“The politically and culturally complex picture of Africa that the author paints is welcome, and the complexities of black identity for recent immigrants versus that of diasporic black people are not often touched upon in YA literature.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Sandra Uwiringiyimana was named after an influential Rwandan prime minister and says she has pretty big shoes to fill. Her last name means ‘one who believes in God’. A belief that has been tested by what she and her family underwent.
This is Sandra’s memoir of being a survivor of a massacre at a refugee camp that targeted Rwandan Congolese families like hers because they didn’t belong to Congo where they lived or Rwanda where their ancestors were originally from. A member of the Banyamulenge tribe, she describes the feeling of being stateless and of displacement and fleeing violence being a part of their lives. Until the night when 166 lives were brutally taken and they couldn’t go back home anymore.
Her family managed to move to America as part of a UN re settlement effort but their troubles didn’t end there. Trying to assimilate into a new culture wasn’t easy. Not knowing the language made communication very difficult. Sandra was viewed as a curiosity in school. Her parents who had had some status in Congo were reduced to working whatever jobs they could find to make a living. She describes how even teens who were refugees wanted to wear trendy clothes to fit in and the struggle to make friends and be normal while struggling with the memories of her sister.
A photo exhibit of the massacre survivors that Sandra put together caught the eye of the media and that was the start of her activism for those back home who had not been as fortunate as she and her family. She has shared a stage with various famous people and worked to provide a voice to her people and bring their plight to the attention of the world, even meeting president Obama and Michelle Obama at a reception at the White House. She has shared her story with the world in this book, hoping it will help those back home.
Sandra’s narration is cut and dried and factual with no indication of the emotional turmoil of going through such a horrendous experience. As she says repeatedly, it isn’t a part of the culture of her people to express feelings and talk about things. These are people who have inherited war and the need to be ready to run with their children on their backs as a legacy from their parents. They believe in moving on and never discussing what happened. Sandra talks about her struggle to reconcile with what happened because of this very culture.. the nightmares and the delayed shock.
This is a must read to get to know the pitiable condition of people in a part of the world we don’t know much about. A first hand account that emphasizes why people don’t choose to be refugees. They simply have no choice.
Added 30th August 2020