Most people in our country go to Frenchspeaking places for school like Belgium, Montreal, and Quebec. My father just gave me the OK to pick the country where I wanted to go. I just wanted to go the other way. My brothers are all in France, so I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to go to America and see what’s happening there.” When I left Cameroon and came to America, my father gave me a sculpture. I like having it here with me. It’s really the only thing that my father really took the time to give me when I left. Every time I look at it, it’s like a little doorway, you know? When I see it, I start to have these memories of what used to happen, what I used to do. I don’t have any family here, so sometimes, having these little things helps me stay sharp. It helps to remind me where I come from and helps me not forget.
My family doesn’t share a story like “Your grandfather came from here or your greatgrandfather came from there.” For the longest time, because I didn’t know, I just assumed that I’m a descendant of slaves. That’s probably the case. The only insight I’ve ever had beyond that is that I know my mother is a mixture of French and even Italian. On her side, you line everyone up in her family, and everyone has these different complexions. My father, he’s from the country and I know his lineage is like everybody’s: Black, you know? It more than likely traces back to slavery.
However, I met an elder recently. He saw my last name while I was in a conference in Philly, and he was like, “Your last name is Odums?” His last name was Odums. He said, “Did you know that Odums is one of the few last names that can be traced back to the African diaspora?” He said that in areas of Ghana, there are people with that last name. That was like a little beacon of hope for me that maybe there is something out there. I haven’t done all the research yet, but I plan to.
I recently talked to these young people and I told them, “You are your ancestors’ wildest dream.” That’s true from the abstract. Whoever was here hundreds of years before me, I’m living in their wildest dream right now. But still, if I knew exactly who they were or where they were, then I could clearly visualize that. That’s the hope, to give me that foundation.