WARNING: There will be a lot of reference to all ethnicities. They are nothing more than a description of my relationship with the individuals that represented each one and not intended to be offensive, whether implied or direct. Neither does it reflect my views about any of them. If you are sensitive then it is best not to continue.
What Happened At School
I acknowledge that I did not have the best of friends in primary school but I will admit that they played a huge part in shaping who I am today. Having transferred in the fourth grade a few times in different schools, making and keeping friends was a very daunting task. At first I hung around my Black guys (more Sub-Saharan Africa, not African-American) because it came easily and naturally. After a few days I found myself being ridiculed and scolded by the Caucasian guys in my class. This came as a huge shock because I was a literally just transferred and before I knew it I was already public enemy number 1! What did I do? Who spread rumours of me and what were they? Most importantly, why was it only the Caucasians? The only person I suspected was a neighbour of ours who, to my misfortune, happened to be my teacher and, ironically, Black as well. No other dots connected.
The Victim Approach
There was nothing more embarrassing and shameful than pleading for acceptance into the various groups that were formed during break time. All that needed to happen was for everyone to stand up and go to another spot as soon as I arrived. I literally felt like a black sheep! All this continued for a few days, in fact nearly a week, until I gave up. Two guys came to my rescue, one a native-born Zimbabwean, the other a Zimbabwean of Italian descent. These two very quickly became my best friends and that, I believe, is where a multicultural side of me was born. I say this because I never spoke our native language, Shona at all at home, which would have been a great start to understanding how so many things in our culture work. I was ignorant of a lot of things. I have realized the connection between the language and way of life which in essence is exactly what culture is.
Andy and Edward (the Italian) kind of served as my culture liaisons. To be honest, to this very day I still don’t understand or know what it is I did to have such negative influence, but the Caucasians began warming up to me when they observed my outstanding performance in soccer. Admittedly my guys standing up for me when the need arose played a monumental factor in pacifying my now friends. I will always cherish their friendship, as their deeds will forever be imprinted in the depths of my heart. As the days and weeks passed, slowly but surely I became very close to my Caucasian friends, so much so, that they ended up being very good friends of mine. I predominantly stuck with them more than any other race. Granted I did have Indian and Asian friends which I was good with too, it is only that I somehow-in a very strange way-was able to relate to the Caucasians more readily and easily than any other ethnicity.
Going Home As Someone Different
The serious dynamics with regards to the Shona culture are amazing. The number of battles I have had to face with my cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents are crazy. Due to the close relationship with each family member, both immediate and extended, there no cousins, nieces, nephews aunts and uncles, basically no extended family. Now those terms are there in the language aside from the fact that there is an exceptionally deep value placed on blood relationships. It was strange to me when my female cousin, the daughter of my father’s brother, told me I was her brother. In my culture her father is my father because they are brothers. The same goes for mothers who are sisters. It gets very interesting when referring to sisters-n-law, how you refer to them depends on the age difference between you and your brother’s wife or his wife’s sister/s. A taste of how it works is broken down here and here.
How Did You Handle All That?
With great difficulty! Having spent the majority of my primary school life not learning anything about the deep parts of our culture, I stayed with what was easier for me-the West. When I introduced my female cousins to each other, since they were my cousins from the sides of both my parents, I told them that they were each other’s second cousin. Needless to say that definitely raised eyebrows! Imagine their reaction if I told them about their great uncles and aunts.
Music, movies and TV shows heavily influenced my cultural views too. For example my stepmother is to be acknowledged as my real mother because she is my father’s wife. I completely disagree with that since it was, still is, and alway will be very confusing just thinking about having two mothers. I believe it was Parent Trap and of course Modern Family that played a part in that. Then there are other points to consider generally with all cultures:
1) The language
2) The way you both address and behave around those older than you, namely, parents, uncles, aunts, all their friends and colleagues, and most importantly senior citizens.
Unfortunately I learned all these the hard way! Thankfully I had friends and some family members show me the ropes in order to avoid further embarrassment. I am not a fan of our traditional meal which happens to be the staple food: Sadza (South Africa- Pap; Kenya-Ugali; Nigeria-various, depending on tribe). The other traditional piece of food I detest is what we call guru which is tripe (cow intestines).
How Are You Multicultural?
I have kept to part of my culture which is appropriately addressing the elderly and behaving the same as well. Occasionally eating the staple food and really only wearing the traditional clothes on Africa day. It does sadden me though that we do not actually have any national attire. The other part of me is South African, European and American. More on that later.