When I was asked to become part of this magazine, my first response was that I am most likely one of the least African affiliated girls in the Caribbean. Even though I know that I have some African heritage roots in me somewhere, I personally don’t identify with them. Why is this the case? Should I identify with them? And how far back should we go?
I used to find it difficult to describe my own identity to others. I felt I had to conform to one label: I’m this or I’m that. Identities are complex and personal and shaped by so many internal and external factors. Over time I’ve gotten used to this and if someone asks me about my identity or where I’m from, I usually end up giving a very long description that sounds something like this:
“I was born and raised on Curaçao. But my upbringing was very much colored by the Surinamese culture. My father was born in Surinam, but moved to the Netherlands around the age of twelve with his parents and siblings. His parents, my grandparents, were born and raised in Surinam just like my mother’s parents. My mother, however, was born in Aruba, but moved to the Netherlands with her family at a young age, too. My parents met each other in the Netherlands but they decided to migrate to Surinam because my father longed to move back (I believe especially because he hated the Dutch cold weather). However, at the time there were no job opportunities in Surinam. My mother had relatives living on Curaçao so they decided to move to Curaçao. And so that’s were I was born and raised.”
My story becomes even more intricate when I look deeper into my family tree. My last name is ‘Mac Donald’, which is originally Scottish. Considering my Caribbean background, this always surprises people. I came up with an explanation, which is partly made up and party true: one of my great-great-great-great parents used to be a Scottish trader, who migrated to Suriname where he fell in love with an African slave. They had a son who carried his last name, and the rest is history. Taking my mother’s ancestry into account, I learned that in my blood I carry Dutch, Portuguese, Scottish, Creole and, yes, also African.
Even though this sounds complex, my story is not unique, but it illustrates the complexity of, not just Caribbean, but many identities. My heritage, place of birth and upbringing are a reflection of the long history of migration and (post-) colonialism but also of society, which shapes so much of who we are. I suppose my African roots have been so diluted over the years, geographically and genetically and perhaps this explains why I don’t identify with Africa unlike others within the Caribbean, even though I know that I too am of African descent. How we feel, what we identify with is not just historical, genetic, emotional or experiential. It’s a relative combination of all of these factors. Most of all, it’s personal.