• THE DENVER AFRICANA PROJECT

  • MIGRATION AND DIASPORA NARRATIVES: AFRICANA/BLACK VOICES IN THE DENVER METROPOLIS

    Denver, Colorado, is currently the 19th largest city in the U.S. (according to the U.S. Census Bureau). Fondly known as the “Mile High City,” it is justly famous for the great outdoors as well as the Denver International Airport (the second largest in the world). Denver metropolis has a growing population that is about 70% white, 18% Hispanic, 5% black or African American, 3% Asian, 1% Native American, and 3% multi-racial (http://www.hometodenver.com/stats_denver.htm). Both the distinct ethnic cultures and the interaction between different groups (including their stories) give Metro Denver its remarkable tone. The Denver Africana Project focuses on Africans and African Americans in the Denver metropolis, on their experiences, challenges, and expectations or projections as immigrants or citizens. Read together, these migration and diaspora narratives could contribute to a further understanding of the character of African immigration and the African American presence in Metro Denver.

    Please click HERE to complete a short survey after reviewing this web page.

    Note: The interviews were conducted in 2016, and some details (including biographical information) may have changed.


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  • “A lot of people are ignorant when it comes to people from different cultures and different races”
    Shewit Gebremichael, Ethiopia, 23

    Shewit’s parents came to the U.S. from Ethiopia about twenty-seven years ago due to the conflict between Ethiopians and Eritreans at that time. Being from northern Ethiopia, her parents became part of the refugee camp relocation program and moved from Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan, where they stayed for two years.


    
Shewit was born in Colorado and had a “very normal” childhood. She was oblivious to a lot of things until she got to high school, where she came into contact with other aspects of history aside from slavery. She began to develop a sociological perspective and learn about “systemic oppression.” She then experienced first hand what it means to be a minority living in the United States. Shewit is nevertheless very glad to live in Colorado and particularly appreciates its natural attractions. She also feels that it is a very safe place.


    
Concerning her identity, Shewit has some conflicting feelings. She describes herself as “African American or American African.” Although she has a very rich sense of her roots, she is acutely aware of being different. She feels she does not fit into the African American community because African Americans see her as different. This difference is in part due to the fact that her parents have “thick accents.” White Americans nevertheless tend to describe her as African American even when they know about her African origin. And then there is her own Ethiopian culture in which girls or women are expected to behave in certain ways. She constantly found herself wanting to fit into any of these groups without success. So, she had to develop a very flexible personality that has become her reality – American and Ethiopian. She is very grateful for the strong Ethiopian presence that in her life. Her social network includes her Ethiopian community and church activities. Although her identity issue drove her closer to her African roots and informed her decision to study Public Health and African Minority Studies at the university, she has now found a new kind of balance, a way to love and appreciate both cultures.


    
Shewit believes that a lot has changed for the better in racial relations but there is still room for improvement. She thinks that, right from elementary school, the curriculum should include positive aspects of African history, not just about slavery. She also thinks that parents should be encouraged to participate more in the school system. While growing up, she went back to Africa with her parents every two years and her family usually spent about four months during each visit. The first time she did so, she was so shocked to see how beautiful Africa is.


    
She does not think that the reporting about Africa is fair. She grades the reports one or two (out of 10) because they always focus on negative aspects. She believes that there is so much more going on and thinks that people should know they can travel to Africa and actually enjoy themselves. In her words, “I think it just goes back to education. I feel like a lot of people are ignorant when it comes to people from different cultures and from different races.”

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  • Jacques Gerber, South Africa, 22

    Jacques Gerber is a white South African male who is currently working as an Uber driver and is about to graduate from college. He is twenty-two years old and moved to the U.S. when he was six years old. He speaks Afrikaans, English, and Spanish. Jacques’s family left South Africa because his mother got “a kind of promotion” working for an international food company. They all moved to Chicago – himself, his mother, father, and twenty-seven-year-old brother, who was not too enthusiastic about moving as he was in a serious relationship at the time.


    
Jacques later moved to Colorado because he was on the swimming and diving team. Before then, he played cricket. He was also interested in studying animation, but upon reaching the University of Denver (DU) he discovered that only a class was offered on animation. At the same time he had to pull out of swimming because a surgery he had when he was seventeen years old caused him serious pain. Although he had to give up two things that brought him to Colorado – diving and animation – he fell in love with the place. He loves the mountains, the weather, and the fact that people are a lot nicer in Denver than in Chicago. After graduation, he wants to start a three-year seminary course because he would like to do missionary work. So, he plans to stay in Colorado.

    Jacques had to renounce his South African citizenship in order to become a U.S. citizen. He says he still maintains his South African passport as he visits regularly and that he can actually apply for a dual citizenship status. He sees himself primarily as South African and has thought about moving back, but with each visit to South Africa he realizes he has better prospects in the U.S. As he says, “I don’t necessarily think I’m very patriotic towards being American but I definitely appreciate the privileges I have with being American.”

    He thinks that he has not experienced any form of discrimination, perhaps because he is white, but he has encountered a lot of curiosity. He says that at DU a lot of students ask him how come he is white if he is African. He is shocked at the level of ignorance in terms of how people perceive Africa. He says that a lot of people think Africa is a huge wilderness and all about poverty and wild animals. “It’s true there’s a lot of poor situations, there’s a lot of bad situations … but that doesn’t mean as a whole the continent is represented through the whole thing.” He resents the fact that Africa is perceived as a country and not a continent. He thinks that there should be a type of reorientation of how Africa is perceived and believes that this can be achieved through more community-oriented gatherings. He has a few friends from South Africa and he enjoys hanging out with them and speaking Afrikaans together.

    Jacques feels he can now realize his full potential anywhere in the U.S. because of his drive and passion. He particularly finds the Colorado ambiance helpful. “The fact that it has 300 days of sunshine a year puts me in a happier mood, a more optimistic mood to do and pursue the things I wanna pursue.”

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  • What it means to be a black immigrant Muslim in the U.S.

    Dunia Haji, Sudan, 22

    Dunia Haji is a twenty-two-year-old woman from Sudan. She is currently a student. Her father left Sudan for political reasons because of the tyrannical rule of President Omar al-Bashir. Her father moved to Germany where Dunia was born. When they decided to move to the U.S., it was very difficult because of all the technical legalities involved. They remained in Germany for ten years before they were able to move to America.

    She feels that Colorado was a wise choice for her parents because they already had family there. Although she is a German citizen, she does not like Germany because of the racism and xenophobia prevalent there. She is also a citizen of Sudan. For her to become a U.S. citizen she has to apply to the German embassy and government for a dual citizenship exception, a process which she has begun. She feels comfortable in the U.S. because it is a place where she sort of came into her own, a place where she comfortably navigates the different identities and ambiguities.

    She has a good relationship with people generally, even though she felt a little constrained by Sudanese culture while growing up. Growing up, she had to learn to navigate that feeling of wanting to be an insider (a Sudanese) but seen as the “other” because she did not reflect the cultural image that was expected of her. For example, she does not wear a hijab. Her isolation from her community did not work well for her, especially as she realized she was not the only one going experiencing these conflicts or ambiguities. She also began to realize that her community was beautiful and irreplaceable. So even though she has not lived in Denver in the last five years she still comes back because of such ties.

    She went to a predominantly white school and describes her relationship with other Americans as good. She is excited to strengthen that relationship, not just with Americans but with other blacks in the diaspora. About her identity, she sees herself as Sudanese or a Sudanese immigrant (because of her current status in the U.S.). She does not like the term “African American” and prefers “black American.”
    Dunia feels the reportage about Africa is zero and is surprised at how uninformed Americans are about African countries. She feels there is so much left out in the news – things that go beyond ethnic conflicts or tribal wars. So, even as she feels comfortable with life in the U.S., she feels that she is psychologically affected by the negative perceptions about Africa. She refers to a recent case in Indiana where three Sudanese boys were murdered and how the media was very hesitant in reporting it as a crime. She feels that there are a lot of nuances that are left out when it comes to reports about Africa.

    She would want to explore other countries besides the U.S. and feels that more funding is needed in Colorado to explore and expand community and culturally oriented activities. Being a self-driven person she does not feel that anything has hampered her productivity. She would like to further the conversations about what “it means to be a black immigrant Muslim in the U.S.” and also address issues like the anti-blackness that a lot older generation parents brought with them.

    Dunia speaks Arabic, German, and English.

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  • "Most immigrants came here to help develop America because it's a country they have admired"

    Bola Kpitan, Nigeria, 51

    Bola Kpitan moved to the U.S. twenty-two years ago. Leaving her country, Nigeria, was motivated by an obligation to her family. She met an African American in Nigeria and they got married; when it was time for him to return to the U.S., she went with him. Although they lived for some time in Florida because her husband’s extended family were there, they later moved back to Colorado, where he had lived before going to Nigeria.

    Bola, a fifty-one-year-old woman, has lived in Denver for twenty-one years. She has three children and has worked mainly as a teacher. Although she still feels connected to Nigeria, she more or less sees Denver as home and cannot see herself living anywhere else in the U.S. She feels this way because aside from the Colorado weather, which she likes very much, she feels that the people from Colorado are more welcoming and receptive to foreigners than some people in other parts of the U.S. Even though she sees Denver as home, she does not want to become a U.S. citizen because she thinks it is better to give her children an avenue to explore their dual heritage better.

    Since she sees herself “as a bridge between Nigeria and America,” she still tries to stay as connected as she can to Africa, especially through her interest in news from and about Africa. She does not feel that she gets enough in the mainstream media, so she explores other avenues. She gets more about Africa through these alternatives, such as BBC America, Russia Today (RT), Al Jazeera, PBS, and France 24. She especially speaks highly of the late Peter Jennings of ABC News, who gave “a few respectable minutes” to African news. She rates these alternative outlets a high nine, yet she cannot quite shake the feeling that Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, is largely under-reported.

    Bola believes that there are a lot of misconceptions because of the news about Africa, but she has grown above the negative effects of these misconceptions. At the initial stage, she was a bit irked by the fact that people were curious that she spoke English very well. They attributed this to “the fact” that she learned to speak English in America. She did not like that notion because it was not true. Since she now sees the U.S. as home, she has accepted to be part of her community, including learning the cultural practices. She feels that other immigrants will benefit more if they become positively integrated into the country they have chosen as their new home. She does not believe this acceptance can lead to complete integration, which she does not even advocate as she thinks immigrants should retain the positive aspects of their own culture.

    She is very much aware of the dynamics of different people and different cultures in America and believes that America will benefit more as a nation if it fully embraces other people and stops being paranoid. In her words, “Not every immigrant that is here wants to hurt them. 99.9% came here to help develop America because it is a country they have admired, it’s a country that they trust.”

    Concerning her experiences and relationships, she believes that white Americans seem to be more open and receptive to Africans than African Americans. With the latter group, she perceives a hostile attitude towards Africans, although she generally tries to get along with everyone. Being a very private person, her life more or less revolves around her job as a teacher and her work in the church. She is cordial to other Nigerians but gets on better with Ethiopians because of the way they help one another. Although she believes that some whites are more receptive of foreigners, she nevertheless observes that some of the older whites are set in their ways and cannot seem to free themselves from the shackles of racism. She thinks that one of the problems in America is that such people are often not as exposed or knowledgeable as they should be. She gives an example of a white friend who did not know the difference between a “visa as a document of travel from one country to another and Visa as a credit card.” She wants Americans to see immigrants, especially Africans, as humans and not “people who live on trees.” She feels that the media has an obligation to show the other side of Africa, such as the big cities, and how educated many Africans are. She is proud that Africa remains “one of the richest continents in the world.”

    Bola feels very fulfilled as a teacher because of how she has influenced her students and the gratitude of appreciative parents, but she would have liked to be a doctor or a healthcare professional. She has not been able to realize this dream because of the “ridiculously high cost” of education in the U.S. However, she is happy with what she does, is proud to be an African, and is also very enamored of Denver.

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  • Garikai Masawi, Zimbabwe, 25

    Garikai came to the U.S. when he was seven years old, which was when his mother left Zimbabwe (their native country) in search of better opportunities. He thinks that the fact that his uncle was already established in Colorado was a strong factor in her choice of Colorado as the place to settle in the U.S.

    Garikai still feels nostalgia for his home country but he appreciates the family structure that he has in Colorado. He has his mother and sister and some extended family members. However, his social network revolves mainly around church activities. He works as an accountant and enjoys living in Colorado, a place he thinks has a great weather and is much more receptive than other places he has heard about. He says that, for example, even though he is no longer in the university he can still visit his professors and ask for their help whenever he needs it.

    If Garikai had the resources, he would go home (Zimbabwe) often and even relocate there in order to impact his country with what he has learned in the U.S. Like many immigrant students, he also struggled with the issue of identity – even though he grew up in a predominantly African American setting. He remembers being called names such as “African boot scratcher,” “cotton picker,” and “monkey,” names he says still haunt him. But with maturity comes understanding. His family befriended an African American family and they were both able to learn a lot from each other culturally. He sees himself as a Zimbabwean even though he is in the process of getting his U.S. citizenship.

    Overall, he appreciates the opportunity and available resources that abound in the U.S. He however feels that the reportage about Africa is quite negative. He says a lot of Americans do not know Africa because they have been there but mostly through the news, which focuses mainly on the very negative. He was struck by beauty in Africa when he visited – the warm welcome, beautiful women, food, tourism and wildlife. When he was in high school, what he learned about Africans only connected to slavery and nothing about Africa’s positive aspects. He thinks that people should be willing to be educated about one another.

    Garikai believes that the negative perception of Africa can impact negatively on the African. For example, when he was searching for employment he was asked during one of his job interviews if he had lived with lions. He could not understand why that came up in a job interview. He thinks that a lot of people do not change their identities because they really want to but because they want to fit in. He wants parents to be aware of what their children go through in the stages of cultural and identity shifts.

    One way to make Colorado better (since “it’s already a great place to live in”) is more public interest in the African community and for people to listen more to different stories.

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  •  Rory Moore, USA, 20

    Rory Moore is a twenty-year-old African American man. He currently serves as the University of Denver (DU) Excelling Leaders Institute (ELI) assistant coordinator for student success. He chose to attend DU because it is a private institution and as such he feels he will get the most education there. Since he has lived in Colorado all his life he hopes to explore other universities for his education in public health.

    He is outgoing and futuristic as well as deeply involved in activism. He describes himself as a WOO (Win Others Over). He identifies himself as African American, Spanish, gay, and Christian.

    Roy likes that America is a place where people have freedom to pursue their dreams but dislikes the inequalities and racism that are still prevalent. He agrees that his African American heritage has impacted him because he understands “the struggles my people have endured for hundreds of years that are still present today.” He is concerned about the challenges that are still being faced in the African American community such as poverty, lack of mentorship, mass incarceration rates, and health disparities. He feels that these are even worse for African American gays, who constitute a “double minority.”

    He sees Africa as the homeland of African Americans and where his ancestors came from, a place where they were valued in the past. But he finds it interesting that “many Africans don’t view African Americans in a positive light. I think many Africans believe that African Americans try too hard to assimilate into white culture.”

    He is not just interested in Africa because of his heritage but also because he likes to be informed about what is going on in other places. He feels that the media does not pay enough attention to news about Africa beyond crime, violence, and AIDS – just as Africans are usually portrayed as lazy, robbers, and losers.

    Roy believes that in order to move forward the disparities in the African American and the African communities ought to be addressed. In his words, “I think that unless disparities in the African communities are changed and they move from third world countries to second or first world countries then they will continue to struggle.”

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  • Juste Muzika, Rwanda, 33

    Juste Muzika is a thirty-three-year-old man from Rwanda. He currently works for the RTD as a bus driver but hopes to set up a business in the near future as a personal trainer.

    Juste describes himself as a free spirit who is non-judgmental. For someone who has been affected by so much tragedy he displays a very positive attitude. He comes from a very large family but lost one third of his family during the war in Rwanda. One of his older brothers is still missing. He is thirty-eight years old and had gone to Congo for humanitarian activities. Juste is hopeful that his brother is still alive somewhere because he has the right survival instincts. He presently lives with his parents so that they can help his sister-in-law financially while trying to locate his brother.

    Juste left Rwanda in 1994 because of the war. He stayed in Congo for six months. His father traveled to South Africa but was asked to leave. They then moved to Nairobi, Kenya and lived there for four years. They tried to relocate to South Africa, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or the U.S. but were rejected because their reason for leaving Rwanda was “not good enough.” At last his father reached out to a friend in Italy. This friend knew a Republican senator in Ohio, Mike Dewine. Dewine recommended them to the United Nations and within four months they were in the U.S.

    After high school at Dayton, he worked as a sales person for Victoria’s Secret and at the same time was in the Airforce Reserves studying HVAC. He then later moved in with his parents in Denver. He discovered he did not quite like the HVAC job and switched over to RTD as a bus driver.

    He gets on well with everybody and is a U.S. citizen. He said he did not have to pay to become one since he was in the military at the time. He likes Denver very much because it reminds him of home. He likes the mountains and does not think he would want to leave. However, he dislikes that Denver is becoming over-populated.

    Juste does not think the news about Africa is fair. On a scale of one to ten he rates it a two saying that “people here are slaves to the media, and the media they are listening to does not always tell the true or full story.” He thinks that, because of this, people “assume Africa is a godforsaken place.” He listens to Al Jazeera for more balanced reports. Although he is a glad to be a U.S. citizen, he still feels very much Rwandan at heart and still does some traditional dances now and then.

    He speaks French, Swahili, English, and Kinyarwanda. He considers himself very productive in Denver and hopes to set up a business soon. He also writes on the side. He has a screenplay about child soldiers entitled Raised by the Gun.

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  • Edith Okupa, Nigeria, 51

    Edith Okupa came to the U.S. with a visiting visa in 1999 and lived on the East Coast for 11 or 12 years. She is originally from Nigeria and is now the Executive Director of Restoration Project International, a non-profit organization that “fosters the restoration of hope and rehabilitation of survivors of sex trafficking.”

    Edith left Nigeria because she needed to get out of an abusive relationship, which she had endured for years. She felt she needed to leave because, at that time in Nigeria, “domestic violence wasn’t even criminalized so people got abused indiscriminately without recourse to justice.” She had a daughter but could not immediately leave with her. Her daughter has since joined her and is now a legal consultant in a law firm in Dallas.

    Before moving to Colorado, Edith used to work as a business analyst and lived in Maryland. At some point, she felt she needed some kind of change, especially having lived in big cities all her life. Back home in Nigeria, she was raised in a big city. In Maryland, she was beginning to be affected by the hustle and bustle of life and felt she needed a change.

    While researching what to do when she moved to Colorado, she came across a program that helped survivors of domestic violence, and she immediately took an important decision. Toward the end of her course at the University of Colorado, she did research on the determination of parental rights; the research helped her identify some loopholes and make recommendations. In 2013, two of her recommendations were passed into law.

    She likes Denver a lot, especially because it is a quiet place. She is “not an outdoorsy person” and living in Colorado keeps her focused on her work. Her social life is very much tied to her work. She has very few friends and always likes to define her relationship with people, so if it is business-related it stays that way. She attends an international church and maintains a network of work-related relationships. She has a lot of passion for helping women and girls who are struggling due to sex trafficking or domestic violence and always attends pertinent functions or conferences.

    Edith is proud of her African heritage and still feels a strong connection to Nigeria, even though she does not want to go back to live there. When asked how she identifies, she said: “I don’t identify with a particular country. I identify with a cause. I identify with change. I identify with something that will impact the world globally.” She does not really care about where people come from or what positions they have as long as they treat other people with respect. She believes all human beings are equal and feels that there is an unhealthy competitive spirit that underlies human relationships. She feels she gets better treatment from Caucasians than African Americans because African Americans sometimes treat Africans like parasites or free riders. As for other Africans, she feels that, beyond the partying, sometimes it is hard to get real help from them when you need them.

    Edith is working toward becoming a U.S. citizen. For her, it just makes sense, especially because of the organization she runs where she is looking to expand and contribute internationally. She also feels that there is so much more she can accomplish by becoming a U.S citizen. For example, she has always wanted to work in law enforcement but cannot do that because she is not yet a citizen.
    Edith does not feel that the reporting of Africa is fair. She rates it a three on a scale of ten. When she arrived newly in America, she was a babysitter for an African American couple. As she was helping their child with his homework one day, he wanted to know if people lived on trees in Africa. Edith said “No,” and that upset the boy because she also told him that his teacher lied by teaching him that. The boy cried until his mother came home. At another time, a colleague asked her how she came to America and she sarcastically replied that she swam (across the Atlantic Ocean). The colleague believed her and even went on to ask how many days it took her to swim from Africa to America.

    One of the other things that has endeared Denver to Edith is that the disparity between different races is not obvious, unlike in other states, although she still feels that a lot more can be done. She feels that because there are a lot more whites than blacks some foreigners might feel that Colorado is not a welcoming place, but that is not the case. She believes that, generally speaking, the U.S. is filled with opportunities for everyone, especially law-abiding citizens.

    Edith sees the world as a place where people can live respectfully and appreciate one another. She is not oblivious of racism though and preaches “community awareness and the need to reorient ourselves” because, in the final analysis, we all breathe the same air and bleed the same red blood.

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  • "The major resource of a country is their people"

      Ashraf & Jacqueline Sedhom, Egypt, 53

    Ashraf is a fifty-three-year-old physician and his wife, Jacqueline, is a banker. In 1985, Ashraf left Egypt because of the economic turmoil and the very unethical way of securing or furthering career opportunities. Ashraf was lucky because his mother, brother, and uncle were already in the U.S., so he began a residency for oral surgery in California and moved to Colorado after the residency.

    Jacqueline does not feel that they could leave Colorado because they are already well established in the state. Their social network includes community organizations, school, and church. Jacqueline says they attend a nearby Greek orthodox church because “it is very close to our home religion, Coptic Christianity.”

    They have dual citizenship (Egypt and the U.S.). Ashraf feels that in terms of tourism Egypt is very nice but the U.S. gave them a better life. Jacqueline adds that they do go back to Egypt to visit because they still have ties with traditions there but at the same time they have also adopted American ways.

    Ashraf refers to himself as an “American of the Middle Eastern descent” and feels that he has become very successful beyond his dreams. Sometimes, he wishes they lived by the beach but California was not their favorite place and, beach or no beach, Colorado was “just a better place” for family life. Jacqueline also feels that Coloradans are more hospitable. For instance, “at the bank customers from out of town are always commenting on how nice the people are here.”

    Ashraf is thankful for someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., whose dream helped diverse people because “he uplifted all second-class citizens. America is a melting pot.” He thinks that even though the western occupation of Egypt was not so good it had its advantages, such as a French man (Jean-Francois Champollion) deciphering the hieroglyphics and a French engineer (Ferdinand de Lesseps) designing the Suez Canal. He does not like that “outsiders” are always being blamed when “they (Egyptians) are at war with themselves.”

    He has no regret that he left Egypt. He is not bored in Colorado because they travel a lot. They have been to Bora Bora, Mexico, Costa Rica, Europe, Canada, and Tahiti. He says there is no shame in adapting to a place when one’s goal is success because “the major resource of a country is their people. Their main resource is their minds, and the mind is a beautiful thing.”

    Ashraf and Jacqueline speak Arabic and English and a little bit of Spanish and French.

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  • Elisha Semakula, Uganda, 60+

    Professor Elisha Semakula came to the U.S. in 1976, on a scholarship, as a PhD student. Before then, he had studied at Makere University in Uganda, his home country, where he obtained a B.A and a master’s degree in Economics. He also taught at the university before coming to America. He did not have a choice in where he was going to stay in America: “I was able to fly out of the country and I came directly to Greeley. I was just shipped here.” That was during the regime of General Idi Amin Dada. Because he had a scholarship with a student visa, it was very hard to change his status. The dean of the graduate school at the time worked very hard on his behalf so that instead of being sent back to Uganda, he was able to continue his education. He finally got his PhD in 1980 from the University of Northern Colorado.

    Elisha has a lot of experience as a teacher, an administrator, and a professor. He has a lot of good things to say about Colorado. While working in Jefferson County Public Schools as an administrator who was involved in rewriting the school curriculum, he had many opportunities to travel all over the world and all over United States and he thinks that Colorado is a wonderful place to live in. He particularly likes the well-balanced weather and the hospitality of the people. He recalls how his wife came to join him in Greeley. His wife’s coming was made possible by the generosity of people: “Some of the banks in Greeley and some of the churches put together money and they were able to ship my wife here. In fact, we were on the front page of Rocky Mountain News.” Although he feels he has no right to condemn other states he thinks that the people of Colorado are much more welcoming than people in other states. He talks about how his neighbors have taken care of his children and how they have been good to his family.

    However, his praise of Colorado does not mean that he is unaware of the racial tensions that sometimes exist in the society. After working at Jefferson County, he worked for Aurora Public Schools as the director of multicultural education and he says he was appalled at what he encountered in terms of cultural conflicts. “I was amazed at the conflict that existed between different minorities and majorities. I was constantly solving problems.” He witnessed a lot of misinterpretations. This led him to organize several committees that were in charge of setting boundaries and “defining what is what.” That effort led to the establishment of a day set aside to celebrate diversity (Multicultural Day, when students are encouraged to bring food from different cultures.)

    He and his wife have dual citizenship. He feels the political situation in Uganda or Africa in general is not improving. A travel experience he had with his family in 1979 (in Brussels) also motivated him to become an American citizen. The immigration officers were very rude and rough with Africans. It was such a humiliating experience for him and his family, and he vowed then and there to get a U.S. passport. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 helped him accomplish that objective.

    He is however not confused about his identity. He is an African from Uganda. In some cases though, if it would help communication better, he likes to be referred to as African American. His children are also very conscious of their African roots. In his words, “I made sure they understand that they cannot embarrass us and bring shame to our name. We are Africans.” He is also aware that his children have experienced various cultures. In fact, he feels that they are more adapted to white American culture because they have lived in Littleton since 1980 and went to predominantly white schools. But there have been a few instances when his children would be riding with their white friends and a policeman would stop them and ask them (his children) for their ID.

    Overall, Elisha has a very humanistic view of life and is grateful for all the opportunities he has had as a foreigner. He says that “when people get to know you, they don’t necessarily see your color.” He is grateful that he has never had a problem in his neighborhood. He is an active member of his church and sometimes he is the only black pallbearer at church funerals. He has been “written into a lot of white wills” and has been left so many things. He also has a very good relationship with Ugandans and other Africans, but he does not necessarily care where the people he meets come from as long as they are reasonable and have an agreeable character. He believes that if people are knowledgeable about one another, they would get along better.

    Elisha has thought about going back to Uganda, especially as a way of contributing to his society, but in 2000 when he tried to do so he met a lot of obstacles. As much as he loves Uganda, he is very unhappy about the political situation and the high level of corruption there.

    He does not feel that the reporting about Africa is fair. For him, it’s a five out of ten. However, he has learned not to dwell on negatives and to just do the best he can. He feels strongly about the misconception of Africa as a country. “Well, Africa is a continent, not a country. We really need to know more about each other and explore more and see why people do what they do.”

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  • "The story of Amistad speaks to my family"

    Tiara Wilson, USA, 20

    Tiara Wilson is a student at the University of Denver. During summer breaks, she works for a finance company. Her social network includes her family, community organizations, and the church. She speaks English and also Chinese. She has lived in Colorado all her life but her mother was originally from Des Moines in Iowa and her father was originally from Philadelphia. She has considered leaving Colorado but ended up attending the University of Denver, but she might leave at some point just to explore other places. She likes the balance between city and nature in Colorado and the fact that people are not too mean or super nice – “just a nice balance.”

    With people from other places, such as Africans, Tiara feels that they show a lot more courtesy, are a lot more polite and considerate. She feels people are pretty much the same except that sometimes Africans, for instance, are under a lot more pressure to retain their Africanness. She describes herself as a black American instead of an African American because the expression (“black American”) has become more common in conversations.

    Tiara does not feel any strong connection to Africa, although after watching the movie Amistad her parents were able to trace their origin to Sierra Leone and her father realized that the story of Amistad was also the story of his ancestors. In her words, “I do think that the story of Amistad speaks to my family. We’ve always said we’re fighters and I think that the story kind of reaffirms that.” Tiara is glad that her father’s family actually came to the U.S. as free people and not as slaves.

    On the issue of identity, Tiara is very much aware of certain stereotypes about black women and men. When she takes her nieces and nephews out, for instance, people just assume that they are her children. She also says that when they were growing up her father would often tell her brothers: “Be careful about getting angry in public places because people will think you’re going to hurt them.”

This portfolio last updated: 06-Apr-2019 3:04 PM