Featured Storyteller

KENYA: I Grew Up Romanticizing America. Now I Mourn.

Nini Mappo
Posted July 21, 2020 from Kenya
Photo of author Nini M

As a child in rural Kenya, Nini Mappo longed for a green card. Now, she reacts to the discovery of an America that subjugates its people.

“I mourn for the Afro-American hopes that have been dashed to pieces, crushed into pulp by 'the system'. 

Growing up in rural Kenya, two and a half hours outside of Nairobi, we spoke of America in reverent tones: America was generous. She was kind. She sent plenty of aid in corn oil and dried yellow corn to keep our bellies full in times of drought and famine.

America also sent missionaries to look after the orphaned and the destitute. And when the AIDS epidemic hit crisis levels in the early 2000s, America stepped in through PEPFAR with ARVs, nutrition, and health education. AIDS ceased to be as scary and an HIV diagnosis was no longer viewed as a death sentence.

The green card was everyone’s dream. Scoring one was like winning the lottery—but better. We all wanted to go to this wonderful America where corn and corn oil would be on tap and we'd never go hungry again. 

In the last few weeks, I have discovered a new America, and my mind is clouded by an overwhelming sadness. 

I am in mourning. For the America unfolding in my adulthood causes me grief.

I speak of America's systemic injustices against her Afro-Americans. I speak of police brutality, of death, of protests met with inaction, of the systemic injustices deeply embedded in her difficult history bolstered by human capital.

This new America has me wondering about the politics of power and diplomacy that drive a country to solve the problems of other nations while working hard to consciously create greater problems in their own backyard.

The 13-year-old village girl inside me asks; "Why did America cross oceans to 'save' Africa while grinding the Africans in America to the ground? Where is the moral integrity in traversing the seas in search of poor Africans in need of help, while systematically impoverishing the ones at their front door?"

While in Brooklyn, New York in 2009, a Caucasian American came up to say hello to me, but really, he wanted to talk about my braided hair. I had landed at JFK airport that morning on my way to Colorado, and was exploring the city on my layover.

The admirer of my braids deduced from my accent that I was not an American and said, "You know, they'll respect you more if they realize that you are not an African American". 

I am only now beginning to understand what he meant.

At the height of the George Floyd protests, I listened to scholars like Carol Anderson, author of White Rage, and Paul Vischer, whose video explaining racism in the US went viral. Anderson and Vischer describe a racism that is structural across the United States: policies to suppress the Black vote, to unfairly target Black Americans for misdemeanors in order to fund police departments, to decrease job opportunities for people of color. 

As I listened, I asked myself: Will Africans in America ever have a fair chance to feel sufficient? To feel significant? To feel secure? To aim for satisfaction? These people who built America, will they ever have a fair chance to belong? 

I also wondered if all that was needed was another Martin Luther King Jr, another human rights movement to address current challenges. But the more I learned the more I realized that if the Civil Rights Act, passed into law following the 1960s Civil Rights movement, is anything to go by, then a 21st century movement to match the magnitude of the 1960s might not accomplish much.

The situation is almost comparable to the infamous British colonial rule. In my country, for instance, the crown left Kenya only when it was good and ready, though we Kenyans like to believe that it was because of our fight for independence. In a similar way, the U.S. government of the ‘60s may have passed human rights laws, but they immediately created new policies to frustrate those human rights gains and crush the Afro-American fighting spirit. 

If that be so, then what is needed is not another human rights movement: It is for the American government to honor what the '60s accomplished. It is for this government to begin valuing the lives and livelihoods of its African population and reflect that into its policies on education, housing, employment, and the rule of law. 

It is for the same government to care when Black schools are economically disadvantaged in terms of infrastructure, resources, and curriculum delivery and invest into these schools programs that can bring learning to par with most of the white schools. Because if education is power, then this power has been systematically taken away from Afro-Americans by the very government that purports to protect them. 

And so, I mourn. 

I mourn for the Afro-American hopes that have been dashed to pieces, crushed into pulp by 'the system'. I mourn for all of the hearts beating arrhythmically in both fear and despair. I mourn the loss of lives through physical death and psycho-emotional death.

I mourn the concept of American freedom—for it is a freedom to subjugate others and a freedom built on the subjugation of her own citizens. I mourn this faux freedom that seems a mockery of the very people that ought to feel liberated by it. And that in the land of the brave and home of the free!

And I mourn the realization of this metaphor: that the white policeman's pressure on George Floyd's neck that deprived him of air and eventually led to his death, that pressure has been, metaphorically speaking, applied to Afro-Americans in all aspects of life, suffocating their dreams, their purpose, their ambitions, and their contributions to society in full view of everyone. And even so, the world might still find ways to blame them for having had the nerve to suffocate.

One might feel compelled to remind me of the merits of America. Thank you, but I am all too painfully aware of them and that is why I mourn the perfect America I so romanticized in my childhood. 

Let us save America's merits for a time when we can think of them untainted by this mourning. With the 4th of July celebrations still fresh in our memories, I hope that you toasted the America that the world awaits with baited breath; the America that is brave enough to make herself, for the first time in four centuries, the land of the free.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 45

Log in or register to post comments

Hello, dear Nini,

Congratulations on the Featured Storyteller Award! So proud of you! Keep writing more stories.

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

Thank you Karen, it is such an honour and a little surreal!

Millynairi
Jul 21
Jul 21

Congratulations Nini! Proud of you.

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

Thank you Milly. That is special coming from you as a fellow mwananchi and a big sister on this platform:)

Jill Langhus
Jul 22
Jul 22

Great job, Nini!!! Congrats on your story award!

XX

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

Thank you Jill:)
I am very thankful for the honour as it says that I can have a say in global affairs

Jill Langhus
Jul 24
Jul 24

You're welcome, dear!

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 22
Jul 22

Dear Nini,
Yes big congratulations on your story being chosen to be featured here. You point to colonialism, in your country and in the US, and this is such an important point, true in my country too, in which Black Lives Matter is being written in bold on the streets, and Indigenous people also coming forward to denounce the ongoing racism. You have written so beautifully from your heart. We are in a moment in time to solve all of what is wrong with how people are being treated to the advantage of a few.

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

Thank you Tamarack. It is incredible to think that only two weeks ago I was not aware of this platform!

And writing this story made me realise that there was also in me a colonialism of mind as regards how I thought of the US. Unfortunately there are forms of colonialism a plenty :/
But we hope that truth continues to break out.

Winterson
Jul 22
Jul 22

Nini, I am a white American - living in the UK for 30 years now. I, too, am saddened that we continue to perpetuate these social divides. Thank you for calling this out from your perspective and congratulations on your award.

Winterson
Jul 22
Jul 22

Nini, I am a white American - living in the UK for 30 years now. I, too, am saddened that we continue to perpetuate these social divides. Thank you for calling this out from your perspective and congratulations on your award.

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

Thank you Winterson.
May our grief grow into empowered compassion so that we can be change makers.

rgulson
Jul 22
Jul 22

Nini, I remember as a child growing up in the UK how my perspective of the black experience in the US was shaped by TV (MTV) and I thought it must be cool to be black in America. In 2005 I moved to the US and quickly saw the truth. It has been hard to see close up the lack of progress and systemic racism that goes on here, as well as the denial of so many of the issues. But I do believe that the US can change and is changing - it will take courage and for more people like me, with privilege, to stand up & speak up when we see and hear injustice. Your story captures the grief many are feeling and so thank you for sharing & congratulations on the award

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

Thank you Rgulson, I am glad that you too are in the fight for social justice.

Your experience growing up in the UK is a good example of the role of media in shaping how we think. But I am glad that you did not dismiss the truth when you moved to the US, and that you can now use your privileged position to educate others and speak out against injustices.

lchanda
Jul 22
Jul 22

True tale!

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

It is Ichanda, very unfortunate tale but true indeed.

etay
Jul 22
Jul 22

Extremely powerful depiction of the situation. Let's all keep the hope alive that this will change for the better in time to come. Thank you very much for sharing your story.

Nini Mappo
Jul 22
Jul 22

Thank you Etay.
I felt better after writing this story I am glad for the opportunity to share it with others.

Carine Fola fomduwir

hi Nini,thanks for sharing. your story is so interesting. I as an African use to have the same dreams as you about America. my sister Home will always be home. it is often said charity begins at home .they should treat their citizens right before extending a hand to Africa.

Nini Mappo
Jul 23
Jul 23

Thank you Carine.
Yes it is a common African dream because of what we are led to believe about the West in general. But gradually truth is shedding light into those misconceptions.

ARREY- ECHI
Jul 23
Jul 23

Hello Nini,
Congratulations on your story award.
Thank you for putting this down in writing so eloquently. A lot of Africans have and continue to romanticise America and the West generally.

Articles like this help us see things in perspective and show that it is not always green on the other side.
Keep writing.

Nini Mappo
Jul 23
Jul 23

Thank you Arrey-Echi.
I am glad that you could relate to my story in some aspects.

Fefe22
Jul 27
Jul 27

Hi Nini,

I just wanted you to know that you're the first story I saved and can not wait to share it with my students.

Nini Mappo
Jul 28
Jul 28

Hi Fefe,
What an honour to learn that you value my story enough to use it as resource with your students!
Thank you, that's wonderful.
Happy teaching x

Abram Katz
Jul 27
Jul 27

Thank you for speaking out, Nini. <3

Nini Mappo
Jul 28
Jul 28

Thank you for reading, Abram.

Dionne Ferguson
Jul 28
Jul 28

I was initially not sure why world pulse popped open on my phone this morning, but now I am. Reading your powerful story is a reminder of the continued work in the struggle that is needed, but also that none of us are alone in it. Continued blessings to you as you write to change views and perspectives, bringing us closer to true humanity.

Nini Mappo
Jul 28
Jul 28

Aww Dionne, your comment warmed my heart. Thank you for reading my story and encouraging me back.
Blessings to you too

Adanna
Jul 29
Jul 29

Nice one Nini!

Thank you for sharing and congratulations.

Love,
Adanna

Nini Mappo
Jul 29
Jul 29

Hi Adanna,
Thank you for reading, and taking the time to comment.
I hope that you enjoy the rest of your week:)

Anne McCaw
Jul 31
Jul 31

Nini, this is a powerful piece. Thank you for sharing your pain, grief, and deep disappointment.

I am a white woman living in America, and I am, too, crushed by what is unfolding here.

We lost a great leader of the Civil Rights movement this week: John Lewis.

I watched his funeral at which three American presidents spoke, including Barack Obama.

I just want to share something that he said: "John believed in us even when we didn't."

That really resonated with me. Here was a man, who was beaten and jailed for peaceful protest, who continued to go to jail into his 70s for the rights for African Americans.

You are not seeing the best of us right now. But it's there. I wish it were more visible to the outside world. But there are more people than ever from every walk of life standing up for the Black Lives than ever before.

Nini Mappo
Jul 31
Jul 31

Hi Anne,
Thank you for reading my story, and for this encouraging comment. John Lewis has left such a powerful legacy and we honour his memory, his vision for America. I confess that I do not know much about him, but although this sounds simplistic, I do wonder why he continued to go to jail into his 70s if three American presidents could speak at his funeral.
Please know that I have not given up on America, my childhood hero. It's only that grief often is linear, and I'm in it. But you are right, there are a lot of people fighting against racial injustices and other inequalities, not only in America but around the world. And that is encouraging.

Thank you for grieving with me.

Nini

Kat Haber
Jul 31
Jul 31

I mourn, as a white, fortunate American elder woman, with you Nini.

American colonists stole first land from 100 million native Americans from hundreds of tribes from coast to coast. Then to “America” stolen from Africa were millions to build America’s prosperity. These truths need to be known.

Have faith. John Lewis, whose life was just celebrated in the same capital Rotunda on the same platform of our assassinated President Lincoln who fought with the loss of 600,000+ lives to unify our nation over slavery. Three of our living presidents celebrated his life yesterday in the church he attended. Our first black President, a mentes of John’s, called for the vote to become a holiday. Democracy is messy and in this moment has been largely heart breaking for us all.

Many nations now are ruled by authoritarian men during this global pandemic pause. The nations doing the best now are led by caring, sharing women daring to do things differently.

For me the lesson is to be discerning rather than critical. You have written a touching, meaningful story shared by many who are romanticizing the white world by immigrants struggling to find their places in new places.

I’ll look for more stories from you as you are moved to reveal more of your heart.

Stay in your center.

Nini Mappo
Jul 31
Jul 31

Hello Kat,
Thank you for reading my story, and for mourning with me.
I admit that I know very little about America, and my perspective is informed only by my childhood interactions with America's generosity and now, the information from Paul Vischer and Dr. Carol Anderson in light of George Floyd protests.

But we did romanticise America so, and writing this piece was part of letting go of my denial. I believe it is a good start towards developing discernment, because it is a very difficult thing to have discernment without knowledge, or with skewed knowledge, which is all I had up to this point.

It is almost like a teacher finding out that her star student, the one she was so proud of and promoted to everyone, was cheating in her exams on the side, and one has to mourn that, you know. Which also sounds foolish, because America does not owe me anything.

But the fact that John Lewis' life could be celebrated on the same platform as President Lincoln is a sign that America has grown, and is changing, which gives one reason to hope.

Thank you for taking an interest in my stories, and what is in my heart. I would like to honour that by sharing my second story with you, which is a tribute to all the incredible women here at World Pulse. https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/ninim/posts/96122

Thank you for the reminder to stay in my center. I don't know why that made me smile, but it did:)

Nini

4:09am
4:09am
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
SIMON MUREU
Aug 01
Aug 01

It is sorrowful to read this We too have our people there take courage

Nini Mappo
Aug 01
Aug 01

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Simon. And yes, we will keep hope up as we wait for change. I believe it's on its way

PearlMeggy
Aug 01
Aug 01

.. It's a beautiful story with a lot of reality in it.This is really good Nini.Safi Sana. Congratulations on your Award. Such a good story teller.

Nini Mappo
Aug 01
Aug 01

Thank you for reading Maggy. "Safi sana" reminded me of radio commentators in my growing up years, took me back and made me smile:)

Marie Abanga
Aug 01
Aug 01

Congratulations dear Nini,

I join you in mourning that America especially as I have family there many of whom have sadly become "black Americans" by obtaining that citizenship. I really don't know why there is a difference in our humanity because we all don't have same skin colour actually due to pigmentation, nothing more

Nini Mappo
Aug 02
Aug 02

Thank you for reading Marie. I hope that your family are safe where they are. I'd say that your dilemma has been shared by every victim of racism and everyone fighting it, and we can only hope the quest for change that is gaining traction across the globe will make a difference.

AbigayleMutua
yesterday
yesterday

what a touching story. i sincerely share in your sentiments. America has done so much injustices to the people of african Descent and if something is not done soon, the nation will end up in anarchy. God bless your heart for sharing

Nini Mappo
4:25am
4:25am

Thank you Abigayle for taking the time to read and leave a comment. I'm glad that you could enter into the emotional space of this typical African belief of what the US is like, or at lease ought to be. Tumedaganywa siku mob!
Stay safe
Nini

Doctor Vie
4:12am
4:12am

Nini your poignant words relay deep meaning.

I was born in South Africa during a time of apartheid, hence I grew up branded as a "non-white," playing on separate beaches, going to segregated schools, living in racially demarcated areas.

That was my reality I was forced to adhere to.

At age 16 during my first year at pre-medical university, while singing "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" for the freedom of our imprisoned Madiba Nelson Mandela, we were attacked by the army & I was thrown out of university.

Few years later, armed with a scholarship to study in USA I began exploring "freedom."

After decades of living in the North Americas & Europe I've realized the root cause of the need for domination: A system structured within the throes of 'capitalism,' where the powerful have the authority to continue to thrive by enslavement of the masses.

So the great divide deepens between the have's and the have nots, trapping us for generations into vicious cycles to repeat enslaved lives under the pretense of "working to provide a better future for our loved ones."

Even after South Africa freed herself off the colonial rule, today 26 years later, the divide continues.

This comes to mind:
The late Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta saying the following, "When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible."

Sadly vestiges of the atrocities of colonialism exists throughout Africa and on every bit of indigenous people's lands invaded over hundreds of years.

We were gullible and weak then, but not anymore. We see through the veil.

We see an abusive husband, who covers up the bruises on the face of the wife he continues to dominate, so he can dedicate his book to her at a VIP event where he is revered by his distinguished peers.

We realize where we were submissive, but most importantly we realize we can reshape the future.

There is hope Nini.

I see hope in our young ones- they are much wiser than most adults...and visionaries.

What can we do?

We can inspire them to optimize their intellect, unleash their consciousness and break free off all modes of oppression, suppression, discrimination, inequality and inequity.

Our young ones will carve a better future for all.

Your sister in Africa.

Nini Mappo
5:10am
5:10am

I can feel the passion for change in your words Doctor Vie. A passion that as you say has charted your course to the present through fighting for your very existence in Apartheid South Africa. I am sorry that you went through that, but glad that the world has been the better for all the strength, knowledge and compassion generated by your search for freedom.
And you are right, freedom from colonisation for most of Africa is a lot like the village mouse, biting your toes in your sleep and blowing on them softly when you stir. The trouble is, we slept. But without understanding English we were also tricked into signing binding treaties on lands and governance that we did not understand.

This is still reflected in the underhandedness of neo-colonialism, like your metaphor of an abusive husband. So true sister, so true. So we continue in hope for a future that upholds the dignity and value of every person for our children and future generations.

Thank you for reading and sharing your heart

In sisterhood,
Nini