Writing Catalog

Abigael Isoe

Grade: 12

Solon High School

Instructor: Chad Ramlow

Cultural Identity

Personal Essay & Memoir

Cultural Identity

Last summer, I returned to my homeland, Kenya, after 12 years of being away. Going back to that sweltering, crowded place was a gift but at times I felt like an outsider. Growing up in the United States, I was not American enough; my skin color pushed me to the sidelines, and my hair defied gravity. I was different and more prone to experiencing prejudice. In Kenya, my presence resulted in contradicting responses. I was simultaneously a naive American girl who had never struggled in life while being a highly educated lighter skin toned lady. I was placed on a pedestal for my opportunities and judged for my lack of knowledge in what they considered simple housegirl chores — washing clothes by hand and cooking with fire.

American and Kenyan cultures have shaped my values, beliefs, goals, and standards. They've allowed me to experience delicious food — mandazi and fries, a variety of musical genres — afro-beats and rap, and given me a community — church friends and the LGBTQ+ circle. I am the best of both worlds.

The most complex aspect of myself is the duality of my cultural identity. It's not what I identify as, but more so why I identify myself in this manner. The intricacies of my cultural identity have influenced the young lady I am today, and the woman I am soon to become. I may come as one body, but not with one identity.

I am an outsider looking in, an insider looking out. I am a chameleon that has adapted to its surroundings. My physique is that of an African lady — brown eyes, thick thighs, braids that swing side to side, caramel skin, a big smile, and a forehead just as wide.

The second I open my mouth, my language contradicts my physical characteristics. A fast-flowing waterfall of words drops out often without the emphasis on certain constants. Once I introduce myself with my first name, a true Kenyan may view it as a pseudonym. At the mention of my middle name, Kerubo, their face eases into a friendlier demeanor. But this is just the surface level of my dual identity.

The Kenyan community has ingrained important principles into my values: honoring the elderly, humbling yourself, being others-oriented, and participating within the community. However, my American upbringing facilitates my confidence, along with my empathy toward others. I believe in God-given, women's, LGBTQ+, and African- American rights. I must see the wrong in my society, speak up, and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Not only have both cultures influenced my morals and beliefs, but they have also shaped my lifestyle. My eating palette is more diverse than my peers. My parents have taught me the Kenyan style of cooking. This includes a lot of natural foods; different types of greens, corn-meal cake, and Kenyan pastries. The American education system has taught me to take my physical health seriously. I engage in exercise a minimum of five times a week.

As much as I take pride in my cultural duality, I make it a point not to let one side overpower the other. Having to choose one side, will ultimately result in me denying a part of myself. I have learned early on that being a blend of two worlds just means that I am more than willing to be accepting. It's taught me the art of sympathy, empathy toward others' experiences, and love for those who are different. They are both equally important in my past, my present, and my future.