I was at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia once, in which many educators congregated to discuss the fate of public schools.
I remember being in an area lounge chatting with other colleagues when a group of Black professors (my guess), dressed in their African outfits sat nearby. Most of them were sporting short, neatly
cut Afros or dreadlocks. What caught my attention, (besides everything else that I have listed above), was that they were carrying stacks of books under their arms (that's how I guessed they were professors) and were talking about classes that they were teaching at their respective universities. They mentioned Marx and Hegel, (okay, I was eavesdropping) and I could tell that they were of socialist (Marxist?) persuasion. They were using terms such as proletariats, revolution, etc. By now I could not tell you what my colleagues were talking about, since I was engrossed in the professors' conversation.
Suddenly a gentleman with a graying afro and an African suit put his books on the coffee table. To my surprise, Amilcar Cabral's picture was on the cover. I confess that I did not read the title, so excited and surprised I was by the fact that he had a book about Cabral. I could not contain myself and I told him, "Oh, that's Cabral. He's Cabo Verdean!" He glanced at me and said succinctly, "He's African." I said again, "He's also Cabo Verdean!" Since I knew I wasn't going to win that battle, I asked, "Why do you have a book about him?" Looking impatient and anxious to return to his conversation with his illustrious friends, he responded, "He's one of the greatest theorists of our time. I teach him in my classes." Needless to say, I felt so proud that I turned to my friends and said, "Did you hear that? They are teaching Cabral in American universities!"
My joy stemmed from the fact that I could say that Cabral was Cabo Verdean (although the professor did not respond well to that), and the fact that I could claim him as an important figure from history. Borrowing an expression from a friend, Cabral at that moment was my historical reference. In claiming him, I was claiming my identity and what made me Cabo Verdean. Why is this so important to me? I left Cabo Verde when I was barely a teenager, and reading about historical figures that marked my country's history gave me a sense of who I was in a context that mixed everyone together based on skin color and phenotype.
Having Cabral and other important figures as historical points of reference helped me understand the importance of holding on to my culture and heritage. Reading about Cabral and others, being able to say in classes or in workshops, that Cabral was African, that he was Cabo Verdean, gave me an anchor in a sea of confusion that comes from living in the Diaspora. I felt even greater pride when while doing research as an undergraduate, I discovered that Cabral's life and theories were studies worldwide.
As I transitioned to adulthood and chose teaching as a profession, studying Cabral and other Cabo Verdean historical figures with my students became extremely important. I soon learned in my first year as a high school teacher that every young person at that age is looking for a hero. If we do not show them who their heroes are, someone else will and sometimes those so-called heroes take them toward the path of destruction. There is so much to be learned from Cabral's life. There is so much to be taught. There is so much to be emulated.
Perhaps it is fine for adults in Cabo Verde to have this ambivalence about Cabral and his legacy. After all, these adults are living in a context where their history, their culture or their language is not constantly being undermined. They, as a people in their own country are not being oppressed or ostracized in the inner cities, or being judged solely on their phenotype. In U.S., where our children are being assailed with so many negative messages, where they are sometimes relegated to the margins of society because of who they are perceived to be, they must know about Cabral and other aspects of our history. They must know that these men and women were great thinkers who contributed for who we are today. Our children must learn about their heroes. We as a nation must embrace every aspect of our history regardless of what our political affiliation may be. In fact, our heritage SHOULD be what unites us when ideologies separate us.
Well, I guess I have rambled on and on to say that as an immigrant, I must have my history as a point of reference. I must cling to the historical figures and I must call upon them when I need reassurance of who I am in a context that only defines me by the color of my skin. Likewise, our youth who are so susceptible to outside influences must also have heroes and heroines who they can emulate. As the whole world proclaims Cabral, we more than any other society must embrace him and give him the honor that he deserves. We owe this to future Cabo Verdeans.