Friday, 12 September 2014 09:49

Who I Am, Who We Are

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"I come from a colourful mess. Parklands – down the road."

We will be the first to admit how problematic the term "Kenyan- Asian" is. Between the 25th – the 27th of April 2014, we had a Bodymapping (BM) session with 5 participants drawn from what we often consider to be Kenyan – Asians. A key part of the discussion was on what we should call this community, if anything different from just "Kenyan."

Suggestions made included;

  • Kenyan of Indian Origin
  • Kenyan of Asian Origin
  • Kenyan Indians
  • Kenindians

As expected the discussion went on a while. However the consensus was that this community is part and parcel of Kenya and as such the 5 participants identified as being Kenyan.

Here are some of the responses to various questions:

What is your origin?

"I come from a colourful mess. Parklands – down the road."

"I always have memories of myself singing at a cottage where I lived. I used to see the (Kenya Bus Service) KBS double decker buses going past from this swing."

"Me being born in Kenya and my grandparents talking about the history of Kenya, politics and history is a part of my history."

"We don't choose whether we will be born in the White House or Kakuma. I was born in Kindu Bay."

Education is an essential part of upbringing and identity.
In the discussion one participant mentioned how there was a decision taken to enroll him at Hospital Hill School rather than the traditional Oshwal Academy. This meant that he interacted with people of different backgrounds and races. The hardest part for this participant was adjusting to the different cultures.
One participant with Indian, Arab and Luo roots found equality through education.

"Education is held in high regard by the Luo. I was light-skinned enough to be adopted by an Asian woman."

He spent a lot of time in the library of the Islamic school he attended.

"I found the stories about Indian gods fascinating because they had moral stories. I found these stories similar to the ones of the Luo community. I was raised by my grandfather who came to Kenya from India in 1917."

Religion also plays a key role in identity.
For one participant, her family moved back to India upon independence because of the uncertainty felt in the country over security and opportunity. She grew up speaking Hindi before her family moved back to Kenya, where she had to learn English and adjust back to living in Kenya. While in India she attended a Catholic convent school even though she was Hindu.

"Coming from a Hindu family and going to a Catholic convent school, it brought a lot of turmoil. I ended up with no fear of religion but an expansive mind of different religions. No fear of conversions but people unified under religion."

This Hindu participant later married a Kenyan Ismail man. She refused to convert to Islam and instead has held on to her religion.

"I would never change, I always was me. It is my identity."

Through the discussion it came out that Kenyan identity is a choice. One participant, who is in her 40s, has recently began to look at India as an option. She is considering it because of the growing level of insecurity in Kenya (carjackings, robberies etc.). Although she does say that it does not matter where in the world, for her, India is an option because she has friends and some family there.

"I am the only one in my family who has never wanted a second passport. This is the first time that I want to go back to India.

"I see myself as a convergence for other people."

It should be noted that until she was 25 years old, she admits that India was the last place she ever wanted to go because she felt no affiliation to the country. This participant had grown up on a coffee farm in rural Kenya. It was only upon the invitation of a friend that she first visited India at 25 years of age.
According to the participants it was interesting to note perceptions about the younger generation Kenyans of Asian origin.

"I grew up being told not to marry a Black or White person, and I was Black. There are different types of half-castes. When I came to Nairobi, I suddenly did not have the pressure to be like anyone else. Today, I go to Village Market and I see interracial dating and it makes me happy because it didn't happen when I was growing up. Being coloured means that you are a minority."

What are the key moments in your life?

Another participant said that her children don't see themselves as being one race over another.

"My children say they don't want to learn our Indian language because they don't see the need for it. They don't see the colours; black, brown, white – that I grew up with."

Of culture and the role it plays in society, this female participant had this say:

"Culture is meant to unite us."

In the last issue of Awaaz, we introduced the "Who I Am, Who We Are" project and our work on looking for a common Kenyan identity. The project run by Xavier Verhoest and Wambui Kamiru, both artists affiliated with the Kuona Trust, seeks to create spaces for expression on responsible citizenship through art. Please visit the project online: www.WhoWeAreKE.wordpress.com

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