I’m watching the France v Nigeria game with my son. I’m supporting Nigeria just I’ve supported Ivory Coast and Ghana in each of their matches. At 1-0 to France 86.52 minutes into the game I am losing hope of a win. By the end of the evening, we’ll know whether any African country goes through to the next round.
For many of us 1st and 2nd generation of Caribbean parentage, this is the norm. Speaking to my friends of African parentage, they of course support their home team. But they also support other Africa teams when they play (thank God there was no Nigeria V Ghana. God knows how we would’ve coped!!).
My Twitter, Facebook and What’s App account use has been more frantic during the African games than anything else (including about Thierry Henry…!). I have loved being part of that camaraderie. Don’t get me wrong, I was screaming along with the entire country when England played. I was hurting the day after THE match that saw the England pretty much guarantee crashing out of the tournament.
But it fascinates me how so many of us hold on to our identities as Africans, even through something like a sporting event. Even in childhood, I remember being aware of issues around culture and identity tied up with the world’s biggest football tournament.
My Guyanese mother always supporting the South American teams when I was a kid. She was born in Guyana and in the absence of a Guyanese national team in World Cup, she opted for the South American teams. I feel the need to point out that Guyana is on the South American mainland. It shares borders with Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname. It is part of the Caribbean but NOT part of the West Indies (although Guyana plays in the West Indian cricket team! As you can see from this map, it is sometimes considered as part of the West Indies but generally, the term refers to the Caribbean Islands). It is also not Ghana.
Growing up I always identified with my Guyanese heritage over my Jamaican one. Our family traditions were very Guyanese; we ate pepper pot on Christmas morning; roti, dhal and dhal puri were and still are some of my favourite foods and my nan taught us songs in Hindi, which she had learnt through mixing with the significant Hindu community in Guyana (and Trinidad; a hop, skip and a jump away). I felt ‘Guyanese’ more strongly than ‘Caribbean’. Supporting a South American team felt right because South America is where my mum was from, right? That was just normal for us. And when West Germany beat England in 1990? That’s right, we were supporting West Germany!!
A lot has changed since then, including how I view Guyana, the Caribbean and our shared cultural heritage. Guyana is of course much closer to the Caribbean in culture, psychology and history than its South American neighbours, in many ways. However, some of my journey into identity took me to Central and South America for extensive periods of time. Parts of coastal Mexico & Costa Rica have been influenced by African and Caribbean history which can be seen in the people who live there are well as the food, music and religions present. And don’t get me started on Salvador in Brazil! If you haven’t been there, put it on your list! The pride the people have in their African ancestry, their identification with African religions and Gods was truly beautiful and even familiar, in a weird way.
So where I find myself now is in a weird place of supporting African teams as an African; supporting South American teams as a Guyanese and supporting England, as I’m British! That’s pretty much all the teams in the tournament.
I’m ok with that though; I can be all three things as I AM all three things. It often feels like a fluid identify; all of these things yet none of them. And I guess this is the nature of identify for many people. We all occupy different spaces at different times, in one way or another.