When you're asked, "where are you from?" do you feel compelled to answer for you or for the people who make you feel whole? For some children of immigrants, two answers are continually struggling to become one. Whitney Soglo's answer was confirmation of that. "I was born here in Maryland, but my parents are West African," she told us. Like many others, Whitney's identity isn't as simple as that sentence suggests.
As of 2018, 81% of all sub-Saharan Africans living in the United States had come from Eastern and Western Africa. Whitney's parents are part of that 81%. Her dad is from Bohicon, Benin, and her mom is from Gbadi N'Kungnan, Togo. Whitney says that she identifies as African because that's all she ever knew growing up," she added. Whitney's connection to Togo and Benin exists through the stories her parents told her growing up and the few memories she has speaking to loved ones who live in those countries.
Whitney says that, while many Africans tend to maintain respect for their culture, she was not always proud to be African. "In middle school, a lot of my friends were bullied for being African," she said. Whitney shared that naming calling such as "African Booty Scratcher" and her friends being mocked for their accents made her nervous about being African. She did not have an accent that sounded like some of her friends, so she tried to blend in. "I did not want to be bullied, so I didn't claim my heritage the way that I should have." Things have changed for her now, though. Whitney says she isn't shy, and she isn't afraid of her heritage.
Whitney shared that she has learned a lot from her parents, especially their work ethic and faith. "Before my dad came to America, he believed he would be living the American Dream upon arrival. He thought that all the hardship that he endured back home would be over," she shared. Shortly after arriving in America, her dad found out that the American Dream isn't everyone's reality, and it surely wasn't going to be theirs easily. "The American dream isn't as easy as some people think it is," Whitney stated. It takes grit, tenacity, and audacious faith, and Whitney's parent's had all of that. Her parents always hoped that their children would live a life better than they had growing up in Togo and Benin. They believed that life wouldn't be as hard as it is here in America. But that comes with sacrifice. Whitney's dad is still waking up early and working a demanding job at his age because he knows the value of sacrifice. "My dad is still climbing on roofs and so forth. That should tell you that this has not been easy for us," Whitney shared.
Whitney says that she will never blame her parents for the struggle they grew up in. There are a lot of factors that play a part in it, like having to adjust to a new society, living in an expensive region, and more. "I'll never blame them, though. I know they've done their part," she added. Whitney's parents have always fought hard to build a better life for her and her five siblings. Whitney said that "the American system did not make it easy for my parents to achieve the 'American Dream' that they once envisioned."
When we asked Whitney what she would tell her younger self, this is what she had to say:
If I could go back and speak to my younger self, I would tell her not to worry so much about fitting in. I'd tell her that she shouldn't be ashamed of her ancestry. I'd remind her that her parents are working hard to make her feel comfortable here in America and to live a better life than they had. It's okay to be proud of your heritage despite how people treat you. In the end, how they treat you is a reflection of them, not you, so be bold. Life won't look the same forever, and it's going to be okay. Please be true to who you are.
We agree with her. Being proud of your ancestry means you know the value of all the parts that make you whole.
When we asked Whitney what she would tell her parents, this is what she had to say:
If I could go back in time and talk to my parents, I would tell them that the American Dream isn't what it seems. America doesn't guarantee that life gets easier. Sure, you will have more freedom, but raising six kids will not be easy. Please remember that it is okay to ask for help. Remember to place God at the center of everything and raising your children in the faith because that will get you through the tough times! I'd say thank you to them in advance. I'd tell my parents that their hard work, sacrifices, & fervent prayers for us have not gone unnoticed. I'd tell them I love - I love them for grit, tenacity, and faith because that has helped me become proud of who I am.