Growing Up African

Thursday, December 2, 2010
By ugandansabroad

By Arao Ameny

New York, NY (Ugandans Abroad)— A new reality show called “Growing Up African” recently launched in New York, portraying the life of a five-sibling family from Bukoba, Tanzania in the U.S..

A new reality show called Growing Up African showcases African life in New York, following the lives of five Tanzanian siblings.

The reality series is a show in both English and Kiswahili, and tries to show a positive portrayal of Africans.  The show reflects the struggles and triumphs of growing up in the United States with a distinctive African identity.  The series currently has five episodes available for viewing, through the Growing Up African website and You Tube.  The show also features music with a soundtrack from various singers all over the continent.

The African diaspora and their friends showed up last November for the launch party at Manhattan’s Bar 13, in the heart of New York City.

Rhoda Wasswas, an American-born Ugandan organized the event.  She decided to get involved about a month and a half ago, after knowing the Tanzanian family through mutual friends for about four to five years.  She believes the project shows a unique side of what it means to grow up in an African household in the US..

“I think Africans and Africans in the diaspora will gain a sense of understanding that the struggle and issues this family faces are universal, and cut across many Africans’ experiences living abroad in other countries or growing up here,” she said.

The five siblings are from the Lujwangana family- Johnson, Eliza, Bea, Andrew and Jesca, all in their twenties and living in New York.  Their mother Vicky is simply called Mama Vicky.

The audience will enjoy the diversity of the cast.   Eliza, the eldest, is a quiet personality that values everything natural, especially her hair.  Bea is a fashionable, stylish extrovert.   Jesca is a fiscally responsible young woman who saves money, and is lovingly referred to as “cheap” by her brother Johnson.  Stating that he has pride, Johnson seldom listens and can always be found somewhere in New York City attending an event.

Andrew, the youngest, is a little quiet and the most Americanized of the group, sometimes a little culturally disconnected from his other more Tanzanian-oriented siblings.

A Tanzanian Family Highlights the African Immigrant Experience in America

Johnson is a gregarious young man who went to school in Uganda and has a flair for speaking.  He said that the mission of the show is two-fold.  First, it will entertain viewers by following the lives of five diverse siblings with varying personalities.  Second and most importantly, Johnson said the show would introduce the family and an authentic part of Africa into the American mainstream.  It will also showcase the lives of Africans in America to an African audience back home.

Johnson traveled to Tanzania last March for his grandmother’s funeral, and filmed a documentary to capture the experience of this homecoming.  He hopes the show will make audiences question the long-held myths and stereotypes about Africa, while portraying a more relatable, positive African image.

Growing Up African will also touch on topics that the average African immigrant family experiences in America, Europe, or other parts of the world.  This includes self-acceptance, maintaining African culture while assimilating to American culture, without pretending to be something you’re not to fit into American culture.

When asked why the show was called “Growing Up African” as opposed to “Growing Up Tanzanian,” Johnson said that the reality, whether people like it or not, is that Africans are grouped as a large, monolithic category by the rest of the world.

He said that this broad generalization can be offensive, but insisted that it also presented an opportunity to use the framework of the collective “African” identity to introduce the idea to audiences unfamiliar with Africa.

Audiences will be introduced to Africans first, and then the cast members will delve into what it means to be a Tanzanian or any other identity and nationality on the continent.

Growing Up African's Bea with the event organizer, American-born Ugandan Rhoda Wasswas, at Bar 13 in Manhattan.

Johnson’s story is a fascinating intersection of life in both Tanzania and Uganda, where he attended school, a story that many Africans can relate to.  “When I was or six or seven years old going to school in Uganda, I only spoke Kiswahili and Kihaya, so they thought I was deaf and mute, because they were speaking in English and Luganda.  My sister and I did not understand.”

He left Tanzania in 1998 when he was 12 years old, with his siblings soon following at different time.  “The main reason we came is to get an education, and equal opportunity,” he said.  “Opportunities in Tanzania, opportunities as a whole in Africa, are afforded to rich people as opposed to you if you are poor.  We came here to achieve the American Dream.”

Mama Vicky saved her money, slowly sending her children at different times to the United States.  Sharing the classic rags-to-riches story typically told in the U.S. or Europe, Johnson said, “When you hear about Africa, you hear the voices of the rich.  We struggled, and it is now time you hear about a family who was poor but struggled and made it.”

Tomorrow, you’ll listen to the voices of Bea, Eliza, and the other siblings.  We’d also love it if Ugandans Abroad readers watched some of the videos on You Tube, and let us know what you think.  Does the experience touch you as an African living abroad?

Arao Ameny is a New York-based journalist for Ugandans Abroad.  She is interested in issues like Ugandan cultural identities, Lango and other Ugandan languages, and women’s rights.

For more information:

-Growing Up African‘s website.

-Connect with Growing Up African cast members on Youtube

-Connect with Growing Up African cast members on Facebook

If you find this information helpful, please

to Ugandans Abroad.

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One Response to “Growing Up African”

  1. milumilu

    hi i am tring to contact Rhoda Wasswas .. please !!


    this is for an evant i am [planning


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