However, due to her Black roots, she was still considered Black and therefore, could not ride in the first class carriage on the train.
The third class carriage reserved for her kind, was uncomfortable and her mother, in a bid to ease her daughter’s torment and have her travel in comfort in the first class carriage, cleverly dusted her face with face powder to try and trick the White train ticketing staff, into thinking she was White.
Her plan almost worked as the employees’ thinking she was White, allowed her into the first class carriage where she traveled peacefully for a while until sleep overcame her. While dozing off, her hat fell off and one of the staff, could clearly notice a line where the face powder began from the rest of her face.
Sadly, she was immediately relegated back to her kind in the third class carriage. Not without castigation and a tongue lashing. The story of humiliation because of skin color, had been passed down to generations and here was her great great grandson, still recounting it to a magazine writer.
I believe the United States of America has since gone past that period where it was an abomination for the races to mix. Black, White and Asian people share transport systems and amenities as equals with no discrimination of any kind. And since this is and has been happening for decades, I believe that whatever is currently happening can equally be put to a permanent halt.
As Africans, we equally have our own political and tribalism issues to take care of and counter. However, we are not blind to what is happening in other nations in the world. We would like to be assured that if we send our children to the United States for higher learning, they are not going to be targeted by some rogue, racist police at a store somewhere and therefore, shot dead at point blank because of seeming suspicious.
It would indeed tear our hearts to pieces just as it has torn the hearts of the families, who have lost their loved ones in recent times and have been left with the sick feeling, that their loved ones’ skin color might have contributed to their deaths. It would make us feel helpless that in our efforts to give our children a better life, we instead unknowingly led them to their deaths.
We still believe that the United States is a land of opportunities, where the likes of Barack Obama Snr were airlifted in the 50s, to get a higher learning education. We therefore hope that a permanent solution shall be arrived at, for us to live peacefully in the world irrespective of our racial backgrounds.