threads of our fabric

Reflections on navigating between two cultures and understanding the self-awareness process

Topic 1 – First Impression Questions December 29, 2010


Welcome to the gathering around LeThee’ma (translation: fireplace) to cook on migration with a flavoring of solution-focused conversations on issues that emerge as a result of this cultural shift. Prepare to engage in exciting discussions on our African heritage!!

ο Format: I will write on a broad discussion topic on a particular theme. You can either respond to my post topic, or add some more content to the theme area.


…Together we can feed minds, spirits, and hearts…

♥ Week 1: First Impression Series – Questions♥

Topic:Where are you from?”

When I first emigrated to the United States and was posed that question, instantly within seconds I would reply “Cameroon”. My answer to that same question now is not so succint. Over time, I have lived in Maryland, Ohio, Massachusetts, Virginia, and back to Maryland again…and each experience has been unique and memorable. Although these are geographic locations, I lived some and grew some. Each state, added a little more to my fabric and defintion of who I am. Especially those that coincide with different stages in life, childhood in Camerooon, teen years in Ohio, and emerging adulthood in Massachusetts. I had significant life changing experiences that shaped my perception. Maybe I am making this question a little complicated and more complex than it should be but these are the one of many first questions you get asked as an African in America. I love Africa dearly and will always focus my energies on unveiling and preserving her beauty always. However, I love America and the blessing she has been in my life, education, opportunities, and especially friends. So, “Where am I from?”…I am the product and best of two worlds – Cameroon + America.

Feel free to respond to this topic or discuss a first impression question that you remember.  For example: “Where did you learn to speak english?”, “Did you buy that [shirt, pants, shoes etc] here?” , or “Did you live in trees in your country [Africa]?”…How did it make you feel then? How would it make you feel if you were asked the same question today? Thanks for contributing!




© 2011 Threads of Our Fabric Project


13 Responses to “Topic 1 – First Impression Questions”

  1. sharasong Says:

    Feel free to respond to this topic or discuss a first impression question that you remember. For example: “Where did you learn to speak english?”, “Did you buy that [shirt, pants, shoes etc] here?” , or “Did you live in trees in your country [Africa]?”…How did it make you feel then? How would it make you feel if you were asked the same question today? Thanks for contributing!!!

    • vivian Says:

      ya! Shar, have my own experience in I When i got to the northen part of cameroon which is like a desert . i met some northeners. who asked me” where are you from “gathamayo”” i asked them back what is gathamayo? all these questions was because i was in jeans. eeeeeh gathamayos are strangers.

  2. Mwanabibi Says:

    When I first went to register for college here in the UK my new teacher asked if he could register me under my middle name Sylvia rather than Mwanabibi which I have always used. I wasn’t assertive enough at the time and wouldn’t have had the same qualms about my identity as I would have if someone asked me now so I said yes. It was a strange experience. I had separate names for home and school. I would be sitting in class and the teacher would call my name but because I wasn’t used to it, it would take me a while to remember it was me they were addressing!

    I now always use my African name but still give a little cheer when an english person manages to pronounce it properly.

    • Sharasong Says:

      I remember countless episodes in middle and high school!!! Back in Cameroon I was always called Ajong (short for Anqwetta-Ajongakoh), but had to get used to the switch to the english name. It took a while adjusting to the name change too. However, family still continue to call me Ajong or for my brothers – hey! lol

  3. Sheritha Brace Says:

    “Where are you from?”

    When I first arrived at the United States for College and was asked the above question, I had no qualms responding. I would immediately answer, “Ghana”. In retrospect, I recall the feeling of elation I experienced when my answer was accepted without further questions. You might be wondering,”Why should an individual feel happy or pleased about people questioning his/her origin?”. Indeed my situation was exceptional. My feeling of satisfaction stemmed not from the question but from the acceptance of my answer. A majority of people from Ghana share similar physical traites. My angusih originated from the mere fact that I was perceived as “different!”. Within my nuclear family, I had different physical traites(extremely ). I wasn’t biracial(nothing wrong with that) but it becomes unnerving when other tend to insist you are one, or that you are hiding your true identity. Suffice it to say that, when I emigrated to the U.S , the fact that people didnt ask me if I was sure abot my country of origin, felt refreshing! Paradoxically, my country folks would question the authenticity of my claim whereas people from differnt origins merely accepted my answer.
    Now, when asked the above question, I simply answer without attaching emotions of pain or frustration to it. Now, if asked, “who are you?”…Now that will be for another discussion.

    • Sharasong Says:

      You bring up a very crucial point Sheritha = diversity in America. Well within the urban areas… With the ease and frequency of transatlantic travels, it is not unusual for city dwellers to come across someone from China, Kenya, or in your case Ghana. I do appreciate this heterogeneity. It takes away the attention from the self, but too much can efface one’s sense of self.

  4. Fijoy Says:

    Where are you from?

    For the first 10 or so years in the US when someone would ask me that question I would say Cameroon, period. No need to mention that my immediate family was based in Virginia or that I had actually been here for 10yrs already. As far as I was concerned Virginia (and to a certain extent the US) was not where I was from it was where I lived.
    But now that I am a bit older and I have spent more time living outside of Cameroon than living in it answering that question is a bit complicated. Depending on who asks me and how much time I have I may say a number of things:
    – I am from Virginia (the I have no time to go into the discussion of my origins and/or you seem like one of those people who is not a fan of immigrants and you are trying to subtly tell me to go back to where I came from – without realizing that unless you are a native american, you yourself are an immigrant to this country). So me answering that I am from Virginia is a loaded answer
    – I am from Cameroon, but my family has lived in Virginia for 16yrs. (I have time to actually talk to you about my origins)
    – I am from Cameroon (I have no time to go into the discussion of my origins).

    Over time I have come to realize that while Cameroon is the beginning and end for me that there is some Virginia in the middle there.

    • Sharasong Says:

      Thanks Fijoy – It does seem like over the length of time, the answer is not as direct because…yes you have developed an affinity for your new home. It has contributed in one way or another on the young woman you are and the woman you are becoming…Lol at the depending on time the answer can be one of many options.

      • Fuabeh F Says:

        My Accent
        I still remember spending the first two to three years of my life in the United States trying to work on my accent. When I first got into the US, 2004, I felt a voracious need to assimilate into the American culture. For the first two years, I hardly made any friends because I was afraid of not being able to fit in. Whenever I spoke, people always recognized my accent and asked me “where are you from”?. I always dreaded this question because, for some reason, I felt ashamed or somewhat insecure about my African background. May be it was due to the stereotypes some Americans have about Africans(as primitive, live in caves, can’t speak proper english..etc). This was a challenging period for me. so many times I tried changing my accent, trying to pronounce certain words the American way and such..I even tried to behave and dress like some of the kids at school. But then as time went by and I got older, I grew less and less interested in assimilating. I began to realize that no matter what I did, I would never escape my ethnicity. As I came in contact with other Cameroonians, I began to see a uniqueness in being different. I could finally embrace my heritage and also stopped working on changing my accent. When this happened, I found myself much happier at school as I branched out communicating with other students. And now, when asked “where do you come from?”..I answer proudly with my head high, and a smile …”CAMEROON”..!!

        • sharasong Says:

          “uniqueness in being different”…your words are beautiful, and eloquently capture a very common experience when trying to integrate into American society…I did get rid of my accent, now I’m working on bringing it back. It usually only comes when I’m around family or other Africans, lol. Such experiences can certainly leave one feeling vulnerable and insecure. I was talking to a co-worker today who read the article about me and was quite astonished about the efforts made by immigrants to fit in…she remarked that where she lived is soo diverse that she was surprised to hear that the same popular media influence on her children is usually the only point of reference we (immigrants) have of this society. Thanks for sharing your voice.. I’m glad you were able to find and commit to your true self. I liked reading how that strong sense of self trickled to healthier, positive friendships!! Stop by next week when we go a little deeper to our roots – the home influence =D

  5. Efifie Says:

    It’s funny how to this day I still get asked the question “Where did you learn how to speak English”. It does get a bit tiring getting the same questions over and over again but I use it an opportunity to educate others about my motherland Ghana. There are other questions I recall being asked in the south (where I received part of my high school education) like ” Do you have a nickname”, “Why are you darker than me?”, ” Did you use to wear shoes at home?”…the list goes on. In high school I used to get very upset by those questions because I am proud of where I am from and it seemed to me that they were very ignorant and only had one perception of the whole of Africa! It got to a point where I just had to stop trying to explain things that seemed so unimaginable to my peers. I used to feel hurt and outraged by those questions in the past and now I understand why some of those questions were asked and why they are still asked! I always answered with happiness and pride for my country and Africa! That has not changed a bit for me! The only part of my experience I did not enjoy, was the tension I experience between myself and black students at my school (that is another story). For me, I am a Ghanaian who happens to be living in another man’s land….

    • sharasong Says:

      Thanks Efifie! I love that approach…”a Ghanaian in a strange man’s land”…It is difficult when your identity is questioned with stereotypes. I remember being always surprised when assumptions, traditions, and behaviors that were the norm in Cameroon became subjected to conversation and jokes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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