As I grew up mixed race, I have experienced several instances in my life that made me question my identity. My mother’s ancestors originated from Czechoslovakia and my father is a Kenyan native; which makes me, in essence, a beautiful mix of white and black. When people look at me they never guess THAT. “Are you Dominican? Caribbean? Do you speak Spanish? Did you grow up here?” and many more obscure guesses. I would then exhale and kindly explain my European and African blood.
In primary school, students tend to navigate their way to the others who look like them and form their friend groups based on that population. Growing up mixed, I never chose a set group but drifted between multiple. Often I found myself lost at sea, as each island felt too confining. Why can’t I be white if my hair is a little crazy? Why can’t I be black if Im not loud? Why is the way I speak too white for you? Do I have to wear those sneakers to be black?
I would have periods of time where I was ashamed to call myself half white, as I don’t appear to be. And then there would be days where I shy away with calling myself black, as I didn’t feel secure enough to claim such a powerful identity. I quickly grew out of this stage and decided to proudly own up and share what I am.
My father came to the United States when he was 21 years old, leaving behind his entire family. My grandparents came to stay with us for several months when I was in kindergarten. Although I was young, the memory of them left me with the ambition that pushed me to one day, visit my “fatherland”. Every year growing up, I would pray and wish that we would be going soon, but the day never came. Buying a round trip for one person is extremely expensive; let alone for a family of four, while still raising and providing for everyone. I never held it against my family for not taking us because I was aware of the circumstances. That’s when I decided, I was going to save up, persevere and embark on a adventure to meet my family. Working two jobs in high school paid off. I cried, smiled and danced as I booked my trip that would change my whole life.A note I wrote when I was 9 years old in a little journal I kept & has been on my wall ever since.
I thought it was time to find out how my ethnicity makes me WHO I am. I am simply not black. Despite Americans labeling us as all the same. I am strictly not African, as our president likes to think we all come from “shithole” countries. I am Kenyan, and even with that, I am simply not just Kenyan. I am a Kamba. Kenya is made up of 44 tribes and counting who all have their own origins, culture, history and life. It is important to recognize these intersections of who we are and give them the recognition that they deserve.
Time passed and it was December 26th, 2017. The day I had waited for, for years, had finally came. Filled with anxiety, yet excitement; I boarded for my first solo flight from Boston to London. This was my first time leaving the country completely alone. Accents from all over the world awaited for my curious ears, as I was welcomed to London for a long layover. As I sat at the gate for my flight to Nairobi, my destination, I was welcomed by Kenyan accents, smiles and glances that comforted me. I arrived in Nairobi after leaving Boston more than 24 hours before. Exhausted, jet-lagged, and… THAT’S MY AUNT!!!! We instantly locked eyes and jumped into each others arms. Tears of happiness, relief and disbelief that we were finally together flowed everywhere. This feeling that I could not identify, surfaced above my exhaustion. This is why I came. And this is what I felt after embracing the numerous of uncles, aunts, cousins, Great Uncles and Aunts and of course, my dear grandmother. We meet again, more than 10 years later, but the love. You could really feel it. The love is still there, as it is forever. And so we danced, we prayed, we conversed, we laughed, we cried, we ate, we traveled, we embraced and appreciated, throughout the whole 3 weeks I was there. It was enlightening. I was able to identity where I get my curiosity of the world from. My compassion for others. My mindset that’s filled with growth and determination. My wanting to do better and to never settle. I found those same passions in every family member I got to know. It was overwhelming to be in a room and to feel like your surrounded by nothing but grace and love. To not be lost at sea. To have your dreams and visions validated. To be uplifted and not judged. The spirit of the Nzuki family is strong.
I was fortunate enough to not only explore Nairobi and the neighborhood that my father grew up in, but also journey to my Grandparent’s farm that he and his siblings spent a majority of their time on. We spent the majority of our energy on reflection and gratitude, as we were met by the graves of my late grandfather and uncle. To meet my grandfather again like this was overwhelming. His presence was powerfully there; as we all spoke about his legacy through laughs and cries. As I never got the chance to meet my late uncle, I felt him there too. In fifth grade, when I found out he had passed, a man I never met, but my uncle; I broke down in class. Full of sorrow; that push to never feel that heavy weight again was another motive as to why I was there.
From the farm house porch
Scenery from a drive
My uncle, cousins & I on a walk on the farm land
I was also blessed to venture to the country’s coastal side, Mombasa. The humidity seeps into your skin as you exit the train but you are instantly welcomed by the strong culture and warmth. It was my first time my skin had met the Indian Ocean. It welcomed me with refreshing salt and a solace touch. Nothing quite similar to the dark and cold Pacific Ocean back at home.
Mombasa’s palm trees blowing in the wind
My cousins and I leaving church one Sunday.
The final goat was slaughtered and it was time to celebrate before I went home. EVERYONE came over. We sang, danced, laughed and cried together for one last time until the next. I slowly packed my bags, as I couldn’t believe 3 weeks passed before my eyes.
As I held back my almost protruding tears back and held the very little composure I had at the airport, I handed my passport over for one final inspection before I boarded. The mistress looked at me, looked down at my name, and then smiled up at me. “Nzuki” (my last name), she said, “a Kamba, right?”. My heart instantly warmed. I felt accepted, secure and understood. I gave her a genuine smile while I exclaimed “yes!” in disbelief that someone knew who I was. “We’ll miss you, safe travels!” she kindly said back. In that instant, it hit me. This is home.