Nearly 200 Kenyans who migrated to America in the 70s, 80s and 90s gathered in Bakersfield, California last Saturday for a grand reunion, a first of its kind among Kenyans living in Diaspora America. Those in attendance originally settled in California upon arrival in America, but some of them later dispersed to other states. Attendees were mostly from the States of California and Washington and had not seen each other for many years.
Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o, in his keynote speech encapsulated the significance of Africa’s diverse languages, emphasizing that Africa’s linguistic capabilities are the foundation of the continent’s strength and value in the world.
The University of California-Irvine professor added that enslavement begins when others make people abandon their own languages, and take substitutes like English, German, or French, as their preferred day to day linguistic basis. Accordingly, Prof. Ngugi noted there is power in learning other languages, but the dominant language should be one’s mother tongue.
In addition, Prof. Ngugi pontificated that being exiled away from home can be a good thing. He cited icons like Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkurumah, the Biblical Moses, and even Jesus, who despite being exiled from their preferred habitats accomplished great things for their people. In that respect, he implored upon Kenyans in Diaspora to bring positive values to their motherland.
Prof. Ngugi articulated that the biggest problem facing Africa today is accents and access. Europe, he noted, gave Africa accents and in return, Africa gave Europeans access to their vast natural resources. He noted that Europe today continues to exploit African resources; meanwhile Africans are busy teaching their children accents: “It is about time we reverse this trend and let those coming to our African countries know that they can also learn our accents” he said.
Also in attendance was Hon. Njeri Karago, the Consulate General of the Kenya Embassy in Los Angeles, California and an alumnus of University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Film and Television. Njeri’s career includes being a vice president in charge of film development at Black Entertainment Television (BET) and returned to Kenya in year 2001 after 12 years in the US film industry.
Other speakers included Wanjiku Kironyo, who was educated in the United States in the early 1970s and later relocated to Kenya to teach at the University of Nairobi. Wanjiku thereafter started a program that helps abandoned children. The first graduate of her program is today a teacher in Western Kenya.
Paddy Mwembu, the master of ceremonies, urged Kenyans in Diaspora to unite for the common good. He cited Kenya Government’s failure to fully recognize the role of Kenyans in Diaspora relative to development, yet yearns for their economic remittances. Mr. Mwembu also encouraged those attending (and other Kenyans living abroad) to accelerate investments in the motherland.
The menu included a lot of Kenyan cuisine such as pilau, nyama choma, samosa, and chapati. The event was capped with cocktails and dancing to tunes of “zilizopendwa” classic. There was a unanimous agreement for the inaugural gathering to become an annual summer event.