My name is Diane Penda and I am a first generation immigrant from Paris, France. I am the daughter of a Cameroonian couple. A couple who wanted the “American dream” for their own so desperately that my lineage was hidden for a good portion of my life growing up. My mom brought my sisters and I to the United States to reunite with my dad on a visa that she overstayed. I believe that was one of the reasons she so badly wanted us to be American. She was constantly watching her back to make sure no one knew our citizen status.
That is only one of the many fears “illegal” immigrants face.
Looking back, I can see that my mom didn’t want that kind of fear for us. Like other middle class families, my parents worked constantly, especially my mother. She worked two, three, four jobs at a time. She became so busy with work that I don’t think she ever really got the chance to teach us about our culture. Though when I was around her, she spoke in her tribal language and French as well. My dad on the other hand, only spoke to us in English. We were to respond in American English. No slang was allowed in our house.
My dad was born in Eseka, Cameroon and is a member of the Bassa tribe. My mom’s family is from Sangmélima, Cameroon and are members of the bulu tribe but she was born in Paris, France. She went to school in France and would go back home with her parents every holiday. My only grandma still lives in Cameroon and is pretty well known there because my grandpa was a doctor. Unlike my older sister, who had the chance live in Cameroon with our grandparents for a few years while my mom got her midwifery degree, I never got the chance to go visit Cameroon.
As much as I love having the bragging rights to say I am a French citizen (if I’m honest) and going there to see my family, I feel like I’m missing a part of my identity.
I am an African woman!
I can feel it in my veins and in my hips when an Afro-beat comes on. I even feel it in the way my tongue rolls when I speak French. There is and always will be that Cameroonian flavor there. The dialogue that (Re)Turn has started has reminded how important it is to reclaim that piece of my identity for myself and also for my children. I want to show them not only the beauty of Cameroon, but the culture as well. It is part of my life mission to go to my motherland with open arms, embracing the essence of what it means to be Cameroonian. To smell the air, to taste the authentic food, sentir la terre sous mes pieds (to feel the dirt beneath my feet)! That is a part of my legacy that I refuse to leave behind.
Written by: Diane Penda