The tale of how my family came to be in America is one as old as time. While the cast and some of the sub-plots may differ, the narrative began with a man living in a forgotten village in a country light years away from modern life and is spurred on by big dreams and even greater expectations.
My father grew up well below the poverty line in a farming village in a town miles away from any major city in Kenya. If you look him up online you can read the story of how he cried in trees while studying for his Standard 8 exams. Because he was hungry. Because he was taking care of his thirteen younger siblings. Because his parents expected him to be a man at a time when he was truly just a boy.
But while my father’s parents failed him in so may ways, they also unintentionally (or intentionally?) raised the man I feared and loved. My father home-schooled himself through high school, enrolled in teacher’s college, became a Superintendent for the local district…and then one day decided he wanted to pursue higher education in America.
He looked to my mother and told her his dreams and one unremarkable day in 1991, he came to America. It wasn’t until a year later that my sisters, my mother and I followed.
We moved to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and as they say, the rest is history.
I was raised on my father’s dream my entire life. Education was the driving force in our lives as well as the fact that my sisters and I were being afforded opportunities in America that we might not have had if we were still living in Kenya.
Even as I write this piece I can’t help but feel my privilege and disgust with myself for even second-guessing my father’s choice to come to America all of those years ago. Because I was raised to count my blessings that I was growing up here with all of the choices and opportunities and access to education. My father literally worked himself to death so that my sisters and I could be here…livin’ the dream.
But whose dream?
I cannot say with absolute certainty what my life would be like in Kenya had we never left. I imagine, of course, I would be a different person. I could be more unhappy or I could be happier.
I will never know.
What I do know is that the dream my parents spoon-fed me is maybe not the one I choose to accept as I get older. Kenya is not perfect and my god, it has flaws and corruption to no end, but it is home. It will always be a home which I feel a draw towards yet there will always be a quiet distance.
I grew up envying my friends in grade school who knew their aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents. I believe the term for my particular ennui is “placelessness”…and I will continue to experience this until something gives. Where is my home? Where are my roots?
I am terrified that perhaps I am merely living the faded remnants of my father’s dream when in actuality I could be living and discovering a life and a person I never imagined. The convenience of America is preferable but this can never be home. Not when I know and have understood both worlds.
So where is home? Whose dream do I now pursue?