Be Proud of Your Heritage and Share It With Others
Akwete Tyehimba was born Black in America but her cultural roots are deeply embedded in Africa. She and her late husband Bandele made a commitment to raise their three children with a foundation that honors their African heritage. The name of their daughter, Adjowa, means “Monday born” in the Akan language of Ghana. Bambata, their oldest son is named for a South African Zulu warrior. Sekou, the youngest son, is named after Ahmed Sekou Ture, the first president of independent Guinea.
“Culture is everything,” says Mrs. Tyehimba, who reflects her beliefs in the natural, African-inspired way that she wears her hair, her choice of African attire over Western styles, and in how she chooses to continue her husband’s dream of opening a bookstore to serve as a catalyst for teaching African culture and heritage to others who look like them and to whomever else who wants to learn.
“We can’t forget where we came from,” says Mrs. Tyehimba, owner of Pan African Connection Bookstore and Culture Center, which has been in operation in Dallas for nearly 30 years. On countless occasions, Mrs. Tyehimba has scooped up an assortment of books and artifacts from her store and visited area schools to expose students to information about African culture that has been absent or given scant mention in textbooks.
We have such a great history, and we need to honor our ancestors by making sure that it is told and not forgotten. It is part of who we are.
Embracing and sharing ethnic identity such as language, ancestry, traditions and beliefs is not just a positive practice, but a healthy one. There is “a strong association between salient ethnic identity and improved mental health. Ethnic identity also buffered the stress of discrimination and was strongly associated with fewer symptoms of depression,” according to research findings reported in the July 8, 2018 issue of Psychology Today. The article cited a study of a sampling of Blacks and Hispanics that showed lower rates of participation in psychiatric services among those who had “a sense of pride, belonging and attachment” to their ethnic group, and who had integrated their values and beliefs in daily interactions. The same article also cited a 2015 study that found Native American adolescents who exhibited both a weaker ethnic identity and a strong perception of having been discriminated against experienced the highest levels of hopelessness.
Here are several ways that you can embrace and preserve your ethnic and cultural identity and keep it strong:
- Establish or attend cultural study groups. Gather with members of your community to study and engage in conversations about your culture and traditions.
- Participate in traditions. Attend cultural festivals and events, celebrate holidays, and if possible, travel to your family’s origin country to get a broader perspective on your culture.
- Advocate for more cultural teaching in schools. Students should be taught how important their culture and traditions are. Advocate for a more inclusive curriculum.
- Document your culture. Promote and raise awareness about your culture by writing stories of your personal history and experiences. Produce films and documentaries on your lifestyle and traditions. Interview elders for oral histories.
- Preserve food traditions, Is there a favorite family recipe that has been in the family for generations and brings up memories of special times? Smell and taste have powerful connections to memory. Continue preparing those meals and share the memories that are part of your history.
- Stay connected with family and other members of the community. Many aspects of culture are difficult to learn in books and museums, including etiquette, body language and humor. Gather as a group not just for holidays, but for ordinary meals, events or just conversation.
- Learn about religious traditions. Studying your parents’ and grandparents’ religion is also a path to understanding your culture. You don’t have to be a part of their religion to learn how it provides connections to language, history and personal behavior.
- Try to speak the ancestral language of your culture. If you are from a country that was once colonized and you only know the dominant language, seek out your ancestral language to study or learn to speak. If you know a native language that is at risk of extinction, make a point to teach it to others.
- Study and contribute to your family tree. With technology, a wealth of information on family genealogy is just a Google search away. Track down relatives through online and government websites, physical record collections and family connections. They just might provide new perspectives on your culture that you haven’t heard before.
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