Africa is the second largest continent on earth, approximately 11.7 million square miles. Africa has 54 countries: my family is from 3 of them. My mother, Kebeh Telar, was born and raised in Monrovia, Liberia. My mother’s grandfather was from Guinea which is a French speaking country. Liberia and Guinea are on the west coast of the continent. My father, James Telar, was born and raised in his ancestral homeland of South Sudan, which is a Dinka speaking country. My parents grew up very family oriented, so they have always been supportive, loving, hardworking, motivational, encouraging, respectful, spiritual and open minded.
My parents feel that in their generation, adults had the first say, and children were silent. Now, they say, children have more of a voice than adults! They were brought up in a time and place where children were held accountable for their actions and it was okay for them to get disciplined.
I also have noticed the difference between their generation’s attitudes and mine. For them, I feel kids were more appreciative because they didn’t live for material things, as we do now. They also didn’t have social media, which made them appreciate seeing their family and friends when they were able to. But there are a lot of positive things in America too: the safety, group activities, sports, jobs, clubs, organizations and opportunities.
Initially, my mom wanted me to experience not having to work in high school and college. She liked how her parents could provide for their children until the age of college graduation. Now, both my mother and father believe responsibility starts young, so they want me to use my talents to find a job or a way to provide for myself. This is also because things work differently here. In Africa, if you want something, you might not have to pay for it with money; you could work off the cost by providing labor. Here, no one accepts labor. You have to have a job so you can get money to pay for goods.
My parents feel proud that I am an African American in the United States. I know my roots and my culture and I have homes and people to visit when I go back to Africa. I’ve also been taught by my parents how to interact with other Africans in the United States and to have a tough skin while also respecting the cultures of others. They’ve also told me that not everyone is going to like or know about our culture. Some people assume Africans are uneducated and illiterate. My parents don’t like that label, but they enjoy the surprise on people’s faces when they speak.
Since I am African, I am pushed to succeed and create a name for myself. My culture has high expectations, so I won’t have any problems later on in life. Their high expectations are why I am at Cristo Rey. My parents want me to have the experience of meeting different cultures. They feel that once I learn about different cultures I will know how to interact with others outside of my race. This way, I will overcome the stereotypes of being black/African/African American. They know I present myself in a respectable manner.
The way my parents raised me makes me feel different than most Americans. My parents are very conservative and keep issues to themselves, but they are also very social about the good things. I did not grow up going to a Baptist or Catholic Church; I went to Sudanese church.
Because my parents are African and have raised me with the experiences of both Africa and America, and bring with them the experiences of their generation, I don’t rely on material things to make me happy. Money isn’t happiness to me; money is a resource to get what I want to be happy, to make memories. I value the little things in life, especially the freedom I have growing up in America. My talent is universal here; I have no limit when it comes to success. There are steps that I have to take to reach my peak. My parents also see me as more than a child, which they might not have, had we stayed in Africa.
In my mom’s country, an old lady who brings everyone together as the leader of her family is called “Amer”. In my dad’s country, “Amer” means valuable. It describes me perfectly! I feel being African American has molded me to not be a shadow. I know where I come from, I know my culture, and I know who I am and what is expected of me.