the fox once had an elegant walk, for which the other animals loved him. one day, he saw a prophet striding along and decided to improve on what was already beautiful. he went out walking but could not match the prophet’s gait. worse, he forgot his own. so he was left with the unremarkable way the fox walks today.
this is a somalian story, and k’naan’s story, like so many other immigrants.
k’naan came to the US as an escapee somalian boy. he could sing, but was encouraged to change the walk in his songs since his audience is in america, even though his poetry and life began in somalia and is reflected in his music. he remembers being a child in mogadishu and songs being silenced on the radio, because the gov’t censored certain songs. these songs had messages that the gov’t didn’t want deciphered during the war. other songs could be blasted, without censorship, he remembers, providing that they not different from what the gov’t wanted.
in america, k’naan’s music could reach more people, but to make the charts he had to sing for american audiences. his fatima and mohamed became mary and adam, names completely digestible for his new far reaching audiences. he became uncensored in a new censored land, and so began to lose his gait. he felt “like a paintbrush with a soul, and a body with no soul.”
for some who come to new lands for opportunities, their specificity is drowned out by the loud sounds of ambition, of assimilating because their differences are too crude or just too different. dumbing down becomes a way of being and not the differences which make them unique, or which could genuinely enrich a multicultural culture. sometimes, like taiwanese and chinese, their names must be changed to american names to be ‘assimilated.’
mira nair’s namesake attests to this only too well. gogol tries smoking weed, having an american girlfriend to be accepted at school among other things, but realizes that that walk doesn’t suit him, and after a while, like k’naan, decides to limp back to his own walk.
but, some, in reality, never find that walk again, and by the time the adopted stride is discovered to be not one’s own, too much time has set in. by that time, that loss or graceless limp that one has adopted has already been added into the many already existing negative stereotypical portraits of the immigrant.