"Say It Loud...": Black in the Peace Corps
Before coming to Nicaragua to serve in the Peace Corps, I imagined that it would be similar to my study abroad experience in Ecuador: teaching English, speaking Spanish and indubitably changing lives. But I did not expect that the life that would change the most was my own.
During our pre-service training in Washington, D.C, I remember precisely the reenactments of tough situations some Volunteers encountered during their service, and it was to no surprise that our group selected to reenact the issues of a Black American Volunteer. Moreover, not only did we model the conversation that the Volunteer was expected to have with their colleagues, we reflected on how the people of the host country would react to the situation. And must I say that since I have been living in Nicaragua, our conclusions have ceased to amaze me!
Many Nicaraguans who have not had as much exposure with the diverse American culture in which I come in contact often assume that I am from the Caribbean coast, Cuba or the Dominican Republic. People who are typically not shameful use their curiosity as a catalyst for conversation starters, while others still need their jaws lifted after seeing my braids. In these situations, I have learned that a smile can stretch farther than any explanation about what my country, heritage, or character ever could.
Besides being a Black American, I also identify with the Jamaican heritage from which my father and two sisters originated. I was raised in a mixed Caribbean jungle of south Florida, speaking Jamaican Patois (similar to that of Creole from the Atlantic coast) and delighting in the same staple foods as Nicaragua and the Caribbean.
Being able to rest in this dual identity has given me the strength and knowledge to be able to unite the various cultures of Nicaragua, and introduce the empowerment that one can embody when they are secure in their cultural versatility. The commonalities that we share between attire, traditional dance, music and food are carefully wrapped into a story line then gifted to the next generation, often times in black or white. Being a Black Volunteer has afforded me the opportunity to provide many teachable moments thus far and I have been able to build open, trusting relationships with my students and the people in my community.