I’m the youngest of three children with an older brother and sister, all of us were all born in Capetown, South Africa. My parents are originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1995, when I was six, my siblings and my mom and I moved to Minnesota where my dad had continued his education a year prior.
In South Africa, my dad’s background was in social services, and my mother was a high school biology teacher. When we moved to Minnesota, my father was in school to continue his degree in social services and my mother dedicated herself to raising my siblings and I in a new country.
The three of us kids were in primary school together, and to put that in context we went from living in a radically segregated environment to going to school with White kids for the first time. You have to remember that apartheid only ended in 1994 and this was 1995, early 1996. It was a huge culture shock that was hard to navigate. Even taking the bus was strange. The food we ate and even the clothes we wore to school were different. I wore the clothes we brought with us and what my mother bought for me. After a couple years, we moved into University of Minnesota student housing.
Assimilating to American culture
The culture in America is much different from South Africa. In South Africa, everybody knows everybody in the neighborhood and the community. It was like the saying, “it takes a village.” If I was at someone’s house, those adults were also part of raising me and setting me on the right path. In the U.S., with everyone, including children, the emphasis is more on independence and individuality. As a kid, it was hard to be different. But as hard as it was for us kids, at least we had each other.
I think the assimilation to our new surroundings was hardest on my mother. She had to adjust almost overnight. She was very intentional about keeping the South African traditions we grew up with and keeping us safe. But once I walked out the door, I had to navigate American culture.
When I was younger, it was hard for me to find my place and feel accepted because I wasn’t always Black enough for the Black kids, and I wasn’t White. I was somewhere in the middle, and I didn’t always feel like I fit in.