Telling Stories: the Children of African Immigrants

By Zhaoyang Liu

It is common for immigrants, and in particular, their children, to face questions of identity as they become acclimated to their new country. This is no different for the steadily growing African immigrant population in the United States. Michael Rain, a child of African immigrants, struggled with uncertainties about his heritage and identity while growing up as a young boy in New York. Today, he collects the stories of newcomers to the U.S. through his ENODI project, which highlights the lives of first-generation African immigrants. In the following TED presentation, he speaks about his childhood experiences, while addressing how African immigrants are perceived in America.

Reflection Questions:

1. Use Bronfenbrenner’s model, to chart Michael Rain’s identity as when he first attended school in the Un

2. Rain describes an instance in his childhood where he was embarrassed by a traditional Ghanaian meal that his mother packed for his lunch. What might cause the children of immigrants to feel shame regarding the culture of their parents? How can these experiences influence the way in which those children perceive their identities?

3. What do you think Rain wants people to know about the experiences of African immigrants in the U.S.? How are their stories similar to other immigrants? What differences does he highlight?

4. Rain tells a story about black identity from his childhood:

“Junior high school was the first time I went to school with a large number of black American students, and many of them couldn’t understand why I sounded differently than they did or why my parents seemed different than theirs. “Are you even black?” a student asked. I mean, I thought I was black. I thought my skin complexion settled that. I asked my father about it, and he shared his own confusion over the significance of that when he first came to the US. He explained to me that, when he was in Ghana, everyone was black, so he never thought about it. But in the US, it’s a thing.”

As you listen to his story, what did it mean to be black to his peers in the U.S.? Why do you think he was asked if he was black? What does the story expose about the way that skin color is often linked to identity and experience in the United States?