Where are you really from?

By Amina Mamaty | 3/27/13 7:09pm

“Asking questions is not always a sign of ignorance, but sometimes the best way to show curiosity. As I often say, I do not mind answering questions at all. No one will ever know everything on this planet, so let’s stay humble. Nevertheless, I have to admit there is a specific one that keeps on leaving me flabbergasted. “You’re black, how could you be French? You don’t even have a French accent.”

I usually take a deep breath and make sure I answer in the nicest way possible. Before I answer the question, let me explain to you why this specifically bothers me. First of all, it seems like the person I am talking to is questioning my identity and thinks I am lying. Two, they want me to justify myself, like I did something wrong. Finally, no one likes being contradicted.

There are better way to ask. “What is your background?” or “Where are you originally from?” would be the best and more appropriate. Now here’s to the story of what, how and why.

My parents were born in Africa. My mother was born in Mali (West Africa) and my dad is from The Republic of Congo (Central Africa), two places very apart from each other. When they were younger, my grandparents sent them to France to go to school. They happened to meet in France, in college, through a mutual friend, and a few years later, they got married and had my brother and I. Coming from two different places, they never spoke anything but French to each other at home. French is actually the primary language in Congo and Mali but they also speak dialects.

I was born in Paris and spoke French all my life. I’ve never had to question myself about who I was. In France, my color defines me as Malian and Congolese. In the United States, I define myself as French because it is the only culture I know everything about and can relate to. My education was based on respect and family, which are two important traits in the overall African culture, but my parents never attempted to raise me the African way.

When I meet somebody who was actually born and raised in Africa, they expect me to tell them that I am from Mali and Congo. When I say France, I get a “Where are you really from?” Little did they know that I am what I say I am. My heart will always be French and this is how I will always identify myself no matter what. I have been to Mali once when I was born, and to Congo for three weeks when I was 14, and that is about it. Sometimes, the only thing linking me to my African sisters is that we are black.

I would hate to think those questions are asked out of jealousy, but they say I am too French for my skin color. There will never be such a thing as being too French, my dear. Every individual should be able to decide what he or she wants to be called, if they want to stand in the middle or pick a side. I guess “African-French” is the perfect term for me.

Skin color still remains a non-factor in my world, and in yours too, I hope.

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