I Am An American, But We’re Not So Different


Seen on a brick at Apartheid Museum

Seen on a brick at Apartheid Museum

Well I made it to South Africa safely after a 16 hour airplane ride. I am still very ecstatic about being here for three more weeks! So after spending a few days in Johannesburg, I am now in Cape Town. My experience thus far has been quite interesting; my use of the word interesting comes as a result of my inability to think of a better descriptive word at this moment.

In discussing my adventure, I would like to begin by discussing my sudden realization that I am an American. For those of you who know me well, know that I have resided in the United States for little over thirteen years now and became a naturalized citizen during the mid 2000s. However, as a citizen, being an American has never been a central part of my identity. In fact, I have struggled wit this for several years now. I am quicker to identify as a Saint Lucian though I have not lived there since 2001. It sounds so simple, but for me it is rather much more complicated. Yes, it is true that I am an American citizen but honestly speaking, I have never felt a deep-seated connection to the U.S. or this identity. Nonetheless, this is a facet of my identity that I will continue to be perplexed by.

In spite of my personal struggle with my identity as an American, from the moment I stepped off the plane into South Africa it has been the first thing most people have taken noticed of. Armed with my heavy “American” accent and my passport baring the words United States of America, I have been asked the unsettling question “Where are you from?” more times than I can actually count. I will continue to reflect upon this.

Anyway, during my very brief stay in Johannesburg I had the opportunity to do some sightseeing. I explored Nelson Mandela Square, located in Sandton which is considered the new business district of South Africa, downtown Johannesburg, and Apartheid Museum. I was intrigued by the history I gathered from my tour of these places. I was particularly taken aback by the striking difference between Sandton and downtown Johannesburg. The economic disparities between these two places are readily apparent. This is noteworthy because downtown Johannesburg, also known as the Central Business District was once the epicenter of South Africa’s economy. However, after the occurrence of the “white flight” in the 90s, Sandton became the new financial district of South Africa.

My visit to Apartheid Museum was very powerful and emotionally triggering. I had the opportunity to learn about the development and implementation of Apartheid in South Africa. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness while learning about this part of South African history. I became dispirited as I walked through the exhibit of the laws that were intentionally enacted to precipitate such blanketed racial segregation and discrimination. It was unnerving to view footage and images of the atrocities committed against civilians. Sadly, this social construction of separatism and hate reminded me so much of the prior existence of the Jim Crow Laws in America. It was heart-breaking to realize that parallels between institutionalized racism in the United States and South Africa.

Despite some the disheartening exhibits, I was in awe of and inspired by the temporary exhibition chronicling Nelson Mandela’s  life. Additionally, the display of the current Preamble to the South African constitution made my heart smile. It simultaneously acknowledges the heinousness of Apartheid while instilling hope in the future direction of the nation. A copy of the Preamble can be found here: http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/docs/reports/annual/2008/preamble.pdf

3 thoughts on “I Am An American, But We’re Not So Different

  1. James Herbert Williams

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hopefully you will appreciate the complexities of developing a new society by the time you depart from this wonderful country.

  2. Jasmine Zugarramurdi

    Olivia –

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I really enjoyed this blog and I can’t wait to hear more!!

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