I Grew Up African — But America Makes It Hard to Be Black
Where I’m from, color means little. That made my transition to the United States a chilling one.
This time last year, I was free to travel anywhere I wanted in my native Cameroon, and no one blinked an eye. All I needed was my identity card and the privilege of my first name. Kamga is the most popular name in the Bamileke tribe, historically situated in the French-speaking part of the country; with my name, there was no doubt I could speak French. I could walk into a room, board a cab, order at any restaurant — choose who I wanted to be, whenever I needed to be, without question. Bilingual on paper, French en réalité.
In my corner of the world, I was accepted anywhere and everywhere.
Yet as I grew, my life experience began to diverge from that of my parents’ generation. Spending months at a time in a boarding school will do that. Watching anime and How I Met Your Mother, having the internet to back you up when debating issues, and finding similarities between your friends and the cast of Friends will do that.
In a country where high-speed internet remains a luxury, I still had podcasts like This American Life. I lived a life of ideas and dreams. I came in contact with startup founders and techies in the university town of Buea. From poetry to technology and culture documentation, I saw a future I could write for myself. I saw life for young people on both sides of the coin, especially those who’d given up all hopes of “making it” in Cameroon, eyes cast on moving abroad. I saw others, backs against the wall, poring through strategies to thrive despite ubiquitous bribery and corruption. Cameroon was bubbling with potential, and students began to take their lives into their own hands — without any aid from the government, many without jobs, ready to stay and fight.
Yet as I grew, my life experience began to diverge from that of my parents’ generation. Spending months at a time in a boarding school will do that.
But that was last year. On June 23, the day I arrived at the port of entry in New York City, I lost my powers.