My Diversified American Life

by Ken Ike Okere

Immigrants are perhaps one of the most diversified Americans. Take me for instance; I am Black and a native African but I am already diversified.

My friendly next-door neighbor, Rosa, is of Mexican descent and she and her husband have taught me the Mariana dance style. My ‘American father,’ Mark, is Jewish-Christian and from him I’ve learned a few Hebrew words and the pain of being called ‘Jew boy.’ My favorite waitress is Filipino. The first time I greeted her in Spanish she smiled and said she is not Hispanic but Filipino. I am still trying to pick a few Filipino words from her. My best friend Terrence is a ‘made-in-the-hood,’ upwardly mobile, suburban African-American, who keeps reminding me to keep it real.

At the gym Bryan, who is Vietnamese, has not forgotten the horrors of the Vietnam War and keeps urging me to write about it. ‘War is bad,’ he would say as if to drum it into my war-free ears. I promise him that I’ll write about it as soon as I become a famous, well-paid, writer. My colleague, Monica, is from Columbia and we’ve held many an interesting talk about growing up in the


Long before Afghanistan became a household word I became acquainted with that country through my first employer. She is as exotic as her name Maroofa and she would often regal me with tales of her homeland; about the enchanting white mountains, which everyone today recognizes as the Tora Bora mountain hideout of Osama bin Laden; about the Taliban who killed many of her family members. She and her husband and kids managed to escape to Pakistan from where they immigrated to the UK and finally to the US. At that time the ‘Taliban’ sounded to me like an ephemeral monstrosity – something one could not really grasp but perceived as evil. The fear in her voice even though thousands of miles away from them was palpable.

My partner in creative excursions, Michelle, emigrated from Jamaica. When she recites poetry her rendition is enhanced by the lilting melody of her native accent. With her best friend Annie, whose parents are from South America, we’d often swap immigrant stories while sipping coffee in dim-lit bars. My friends Mike, Alexander, Robert and Charlie are what I call the all-American Whites and with them I’ve enjoyed many a literary discourse. My editor, Dick, who’s Anglo-White, forever reminds me that I’m writing for a western audience.

Then there is my lovely wife who’s both African and American. It’s exciting to watch day-by-day the diversity of her emotional range as she reacts with American values to one set of circumstances and with African values to another set of circumstances. I call her my American idol because, being neither fully conservative nor fully liberal, she embodies the great American attributes of compassion, warmth and openness coupled with an inner discipline and focus.

And me? Well, each night when I get home and call my homeboy, Lovely, who’s also African like me, and we yarn, it dawns on me that though I may cross the seven rivers and seven seas and traverse the highest mountains – as they say in African mythology – I’ll always be at heart a simple country boy who loves moonlight folktales and McDonald’s fries.

In the morning when I wake up I live again my diversified American life.

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