This month, Digital Sisterhood Network founder Ananda Leeke is preparing to co-host the BlogHer 13 Multi Culti Party on July 26 with “digital sister” bloggers Pauline Campos of Aspiring Mama blog and Dwana De La Cerna of House on A Hill blog in Chicago, Illinois. Click here to check out the BlogHer Loves Multi Culti Pinterest board.
Over the next three weeks, Ananda will be sharing several multi culti-inspired blog posts that invite your feedback. Today’s blog post focuses on her multi culti family and adopted culture.
My Multi Culti Family
My African American family’s roots represent a mélange of West African, Native American, Canadian, and European cultures. The historical data from the American slave trade has helped my family conclude that our African ancestors who were brought to North Carolina and Virginia came from West African countries.
Knowing this to be our only factual tie, I traveled to the slave castles on Goree Island in Senegal in 1994 and Cape Coast, Ghana in 1997 and 2003, to honor the spirits of our African ancestors. Based on family records, research, and stories, I know I am the great-great-great granddaughter of Hence Daniel, a Native American man who married Ann Daniel, a former enslaved African woman who lived to be 113 years old in Kentucky.
I am the great-great granddaughter of Ida Goens Bolden, a woman with African, Native American, and Portuguese blood running through her veins. In addition, I am the great granddaughter of James Ebert Leak, a French Canadian man born in Winnipeg, Canada. My grandfather John Leonard Leeke told me his father James Ebert Leak also had Irish blood running through his veins.
As you can see, my family like many American families is a melting pot of people from all over the globe.
What cultures are in your family’s melting pot? Share your responses in the comment section below.
My Adopted Culture (an excerpt from That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetical Memoir of Self-Discovery)
Sometimes we keep prayers from childhood buried in the recesses of our minds. If we are lucky, we may rediscover them and allow them to breathe life into our adult world. Today, I discovered one of mine. It was written in Spanish to honor the passion I hold in my heart for my adopted culture:
Yo creo que soy una Latina por que yo siento el afecto para la cultura Latina. Tengo una isla amiga se llama Puerto Rico. Yo quiero pensar y sonar en espanol. Yo quiero dansar y vivir en espanol. Querido Dios, me cambias una Latina, por favor.
I believe that I am a Latina because I feel affection for Latin culture. I have an island friend named Puerto Rico. I want to think and dream in Spanish. I want to dance and live in Spanish. Dear God, Please change me into a Latina.
The first time I conceived remnants of this prayer was during Christmas at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Landover, Maryland. It was the early 1970s. I was in third grade. Jose Feliciano’s holiday song, “Feliz Navidad” was popular. My religious education teacher was Mr. Candelaria, a Mexican man with an open heart, giving spirit, passion for folk music, and a commitment to teach his students about his Mexican heritage. Somehow he convinced Father Ward, our parish priest, to permit our class to decorate the outside of the church with brown paper bags that we normally used for school lunches or popcorn that we snuck into the movies. We filled the bags with sand and placed a white candle in the middle of the sand. For Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, we lit the candles and watched their illuminating presence outline the architectural design of the church. It was a magical moment that taught me how we each have a light within us. That light is our spark of divinity. Our job is to keep it lit so that it shines for eternity.
Senora Romano’s Spanish Class in 7th and 8th grade taught me how important it is to add passion to my spark of divinity. I ended up in her class at my father’s request. The same year that he completed his Ph.D., he insisted that my brothers and I take Spanish because he believed that America’s cultural diversity would one day demand that we speak Spanish more often than English. This was a pretty progressive approach to take in 1976.
I think Senora Romano was from Puerto Rico, but don’t quote me. There’s only so much I can recall almost thirty years later as I sit typing on my laptop while sipping a venti soy chai latte and nibbling on my Caesar salad on a Sunday afternoon at the Starbucks on 16th and U. I do remember the way she looked. Olive-colored skin, large dark glasses similar to the ones most women were wearing in the mid seventies. A petite woman standing all of five feet. Long flowing skirts with floral prints decorated her figure. She borrowed height from her two inch wedge shoes that made loud clickedy clack sounds as she walked the halls of Kenmoor Junior High. Her hair was long and black, usually styled in a ponytail, bun, or chignon. Sometimes she wore her hair out. That’s when we knew that she was more of a person than a teacher. She seemed more relaxed and calm with her hair cascading over her shoulders.
Most of the time, Senora Romano was a passionate fireball with a sense of humor balanced by a firm grasp of discipline over her class. I tend to think she could have given the good Sisters of Charity a run for their money because she wasn’t afraid to speak complete Spanish in a screeching tone as she disciplined teenagers eager to test her patience. She made us choose Spanish names for her class. I chose Magdalena. Much later in life, I learned it was my favorite Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s first name. One of the things I loved about Senora Romano’s class was the way she would incorporate aspects of Spanish culture into our learning experiences. On special occasions, she would serve us Spanish food. That’s where I got my first taste of arroz con pollo. She also insisted we speak Spanish every chance we got. She pushed us to pronounce the words as she pronounced them. That was hard to do because she rolled her “r” with the passion of Celia Cruz. The first year I tried so hard to imitate her. My imitation got me nowhere. So the second year I stopped trying to be Senora Romano and became myself. In the middle of that year, my ability to roll my “r” improved and sounded more authentic. With that underneath my belt, I worked even harder to improve my vocabulary in preparation for my family’s first trip to Puerto Rico during summer vacation.
Life in our house was everything but American normal. When my parents went to Jamaica in 1971 to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, my brothers and I thought it was really cool. Most of our neighbors wouldn’t dare stick their toes on the ground Bob Marley considered holy, but nothing stopped my afro-sporting and dashiki-wearing parents. The same held true in 1978 when we all traveled to Puerto Rico. Now that was a trip! I was 13 and headed to Elizabeth Seton, an all-girls Catholic high school. Our travels included time spent in Old San Juan, New San Juan, Ponce, the rain forest, and Carolina. I was amazed by the faces that looked like ours. They were speaking Spanish and I could speak back to them.
Mi isla amiga. My island friend was filled with people dancing and singing in colorful clothing. Getting to see them live and move through their daily lives as we rode the bus for ten cents into Old San Juan was a treat. Their energy as a people was upbeat, fast, and full of joy. Contagious, even. In the middle of most days our time playing on sandy beaches that bordered aquamarine clear water was interrupted by afternoon rain showers that lasted about five minutes, if that long. Afterwards, a Caribbean rainbow appeared in the sky and ushered us back into the clear water where I stood staring at my bronze glistening toes.
Arroz con pollo covered our dinner tables on several evenings. Flan was always offered as a dessert. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but I learned to enjoy it. Highlights from my dining experiences included eating pulpo because I didn’t know it was octopus in English and enjoying calamari thinking it was shrimp only to find out it was squid. Puerto Rico. Mi isla amiga. My island friend. Ella fue magica para mi. She was magical for me.
The second time we went to Puerto Rico was in 1982. That trip was probably the one that cemented my love and passion for la cultura Latina. I had just graduated from Seton and was on my way to becoming a freshmen at Morgan in Baltimore. Four years of elementary and advanced Spanish classes were underneath my belt. At the time, I was all about my poetry … still am. I was busy trying my best to imitate the creative expression of Ntozake Shange by blending Spanish words and phrases into my poems.
We visited most of the same places that we did in 1978. This time, I was able to take my own photos and write about what I saw. Ponce was this fishing town that had bright red buildings. Carolina was a soft, warm comfortable place. I could probably live there today. The rain forest was God’s country. New San Juan was commercialized. Old San Juan was made for tourists. We took full advantage of it all. My parents trusted us to sightsee without them. So my brother Mark and I caught the city bus into Old San Juan with the sole intent of touring the Bacardi Factory. We got toasted on free rum and coke samples. The summer’s heat made us giddy with laughter as a lifetime memory was made.
The beaches were prettiest in the evening when the sun set. I remember taking a picture in one of these sundresses my mother purchased from Montgomery Ward. My Patrice Rushen cornrolled braids decorated my head as my hands sat on what I thought were my womanly hips. I was smiling like I had come home. When I look at the photo today, I know I was home. My smile became a keepsake reminder of the passion I forgot I had about my adopted Spanish culture in the Americas and Caribbean.
When I see the seventeen-year-old girl smiling on the shores of San Juan, I know she was the one responsible for me learning about Santeria and Afro Latino life. That girl had me creating art in honor of los santos and the orisha. When I write my novels and poetry, I always end up including an Afro Latino character and Spanish language. My teenage spirit has guided me to read Latina magazine and books by Afro Latina writers like Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, adjunct professor at New York University, and cultural advocate. This wonderful spirit has also pushed me to learn and dance salsa to the music of Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Omar Sosa, Chucho Valdez, Susana Baca, Peru Negro, The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Buena Vista Social Club, and so many others. She has encouraged me to visit the Mexican Cultural Institute in D.C. and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago to learn about Afro-Mexicans and Mexican artists. She reminds me to go on art dates to the Art Museum of the Americas in D.C. to check out artwork created by Latin American and Caribbean artists. Whenever I travel to New York City, she makes sure I visit El Museo del Barrio and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. With her joyful spirit, I was able to travel to Cuba and baptize myself in the country’s rich history, culture, art, and African religion in 2004. Most of all, she reminds me how important it is to continue lighting my spark of divinity through the passion I have for my adopted culture.