Sunday, December 27, 2009

Authentic Traditions

So whether you know it or not, today is the second day of Kwanzaa. I blogged about it last year and expressed how it feels a bit contrived/made up yet I still see a lot of value in the Kwanzaa principles (Nguzo Saba).

Well, this year, I took a book out of the library on Kwanzaa and even though we don't have a Kinara set up or anything, we're going through each day of Kwanzaa. Today's principle is kujichagulia or self-determination. Or course, if you know me, you know this is one of the biggest principles I'm trying to engender in my own life, i.e. living my life on my own terms and it would be a tremendous blessing if I could pass this principle on to my children.

Anyway, as I share these principles with my children, I still can't shake the feeling that Kwanzaa doesn't feel true to me. I am not African-American. My parents are relatively recent and voluntary immigrants to the United States. I know the geographic location where my family hails from. And I ache for authentic traditions.

My parents, being the staunch Christians that they are, made it a point to avoid all traditional celebrations and holidays. In fact, there are no pictures of my parents' traditional wedding (I don't think they had one) and I'm pretty sure my mother was not pleased that my cousin had her traditional wedding with "all that unnecessariness". I can't say that had we been exposed to our ancient traditions, I would still embrace them today but I feel like a part of who I am is missing.

This is complicated by the fact that although I understand my mother tongue of Igbo, I cannot speak it with any fluency. It makes communicating with my grandmother, who only speaks Igbo, a serious challenge. I feel like she is a treasure trove of information, history and wisdom and I am cut off. I've googled to find an organization of my dad's village people have here in the States. I know that folks are celebrating our traditions but I feel awkward. I don't really know anyone having lived in the States all my life, I don't speak the language and since I'm married, I technically am not from the village my father is from anymore but from the village my husband is from. Since my husband is American, technically/traditionally speaking, I'm from whatever "village" in America he comes from. In fact, because of this I could really only be an honorary member of that organization to which I linked above.

It's kind of frustrating that I should have a direct connection to my history and culture along with the traditions and celebrations but I don't. Do I try to forge one with my strangers from the village my dad comes from? Or do I just suck it up and embrace Kwanzaa as my own? After all, every tradition was made up/started sometime. If we really get into it now and take it seriously, it will be a real tradition for our great-great grandchildren.


blackgirlinmaine said...

I'd say cobble something together that feels authentic for you. I have never celebrated Kwanzaa in the traditional sense though this year, I have a book that we read from every night about the principles. Knowing the background of Kwanzaa's founder along with being a mixed race family, I wouldn't feel right about a full one celebration.

Then again we did a scaled back version of the solstice as well...sometimes there is value in taking concepts we like and piecing them together.

I envy you in that you know where you come from..I have a lot of family members but couldn't piece together my roots if I wanted to because the relationships are not good. Big sigh...

puregoldlady said...

I just complained yesterday to my parents about not speaking to us in Ibibio after our first few years. I understand but can't speak.

I understand how you feel about Kwanzaa. I don't really know too much about the holiday, though but it sounds interesting.

Do our parents know each other? lol. My parents did have a traditional wedding. They wanted me to have one, too.

Ensayn1 said...

Chi-Chi, Well, as you know, in a sense on a very recent level, why Maulana Karenga created the tradidion. As you have expressed a sense of connecteness to your home, yet cannot be there due to the reasons you mentioned. I personally don't celebrate Kwanza, but I fully understand the reasoning behind it's creation. Yeah, it's made up to give black people who wanted to feel some sort of connection to Africa, but in reality could/cannot.
I feel like Blackgirlinmaine, you have the power to create your own traditions.

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