Words from a good friend of WATOTO AFRIKA, who visited us from Australia, who took these beautiful photographs:
Watoto Africa: Celebrating African Culture in Athens
“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” ~Cesar Chavez
Kalimera! We have spent the last two days immersed in the Watoto Festival, organised by African’s in Athens, to share their culture with the people of their adopted homeland. The festival is a joyous occasion. There is something about the way African’s immerse and lose themselves in dance and music that I have not witnessed in any other culture. I am amazed at the large presence of young Athenians who perform West African dance routines as if they were born with that skill. In the recent past Athenians have embraced dynamic dance routines such as Latin, Bollywood and African possibly as a means of shaking off their emotional and economic woes.
Dancing and music have brought the Greeks and Africans together in a wonderful way. They have both demonstrated there is much to be gained by embracing each other’s cultures. It demonstrates that while politicians might spread the rhetoric of fear and hate, people will always recognise ways to celebrate our shared humanity. We have been amazed at how skilled these dancers and musicians are. Migrants and refugees have skills, dreams and hopes for the future. We have been privileged to hear some of these stories during the festival. When reinventing our cities for the future, we can only benefit by using the skills and knowledge that the new travellers bring. This after all has been the story of how Europe developed in the past.
There is no doubt the face of Athens is changing but African migrants are no strangers here. People from African countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia have been here for decades and the second generation who were born here are native speakers of Greek and have known no other home! There has also been a second wave of migration since about 2008 of people from places like Sudan, Senegal, Somalia and Guinea. They migrated at a time when the economic crisis caused an adverse reaction to their presence here. They have been locked up in detention centres, subject to much hardship and will spend years in limbo in incredibly harsh conditions.
Many of the refugees, who land in Greece, see it as a transition point to life in Northern Europe, mainly because of the economic crisis. Yet, the city has to cope with the thousands who land here, fleeing from war, famine, internal conflicts, drought or poor economies. Globally the number of refugees now stands at 65 million; there are about 10 million stateless people around the world. In Greece, if your parents are not of Greek descent, then you are not automatically entitled to Citizenship even if you were born here!.
Which begs the question about Nationality. Should someone who is born in a country (and has known no other home) be entitled to citizenship there? Prior to the end of the First World War, people moved relatively freely between Africa and Europe. Many of the second generation Africans I spoke to said they neither feel fully Greek nor fully African. The Greeks still look on them as African and the Africans look on them as Greek. This is not unique. Many migrants around the world will struggle with the issues of identity and belonging.
Can you imagine what it feels like to be told you don’t belong anywhere?