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22.01.2007 General News

The Hyphenated Ghanaian(-Canadian)

By Nikki Yeboah
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The day I realised I was not Ghanaian was December 1, 2006. That was the day my plane touched down in Accra.

I had left my purse on my seat and walked to an overhead compartment a few seats further to collect my backpack. In the mad rush to get out of the plane, someone noticed my unattended purse and asked, in Twi, “Who's bag is this? Somebody's left their bag unattended.”

In English, I responded, “Oh, it's mine”. The looks of shock that passed around the plane was amusing to say the least.

“We all thought you were Jamaican,” someone piped up. Jamaican? Me? Nikki Owusu Yeboah? Born and (for the first six years of my life) raised in Abrepo.

I was surprised and maybe a little hurt, because in Canada I proudly identify myself as a Ghanaian when asked, but among Ghanaians I was a foreigner. Where did I fit in?

This is the impasse many young Ghanaians who have been raised abroad come to at some point in their life. Depending on how one looks at it this can be considered as a loss of identity or a dual identity.

The culture in Canada is that there is no culture. By that I mean, those in Canada are proud to trace their roots back to Europe, Africa, Asia - essentially anywhere outside of North America. Only Native Americans or “Red Indians” as they are sometimes referred to can truly claim to be Canadians.

Being a Ghanaian-Canadian comes with its pluses and minuses. Whether you are in Canada or Ghana you will still be asked where you are from.

There is also the risk of allowing one identity to supersede the other. In my case, I am far more Canadian than Ghanaian but that is because of the amount of my life spent abroad.

With frequent visits to Ghana, hopefully things will balance out.

As confused as I am, I wonder how my children will feel since they will not even have the benefit of six years in Ghana.

After completing university I realised that I was losing my sense of self, as many twenty-somethings do before entering adulthood and the burdens that come along with it. I wanted to better know my past before jumping blindly into the future.

I left Canada to find an identity that I thought had been eroded, and now have found that two identities can co-exist peacefully together in one person, but it's not easy.

I now know my family better (this has its blessings and pitfalls), my country better, as well as my language and myself.

Before I left Canada, my only connection to Ghana was through my family, and so any opinion I expressed about life in Ghana was as a result of the twenty or so members of my immediate family. If I was asked if Africans really sacrifice people, or live in villages etc., my response was always no.

After all, my family lived in Kumasi and some in Accra, and no such thing existed there. Now I know that there is a Ghana outside of these two cities, and anything is possible there.

I discovered Ghanaweb just two years ago. That web site and my brief conversations with my grandmother and cousins were all I knew of Ghana. How limited was my scope of knowledge, and how arrogant it was to assume that I was Ghanaian just because of that.

Being Ghanaian is being able to meet someone for the first time and between the two of you figure out what friend or relative you have in common. Being Ghanaian is being able to find a trotro to Spintex Road. Being Ghanaian is knowing just how much a taxi from Airport to Osu should cost. Being Ghanaian is walking past an older person and saying good evening rather then looking away.

These are all things that true Ghanaians take for granted but that myself and many more like me are working towards.

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