The memories of a million slaves flow through my veins. Their pain, joy, and power are all pieces that make me whole. I have crossed oceans, deserts, and mountains. Left all that I knew, to find a story that was not meant to be mine. I, Alcynna Lloyd a refugee of Liberia, have made a home in a land that my ancestors tried so desperately to escape. I am no longer a young child fleeing rape, murder, and war. I am a 24-year-old woman, staring at the ghosts of a past that haunt me. Today is July26th, Liberia’s Independence Day, and on this day, I question what it means to be Liberian. What it means to be stripped of your heritage, and introduced to a culture that aims at erasing your skin. And most importantly, what it means to thrive.
I was born in a rundown back room in the spring of 1993, a time where wild flowers blossom, animals coo their young, and the ocean breeze delivers soft kisses. Unfortunately, that is not what happened that spring. Instead people were running in the streets, blood soaking their clothing. Gun shots left ears ringing, and hunger struck violently in the bellies of the starving. I was born during the second Liberian Civil War, and only had a few years to live in the land of my grandmothers and grandfathers. I was much too young to even understand that my feet stood on the continent of Africa. A continent beautiful in many ways, yet just as ugly.
No matter what I think I have been through, I cannot comprehend the emotional and mental stress my parents must have endured in those early years. Can you imagine trying to raise a baby during a war? Running house to house, toting only what you could carry? My parents knew this was no way to live, and that we had to escape. They spent hours of tears and sweat fighting for United States visas. I have been told that in our moments of true despair, we reveal ourselves. We can either be weak or we can be strong. Luckily, my parents were strong. After many months of relentless effort, my parents received their visas. We were on our way to the states, a new beginning.
When we resettled in America I was barely four years old. My first home was in Worchester, Massachusetts. It is peculiar that citizens of the sun, found themselves living in the cold of the north. However a blessing from a kind group of people ensured us housing and food. The blessing came from My grandmother’s church, who paid for us to immigrate to America. Can you imagine? A complete group of strangers wanted to keep us safe. I remember how special that made me feel. That special feeling persisted, but sometimes I felt special for the wrong reasons.
I wonder what African slaves felt like when they were stolen from their homes, and brought to the North. Did they adjust to the climate? I know the faces of their captors also inspired fear. The same fear I shared as a little girl placed into a school system, where people did not look like me. I had grown up on a continent with people who shared my rich melanin, and to my surprise people in America did not always share my skin. I was freighted, much in the way a small animal would be in the face of a predator. I chose to keep to myself. So much so, that my teachers would send notes home to my parents alerting them of my lack of interaction. While I was experiencing my own wave of uncomfortableness, my parents were certainly facing worse.
I Immigrated when I was young, so I learned new speech patterns quickly. My parents had spent their whole lives in Liberia, and the transition was harder for them. If their accents did not give them away, surely their mannerisms revealed them as foreigners. When I got much older, my parents told me stories of people laughing at their accents, treating them like they were stupid or dangerous. Noticeably the effects of immigration began to weigh on them. My strong father was noticeably more reserved, and my mother pretty much became a recluse. The memories of Liberia’s orange sky, and friendly smiles constantly reminding them of what they had lost.
After a few years my parents made the big decision to move to Texas. Apparently, the south was much cheaper than the north. Which was especially important for immigrants starting from the ground up. You see, in America no one cares about your old degrees or occupations. You are just another foreigner. Texas would be a place where we could finally excel. Maybe even buy a home, instead of living in an apartment complex. I had no idea where this Texas was, or even what it would be like. My father told me that during and after the Liberian Civil War, a small community of Liberians relocated there. I would have aunts, uncles, and extended family living there! While I was more concerned with having playmates, my parents were excited to reclaim a bit of their culture.
The first few years of living in Texas, were the most I felt connected to being Liberian. I was immersed in my culture. Sunday dinners at aunties house, going to church with my cousins, and community barbecues with my parents. However, It seemed that the closer I got to my roots, the further I disconnected with America. This only intensified as I continued to mature. I was experiencing the push of three inherently different cultures; Black American, white American, and African. It seemed that each culture wanted something different from me. My African family and friends wanted me to cook more, and learn how to pick potato-leaves. My African-American friends wanted me to listen to chopped-and screwed mix-tapes, and my white friends wanted me to watch Laguna beach. I did them all, and it did not always work in my favor. I could not satisfy everyone, if I could not even satisfy myself.
I think I was fifteen when I finally realized that persevering my ancestral heritage was a duty to not only me, but everyone that came before me. I embraced every aspect of being Liberian. I learned how to cook fufu in about a million different ways. I asked my aunties to send me colorful lappas from Liberia. I even wore large headdresses to church. I began to talk to my American friends about where I came from. This time not with the fear of being judged, but with pride of being special. I spoke of our history as if they were magnificent stories, each detail followed by a smile or a giggle. When I talked about the war sometimes tears would flood my eyes, and although they came from sadness, they also came from hope.
When I first got to America, I was so concerned with fitting in, that I silenced my own narrative. Perhaps I needed that though, maybe it takes time and even a little disappointment to arrive at your destination. I do not have an unusual refugee story. I think every immigrant struggles with finding their identity in a new nation. A true sense of loneliness derives from the desire to form connections that transcend borders and accents, and the pressures of assimilation are more prevalent in youth. Despite all of that, there is an even larger yearning to become something bigger and better. I am 24 years old now, and on this July 26th, I will spend it remembering the scared little girl longing for friendship. I will remember the determination of parents wanting a better life for that little girl, and how their courage showed true strength. Most importantly, I will know how it feels to rise above a situation that seemed doomed. One day I will return home to Liberia, much like the freed slaves who made Liberia their home. And like them, I will take my pain, happiness, and love. I will reclaim my narrative, because after all I am a Liberian woman. The blood that flows though me is nothing short of magic.