For many people in this country, being a 1.5 gen means being born elsewhere and then immigrating to the United States at a young age. For me, I was born in the States but then moved to Kenya when I was two. That is where I spent most of my life until the age of 16 when I graduated from high school.
As I look back, I have many great memories and so many strong relationships with friends, family and everyone who impacted my life back home in Kenya. However, in middle school and high school, I had insecurities. For the longest time I felt really disappointed in myself for having these insecurities. Through writing and reflection, I am beginning to recognize how working through these insecurities has helped shape me into who I am today.
As a father, I can’t help but wonder what my daughters’ insecurities are going to be, and how they will be shaped by them. I can only hope that as they work through their own insecurities, they will one day shape them for the better.
Going to high school in Kenya meant crossing boundaries. A big boundary was money. The kids at my high school boarding school were simply very rich (like great grandkids of the first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and the relatives of the current president, as of 2021, Uhuru Kenyatta). I was able to attend because I had received an academic scholarship, which paid for part of my school fees a.k.a. tuition. Coca-Cola, where my dad worked, picked up the rest of the tab.
However, I was living with my mother, who at the time lived on a two-acre farm (pigs, chickens and cows included) 10 minutes from my school on the outskirts of Nairobi. While other students commuted 45 minutes to an hour from Nairobi to come to school, I simply drove the 10 minutes from the other direction. Though solidly middle/ upper class for our rural town of Ruiru, we weren’t even close to being in the same money league as the kids that attended my school (some of my fellow classmates would go clubbing in Nairobi’s hottest spots at the age of 15 and 16).
I was insecure and hyper aware when my mom would come and pick me up with her older Toyota pickup truck, while the other kids were picked up in the latest BMW and Mercedes models. I remember waiting until many of the kids were picked up at the end of each week before coming out of my dorm (I did not want them to see me in the truck).
I was embarrassed about the fresh fruit my mom would pack me. I would hide the sweet bananas and oranges that I brought for weekly snack because other kids brought Chips Ahoy and Pringles. Sometimes the fruits would go bad in my locker.
I was scared to invite my closest friends to my house even though they had asked time and time again if we could hang out. They could have come over and we could have played Tekken 3 on my PlayStation, hung out in my room, watched some favorite shows on the TV, but my insecurities stopped me... I didn’t live in a mansion with “servants quarters” (yes that is an ugly term left over from colonialism). Ironically, I recognized I had privilege because I would host my neighborhood friends to come hang out and play on my PlayStation and watch shows (they didn’t have the latest game systems)…but I clearly wasn’t as privileged as my school classmates and so I didn’t invite them over.
My mother poured her time, energy -- everything -- into making sure that I had all that I needed. Deep down I knew this to be true, but I just did not want to stick out in school.
I am disappointed that I had those insecurities. Especially because of all the sacrifices my mother made. But I recognize that now that it’s shaped a big part of who I am.
The insecurity around the older pick-up truck that I did not want other kids to see me in has turned into something different. I now find it hard to retire anything that’s functional whether it’s clothes, dishes or even our red 2008 Honda Fit. In working through and recognizing my insecurities I found that those are not the things that really make up who you are. Also, shoot, if it’s functional why replace it?
The insecurity about fruit…If you know me now you know that I’m an enthusiast for fruit and prefer it over chocolate, sweets, pastries and desserts! In college I wondered what it would be like to get a grant to travel the world to learn about other cultures and sample the fruit from the different regions of the world. Fruit went from a source of embarrassment to something that I love. It’s a love that I’ve definitely passed on to my oldest daughter Alana!
Insecurity about my house and home? I find myself deeply rooted in my neighborhood and my community. I have learned that our house is a space but it is the people in my house (Julia, Alana and Maya) and my community (my neighbors and friends) that bring value to that place. I love my Hilltop neighborhood. I love walking it. I love talking to people. I love taking my kids around and picking fruit from the neighbors’ trees in the summer. I love Tacoma, the city of Destiny, and all that it has taught me and brought me.
As I think about my own two girls, I wonder what insecurities that they will grow up with. I hope that working through these insecurities will shape them for the better and that they can discover their true selves as they seek to find peace, joy and purpose.