This American City Proclaims Swahili Day, Celebrating African Culture.
Did you know that Swahili is the third most spoken language in Lexington, Kentucky, USA?
Today, as we commemorate International Swahili Day, Mayor Linda Gordon and the City of Lexington have declared June 3rd as Swahili Day. This special occasion celebrates African culture and showcases the vibrant Swahili-speaking community in Lexington.
This wonderful initiative was brought forth by the Marafiki Centre, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for cross-cultural connections through education, events, and advocacy for the improved representation of the Swahili-speaking community.
In the process of adapting to a new country, many refugees and first-generation immigrant children often find themselves distancing from their culture and native languages. While embracing a new identity is important, it is equally crucial to maintain knowledge and appreciation for their heritage, languages, and traditions.
Regardless of how African immigrants integrate into American culture and lifestyle, the history of the country ensures that these children will never become "true" Americans. Thus, knowing their roots, culture, and language from a young age helps them better define their identity and connect with their history.
Many immigrant children in the United States face an identity crisis as they navigate the journey of forced displacement experienced by their parents. It is not uncommon to witness children who were born in refugee camps in Tanzania, Uganda, or Ethiopia, while their parents originate from Congo. After being resettled in the USA or Canada at a very young age, these children often struggle to define their identity.
During my time at the Marafiki Centre's Swahili summer camps for children, I encountered a poignant example of this struggle. I asked a child where she was from, and she replied, "I am from Kenya." However, her brother interjected, saying, "No, you are not from Kenya, you are from Congo." She then explained that she was born in Kenya, but her brother insisted, "Yes, in a refugee camp, but you are Congolese." Other kids nearby chimed in, saying, "No, you are American because you now live in America, and this is your home." I observed in silence as these children debated back and forth, witnessing the confusion and frustration of the little girl. This scenario encapsulates the identity crisis experienced by many immigrant children and young adults in the USA.
The Marafiki Centre not only promotes Swahili among first-generation Swahili-speaking children and youth but also offers Swahili language classes for adults and Native Americans. These classes aim to foster a better understanding of the culture and facilitate interaction within the community. Additionally, the center has expanded its programs throughout the city, offering language translation services and Swahili clubs in several Lexington schools.
Every summer, the Marafiki Centre organizes four-week Swahili summer camps for children whose parents have immigrated from Africa. They also hold a youth conference for young immigrants striving to navigate a new culture.
In Lexington, Kentucky, the majority of African resettled refugees hail primarily from Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. Since Swahili is a common language among these countries, it holds immense importance within the local African community, preserving their language and heritage.
Pablo George Emedi, one of the board directors at Marafiki, aptly stated, "Swahili is not simply about language but about the people."
As we celebrate International Swahili Day, let us embrace the beauty of culture, diversity, and acceptance. By doing so, we can foster a harmonious environment, particularly in the United States, where diversity is at the core of its identity.