In many African countries, the lives of many women and girls are governed by tradition. Mothers epitomize the years of retained tradition and young girls acutely observe to learn from their mothers who exemplify the women they will soon be. Perhaps such relationships are solidified when families immigrate to the western world as daughters make conscious choices to direct their lives in acknowledgement of the sacrifices their parents made. However, for many young girls who strongly self identify under the diaspora, there seems to be a burden of disconnect such relationships bring.
Whilst viewing the diaspora as their avenue for activism they remain conflicted by the pressures of conformity and the perceptions of deviance which traditions reject. Immigration to western countries amplifies a sense of traditional consciousness- that hinders the voices of many girls passionate about branches of activism such as feminism. This certainly undermines the growth of the diaspora, as even though one can personally identify as a female activist -there is a sense of listlessness due to guilt, discouragement and fear of traditional rejection, which ultimately affects the goals of many who have found a home in activism.
These thoughts dawned on me, upon hearing the death of Somali singer and member of parliament Saado Ali who was assassinated in Mogadishu, for her political views on tribalism. Upon walking into my home one evening, the songs of this iconic Somali woman came from my mother’s laptop. With unexpected pride and sadness in her eyes, my mother began to express that this woman only spoke aiming to unite Somali clans. Somehow, my mother felt connected to Saado Ali.
After further research, I discovered that Saadoo was definitely deviant and would unconventionally perform in trousers and without a head scarf. It seemed apparent to me that Saado’s death unfortunately becomes a topic of debate, inadvertently a one-sided debate; as Saado represented the fears that many did not want to confront and her personal freedom and choices remain the scapegoat of her noble attempts in mediating tribalism. On the other hand, those who acknowledge her bravery can only pay homage to Saadow by personally listening to her work.
Perhaps another powerful woman, who I admire and regard as the synergy between the differing generational voices, is Kenyan-born Somali poet, Warsan Shire. This award winning poet explores themes of travel, loss and war through female perspectives. With every poem, Warsan explores Somali narratives with an element of curiosity, she encourages the diaspora to adopt. For inexplicable reasons, Warsan stirs emotions of guilt, and pain in her readers.
In contrast to Saado, Warsan picks at the depth of pain and shame that elders have buried in the past. She rejuvenates the burning desire in African female readers, to approach our mother’s narratives and to usurp the substance of experiences, we wish to learn as individuals potentially displaced in the western world or future activists aiming to bring cultural voice to the western world. But somehow, we still remain very afraid to do so.
If one were to take the most rational perspective, of course, there is definitely lots at stake. African females with zealous attempts to be involved in activism are certainly bound by traditional expectations. There is always the pressure of marriage and to honour family in all reverent ways possible. Therefore, the mere idea of supporting any cause that may conflict with tradition, remains a bleak, unlikely decision.
So where can you stand? After much internal debate, the safest option appears in the sacrifice of being characterized under umbrella term as merely “Westernized” and perhaps a head full of hot air. So you take that option.
Although, the african diaspora may bring like minded individuals closer: you realize that challenging tradition seems like the leap that many fear. You heart feels heavy with the burden of acknowledging this.Then, suddenly, another avenue opens up: the individualist choice to share and passionately express your views to the hand picked few, who you are certain will only listen.
So you do just that. You furtively express to your fellow westernized friends your internal conflict. However, even though they may not completely understand the context of the issue, you know it was worth expressing. However, you are only placed back into the guilt of perpetuating the privileged notion that your culture is somehow oppressive. Or perhaps you remain completely discouraged and begin to self preserve by convincing yourself that this barrier will never be resolved. You begin to ask yourself, what’s the point?
In reality, there shouldn’t be any feelings of guilt. With the western solitude that middle-class immigrant families receive,mothers feel obligated to seize the new world of opportunity and downplay their narratives or cultural opinions. Its as if one narrative shared will bring back a whirlwind of past hurdles or fears that will disturb the promising lives of their families.
Even though the mothers project encouragement to their children, they show no interest in keeping abreast with western ideals but instead remain connected to the affairs back home. However somehow african girls remain expected to build their lives around tradition, but are never reminded by their mothers who shield their narratives and cultural experiences. With such uncertainty, can ambitious activists be without guilt of pushing boundaries and can they surely express their own unaltered narratives?
Perhaps there is no disconnect after all, but instead a huge fear of communication between African girls and their families. In many conversations I have had with young African girls, they remain discouraged to break down barriers, whilst gaining support from the diaspora in which they hope to advocate for.
Perhaps the most difficult task as young activists within the diaspora is to avoid hiding behind new identities but to cultivate new cultural experiences. It seems that in order to begin to bridge the gap in generational voices, young activists within the diaspora must engage elders and facilitate conversation that will encourage the traditional generation to share their narratives. Maybe we can gain cultural insight and continue to share invaluable lessons that can inspire the right approach and support towards proactive, united advocacy that can sustain the diaspora.
We must challenge ourselves individually, to redefine and expand the possibilities of activism within the diaspora.
The question remains: Are we ready?