My Experience With Identity
I am a first generational black Somali girl living in London. This affirmation becomes hard to identify with sometimes, as with most kids who grew up in the diaspora, trying to identify yourself is as hard as trying to figure out what really happened at the end of Inception. My first encounter with other first generation Somali girls to whom I wasn’t related, would happen at Arabic school. Going to Arabic school, or dhuqsi as it is called in Somali, is a seminal step in any Muslim girl’s life. This usually happens on Saturdays, coincidentally the Saturdays on which I would mysteriously fall ill in an attempt to not voyage to Willesden for a few hours. But then weekends I hated, soon became weekends I would look forward to because I came to find other girls who were like me at dhuqsi.
I met two Somali girls who were my saving grace. We would talk in broken Somali about what we wanted to do in life, what was happening at our schools and how annoying our brothers were. I remember being told on one occasion by one of the girls that she wanted to be a philosopher. Her admission was refreshing to the accepted image that as an immigrant’s daughter, one should become a lawyer, a doctor, or do something that would bring your family money and bragging rights. But she was adamantly against that. She said she wanted to ‘change the world’.
About a year later, we all left that school and because we lived in different areas we ultimately drifted apart and I was left to figure out how to fill that space of black Somali girl familiarity with something else or whether to let it fade into a distant memory. I did the latter in an attempt to fully assimilate to a British high school. I barely spoke about where I was from and it was even rare that I spoke in my native tongue. I would distance myself from my own community to try and gain a form of acceptance from another.
Upon leaving high school and going to university, I tried to reconnect to what was once part of my identity yet scared that they would no longer welcome me in the same way that I tried to shut them out. To my surprise, I found out that this wasn’t a group that had expired or no longer welcomed me. They were there, not waiting but continuing to exist within this community of women who wanted to ‘change the world’.
So now when I encounter another Somali girl at an event or at a random New Year’s Eve party and we end up sharing similar stories about our families on the balcony, there is no awkwardness but a pure connection through a shared history and experiences. My retreat into the community was a battle between a guilty conscious and an overwhelming sense of solidarity but it has forced me to realise that I didn’t need to soften my culture in order to fit in somewhere when I already did.
By Edna Mohammed