Jean Barker

South African-American?

2015-03-13 15:16

Jean Barker

I’ve spent the last few months re-examining my identity as I consult with lawyers. I’m looking into prolonging my stay in the US.

Yes, that’s what I’m doing. I know a lot of you guys think my criticisms of America are somehow anti-American, but actually, they’re more like the nagging of a devoted ride-or-die girlfriend – born of love. I confess it. Now you know. Sorry, ISOLOSILIS.

They weren’t always, I confess. At first, this place confounded me and frustrated me (and sometimes still does). But as I began to see how big of a place it really was, and as I put down roots, made friends and built a life here, all that began to change for me. A Twitter friend used to tease me, saying that America’s #softpower (yes, it actually was a hashtag) would get me where its imperialist demandings had failed, and she turned out to be dead right. The love and possibilities this place has proved have made me feel as if, in some way, I belong.

So I asked my boyfriend, who is American (via Canada) if I’m becoming American. I was worried about it cause I feel like I forget I’m foreign a lot of the times these days.

He laughed at me.

“You can’t go a day without mentioning South Africa. And whenever you do, you do so with great affection.” He actually really talks likes like a 50s movie character for some reason.

I guess that’s true. I can’t stop mentioning South Africa. I’m at once at home here now, yet still desperately homesick all the time. In a strange way, my reaction to Vuyo Mvoko being mugged on live TV in South Africa proves how homesick I am. I know I should have been concerned about “the rising crime”. I know I should have been shocked. But I reacted more or less the same way I did to the dude who faked sign language during Obama’s visit. Only in Mzansi, right? I wanted to be in the magic elevator home for the night, to laugh, even be afraid, with my friends.

“Little South Africa”

I never liked the ex-saffer “whenwe” scene in London, with its Castle Beer bars and Steve Hofmeyr concerts, but I suspect that America, which is harder to get to, attracts a stronger kind of immigrant. The South African in America is attracted to complications and generally came here for career reasons rather than because apartheid was inconveniently being dismantled before their eyes.

I’ve met some amazing South Africans here recently – people who inspire me and reignite my passion for my home country, and who share my belief in its future and want to help prove it here by being proud and successful in America. We all love telling our stories and would do anything to help each other. If that reminds you of immigrant culture, it’s because in a way it is that, exactly that.

We don’t all live in the same suburb. There’s no South Africa Town to match Koreatown or Chinatown or Little Ethiopia. But we’re connected by knowing that beef jerky is inferior to biltong, and that robots are everywhere. And  I’ve driven from Santa Monica, to Koreatown, To Studio City, to Woodland hills, to meet for coffee or dinner or to watch a South African movie. But through twitter and contacts kind enough to connect us, we’re reminding each other of what made us.

“You can take the girl out of South Africa…

… but you can’t take the South Africa out of the girl.“ Well, maybe I don’t have to.

The thing I love most about America right now might be that, in this moment of indecision in which I feel so torn, America will let me be both South African and American if I’m allowed to stay.

You see, what makes America great is some of the same stuff that makes South Africa great. You can be from elsewhere at some point, and also come to be American. Of course, you may not be quite as accepted as Chuck “Fratboy”-Douchebag-Whose-Dad-Knows-People, because some kinds of Americans are easier to be than others are. However, you can find a place to belong. You can be Irish- Korean- Chinese- Japanese- Iranian- Mexican- Vietnamese- Hungarian- Scottish- German- Armenian- Indian- African-

Or … how about South African-American. I could smaak that.

- Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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