I remember being picked up by my parents from after-school activities as a kid and just praying with every fiber of my being that they weren’t playing any of their Kenyan gospel music. If I was alone, it was only mildly annoying, but if I had a friend with me I simply could not handle the embarrassment of them hearing my parents weird tribal tunes.
It was even more of a horror story if I sat in the back seat with said friend and I had to reach over the drivers seat in order to shut off the music. I simply couldn’t bear the idea of being more of an outsider than I already was with my peers.
I spent a good portion of my youth running from my Kenyan heritage. I exhibited a mild curiosity from time to time but mostly I just wanted to be like everyone else at school. I didn’t want my clothes to smell like food all of the time from the spices my parents used in every dish. I didn’t want to be spoken to in our Mother Tongue, Kikamba, if we were outside the walls of our house. I didn’t even want to pronounce my name right because god forbid I should inconvenience the fragile American psyche with a goddamn double consonant.
I know it is pretty par for course to be embarrassed by your parents no matter what your culture but I wish I could turn back time and listen a little closer to my parents. I wish I could wear the clothes and jewelry they brought back for me from Kenya with pride to school. I wish I could talk to my dad in Kikamba in the car while he chuckled at my American accent.
I’m sitting here in my apartment over a decade later listening to Kenyan gospel music and smiling in the midst of a serious nostalgic episode thinking of all the things I wish I could go back and do over. How so much of my parents is alive and well in me somehow. How I maybe never left my parents car and I’m still on a journey home…wherever that may be.