My Malagasy Diaspora Tantara: Diaspora Stories Told Around the World
Today, an estimated 300,000 Malagasy people live outside of Madagascar and live all around the globe. No diaspora story is alike but what we share is that love and connection to Madagascar that we carry in our hearts, new hometowns, and life. Here are our stories.
Today: Joelle gives a raw account to unpack the complexities of her identity and relating to Madagascar.
Hi everyone! My name is Joelle Ramiandrisoa and I am half American, half Malagasy. My mother is from the United States and my father is from Madagascar. I lived abroad for most of my childhood because my mother is a foreign service officer. I have lived in Burkina Faso, India (2x), Indonesia, and the United States (Northern VA, where I was born). I studied computer science at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA and I also have minors in math and French. I currently work as an associate technical consultant in Northern VA.
Though I am half Malagasy, I have never really felt Malagasy. I have only been to Madagascar twice in my life and the last time was in 2005. I spent a lot of my life living in places where there were little to no Malagasy people around. I think most of the Malagasy people I know are located in the United States. I believe there are many factors that played into me feeling like I do not belong, but the two I would like to touch on are: my struggles with identity and internalized racism.
Identity is a wild, complicated motherf***er. My upbringing is certainly a unique one. Looking back, I am incredibly thankful for my experiences abroad and how much of the world I got to see. However, I was not very connected to Madagascar and its culture and as a result, I felt like an outsider. I grew up pretty emo, heavy bangs and all, listening to a lot of rock, pop punk, etc. I also got mistaken for Southeast Asian a lot (think Filipino). I cannot really blame people for that because I am racially ambiguous, and it was rare to meet Malagasy people in the places I lived in. Although, the origin of Malagasy people is complex and I have yet to read more about it. There have been countless times where I did not feel Malagasy or African at all because everyone thought I was Asian. I even struggled with identifying my race on forms. It felt weird to say that I was African American because I sure do not look like it. Why did I feel like such a fraud even though Malagasy is literally in my blood? My low self-esteem and social anxiety made things worse too; it was difficult for me to not worry about how others would perceive me. I had a lot of trouble being myself because I was monitoring every move of mine. Being an emo punk and struggling to understand and embrace who I am and my upbringing definitely made it tough for me to feel like I would fit in with the Malagasy community.
Identity is one thing, but internalized racism? Pure evil. I can vividly remember one of my Korean classmates telling me that I look like a monkey when I was living in Indonesia (2007-2010). I believe I was in 5th or 6th grade at the time. I really believed my skin tone made me ugly. It was hard for me to be proud to be half Malagasy. We lived in a tropical environment and I tried my hardest to avoid the sun because I did not want to become darker than I already was. I asked my parents if I had any Korean or Japanese in me because I wanted to see if I was mixed with anything else that would possibly make me lighter later on in life. How twisted is that? God, I feel really bad just saying that. But those words from my classmate really cut deep. It also did not help that as I continued growing up, it seemed like a lot of beauty standards centered around whiteness. I am half white, sure, but I felt ugly compared to white girls. Shoot, I never really saw any BIPOC emo or scene girls when I went through my emo phase. For the longest time, I felt like no one would ever be attracted to me because of how I looked. How was I supposed to love my Malagasy side when I felt like it was what was making me ugly?
23 years old and I am finally proud of who I am and who I have become. I love my Malagasy side. I love showing my roots through my last name, Ramiandrisoa. I do not worry about fitting in anymore. I already know that I look different. I currently have bleached hair and I am covered in traditional tattoos, but those things do not make me any less Malagasy. Being part of the Malagasy diaspora is a wonderful thing because we all have diverse upbringings. We also have the chance to educate and teach others about Malagasy culture. I still do not know much about Malagasy culture but I am excited to learn more. That is why I am thankful for MadaLiving. I want to get to know other Malagasy people and interact with them. I want to learn more Malagasy. I am glad I can speak to my Malagasy relatives and peers in French even though my French is a bit rusty right now. One initiative I have in mind is veganizing Malagasy recipes. I have been vegan for about a year and a half now, and I feel like a really good way to learn more about Malagasy culture is to do some research on popular Malagasy dishes and try to veganize them.