What you can’t see in this pic, is AM’s dad (DadaK) on the other side of the table, eating his lunch and listening attentively to AM’s explanation of why coding is important, how fundamental it is to modern society, how it connects people in more ways than we can even imagine.
DadaK was eating traditional Ghanaian food. On this occasion it was a stew (froye), I think made of straw mushrooms, spinach, chili (of course), tinned mackerel and chunks of beef, eaten with kenkey, a ball of fermented, boiled cornmeal. He bought the mushrooms in Chinatown — they’re imported — because they’re more like what you’d get back home.
Those moments around the dining table represented connection in so many ways: within our family, between generations and across continents, time, culture and technology.
I wonder what this picture will look in 30 years, when these children may be parents themselves. Our world is changing rapidly, but I hope they will still feel connected to their African heritage, and to each other.
The challenge of retaining culture is bigger than ever now. Technology may connect and liberate, but it also has the potential to obliterate; to smooth over diversity as we all watch the same news, listen to the same music, use the same social media platforms and operating systems.
The children of migrants walk a sometimes precarious path between the traditions of their parents and the attractions of the society they live in. They eat kenkey and froye now, but will they cook them for their own children? And food is just one aspect of culture. What else might they choose to keep or reject?
This week a friend tweeted about another group of people in the African Diaspora, the Gullah Geechee people of the sea islands off the south east coast of the US, who have maintained their cultural ties to Africa for hundreds of years.
One of the reasons they’ve remained connected to their roots is because — ironically — the islands they’ve lived on since their ancestors were taken from Africa were not connected to the mainland US. The only way to get anywhere, until recently, was by boat, through the marshy wetlands that separate the islands. Their food (like the okra soup that DadaK also prepares), their language, music, even their name as a people all show links back to the diverse African tribes from which they descend.
But bridges are being built now, to link islands and mainland. In the 21st century the marshes are no longer a barrier. Apparently outsiders are flocking in as the islands gentrify.The elders are worried that as the Gullah people connect to the mainstream, young people will become disconnected from their culture and traditions.
I can’t help but feel hopeful. The Gullah Geechee people were resilient enough to survive slavery, so maybe the core of their culture will also survive the influx of mainstream America.
Never give up the fight to stay connected with what matters.
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