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The Tapestry of Us: A Q&A with Grace Kindeke


Anthony Payton, host of Common Ground Initiative, recently interviewed Grace Kindeke, from Manchester, who came to New Hampshire as a child from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The two discussed how the African immigrant community and the American-born black community have traditionally interacted with each other.


The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


Anthony Payton: Talk to me about cultural identity and what that means to you both as a first generation African and now as a Black American, how do they intersect?

Grace Kindeke

Grace Kindeke: I immigrated to the United States when I was two and am 35 now. Since then, I have lived in the United States. Most of my family is back home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and my mother’s generation experienced independence from a colonial power. The Congo gained independence in the 1960s. My mother was like in elementary school. In Africa, you are not black. You are whoever you are, you are your tribe, your family, your ethnic group, that is what you identify with. When you come to the United States, you are Black, you bring with you a history of colonialism and the impact it had on my country, my people and the African continent.

Then you combine that with the history of racism and what it means to be racialized in a country built on slavery.

Anthony Payton: How did these two identities intersect?

Grace Kindeke: I wish there was an easy answer. I think where I find my intersection is seeing myself as a black woman and being able to carry the legacy of those two legacies, that history and seeing how they interconnect, like slavery and colonialism are inextricably linked, but it is not the totality of our culture and our experience. I am an African who grew up in America, who is American by culture.

I still speak my mother tongue, Lingala. I am a child of both cultures and bringing them together has been a healing journey more than anything as it has not been integrated for most of my life. Besides being African and Black I’m also all those things in a predominantly white state, I grew up in predominantly white schools, I don’t really see myself outside my home. There is one culture when I go to school and there is another culture when I return home. Putting all of these pieces together is the story of my life as a person, as a woman, as a black person, as an African, as an American, as a Congolese girl, all of these things have to hold together and honor.

Anthony Payton: It’s something people don’t hear a lot because sometimes there’s this distrust of each other and it’s a blessing to have a voice like yours. You also do a lot of great work in community with the American Friends Service Committee and so many other initiatives based on the people and the commonalities that you see that are shared in inner cities by black Americans and African immigrants . Where do you see some of these commonalities? What are we struggling with together?

Grace Kindeke: I’m proud to be able to do the work that I do in the community, both as an advocate for an American Friends Service Committee, but also as a community organizer with MCAC, which is the Manchester Community Action Coalition. The real issues facing our community are the lack of stable housing, the issues of getting the proper educational supports, the ability to access job security and fair wages. These are all the things we materially need as people to live and thrive in society. We all need air conditioning, we all need food, and we all need good jobs. We all need a stable place to live and good schools for our children in an environment that doesn’t poison us.

As an African coming to America, you are black, and therefore you have to deal with the same racial disparities in your work that my mother and my aunts experience as healthcare workers in our healthcare system – discrimination and incredible retaliation and horrible working conditions alongside their African American brothers and sisters who are also in these fields. There are so many commonalities and it comes down to how state, local and municipal resources are invested in our communities.

Grace Kindeke, project coordinator for MCAC, shows one of the students how to use an interactive exhibit at the science center during a break from tutoring. Photo/Allegra Boverman.

Anthony Payton: How are these resources invested to help people in our low-income communities, who need public assistance, who depend on the public systems that we have?

Grace Kindeke: We all depend on these public systems in one way or another, so it’s really about how these investments are used in a systematic way. At the end of the day, we all want the best for our family, for ourselves. But when you’re black in America, the way our communities engage is very different. We know real disparities. Regardless of everyone’s unique individual experiences in all walks of life, people need the same things to survive and thrive.

Anthony Payton: There are such cultural differences and, as I mentioned earlier, mistrust between African immigrants and black Americans. Your voice is unique in that you can give a dual perspective. I can take you to a BBQ in Brooklyn with baked mac and cheese and you will thrive in that environment. At the same time, you can introduce us to an African dish that we know nothing about. So what should both parties know about each other, what can bring us together?

Grace Kindeke: Understanding how our stories are intertwined and understanding how we experience racism in this country. General racism and discrimination are linked to this connected history where our peoples have been extracted from the resources of our countries of origin and our homelands have been continuously extracted. Our own communities are not invested by the structures that should invest in them. The very fact that we are not a homogeneous group and that there are so many differences in the way we express ourselves artistically, musically, culturally, and yet at the heart of it, we will call people different ways in different places .

Here we call it that sense of soul, that sense of spirit, that sense of connection to your roots. It’s not just about you, it’s about “we”. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. We have this common history not only as a species, because we are all one people, but we have this common history that there is this sense of “we” and that we are fighting for freedom. We are fighting for life, for ourselves and the generations that will come after us. Because we’ve built this sense of community from the generations before us, even though we may be different, if I see you on the street, I see you as part of me and me as part of you, even if we don’t know each other, even if we don’t necessarily get along. We are still a family, we are still a community. I think the sense of interconnectedness in each other is something we need to remember, and interdependence doesn’t mean we don’t honor our differences and the differences in our history and the differences in our expressions and our values, but it’s still part of this tapestry of “we”.


This column is part of The Common Ground Initiative which aims to highlight the diversity of our communities with stories of people the average Granite Stater might not see or meet, clarify misconceptions and find the threads that bind us all together in as a New Hampshire community. . These articles are shared by partners of The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.