I still remember my father telling me “Remember, you are African, all Mauritians are Africans.” I was around 7 years old when I was first told that I was African. It did not really mean anything to me to be ‘African’ at that point in time because I was not even thinking of my identity.
Growing up in Mauritius however did make me reflect on my identity. I was constantly confused as being brought up in a very religious Hindu family did mean that my religion, culture, and traditions had strong roots from India. I was trying so hard to relate being Hindu to being African. At some point, I guess I did give up on identifying myself as an African because honestly, it was so hard for me to find any connections. Sometimes I would say I’m African to my black friends, to fit better in the group or just for the sake of saying it.
I remember once reading the newspaper and seeing Mauritius as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The word ‘African’ was the one that stood out the most to me. This made me think that maybe I am African because Mauritius forms part of Africa. Nonetheless, that was not the most convincing point about why I should call myself as an African. The newspaper article made the connection sound more political, at least from how I perceived it.
It was only recently that I started questioning my identity more and more. I started the journey of exploring my identity, and I became more comfortable and started acknowledging my identity as an ‘African’ when I joined the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in 2012. Here are what I have learned throughout my journey (still a work in progress journey):
It goes beyond physical appearance
I am still African even though I might not necessarily look as the ‘perceived’ African. I do not have a dark chocolate complexion, I do not have kinked hair and I may not be as curvy. I often do not even wear African prints, but mostly traditional Indian clothes. Even till now, my African friends make fun of me and say that I am ‘Indian’. Funnily enough, my Indian friends do not identify me as an Indian. In cases like these, I just say I’m Mauritian, while deep inside I do know what I truly believe in.
It is all about that one passion
I have always seen myself living in Mauritius or South Africa and giving back to my community. I mean when I think about my dream, I think of the African Dream. I know that I am truly passionate about my community, my country, and my continent. I do realise that we face many stereotypes as Africans and that our continent also faces many problems, but I now see all of these as less of problems but more of untapped opportunities. I am a proud African whose love for her continent keeps growing with each passing day.
It’s about the values, the dreams, and the common ground
When I attended ALA, I got the opportunity to interact with students from over 34 different African countries. I cannot say that being African means that we all have the same cultures and traditions, but what I can say is that perhaps embracing those differences is what makes us Africans, perhaps seeing a better African makes us Africans, perhaps having similar values such as empathy, diversity, excellence, collaboration, integrity and many other more make us Africans.
My journey of exploring my identity has not been an easy one, but an exciting one. The more I interact with diverse group of people, the more I learn about myself, and the more I learn to appreciate my identity. Being African is not just a simple statement, it has many more significant ties to it.