By Marconja Zor
While living in a new country, immigrants often find themselves with the need to travel abroad to search out information on their family history or simply feel connected to their ancestral roots and culture.
Tika Smith, Author of the book Far Cry From Ganglota, is an immigrant from West Africa who frequently returns yearly. She arrived in America while in her teens and is one of many who kept the connection to her homeland.
She turned towards roots tourism or diaspora heritage tourism as a means to seek out information about one’s family history. This is a developing niche market as well as a sub-segment of heritage tourism and special interest tourism.
“Returning home every year keeps us culturally connected and balanced. The trip ensures that I never forget anything that was instilled in my upbringing. This has helped me all throughout my journey in life, even with writing this book,” Smith said.
Smith’s book, A Far Cry From Ganglota, shares a tale of a Liberian Love story with a couple raising a family in their country. The details and tone of this story is heavily influenced by the return trips to Liberia.
“If I forgot a certain essence, word, or specific area, I could always go back to my photos or videos of my latest trip for inspiration. Although, majority of my work is strictly from memory and the physical Africa experiences, Trips back home always keep my ideas fresh,” Smith Said.
The differences between domestic and international tourists is typically done by dividing them into two categories. Domestic visitors have a cultural connection to their own country, while foreign immigrants, in terms of culture, still share some similarities with locals due to being foreigners there. Those tourists who are immigrants, on the other hand, fall somewhere in the middle. Despite being “foreigners” in their own country, they have the same cultural background and connection to the destination as domestic tourists.
While many Africans strive to integrate into the new society, they also manage to keep in touch with relatives back home, either virtually or physically. Many relatives were left behind as people relocated for better opportunities or to escape the civil war. As travel becomes more affordable and convenient, an increasing number of immigrants can afford to visit relatives in both countries.
The African immigrants who were interviewed, consider the relationship between immigrants and homecoming tourism as a spiritual journey. It gives one a sense of self and pride to know that they are standing on the same land as their forefathers. Immigrants’ attachment to their ancestral homeland, which motivates their journey back “home,” is very common among Africans. Such attachment to both America and Africa reflects people’s transnational loyalty and identity and allows them to engage in transnational activities such as international travel. The length of the journey home is also important, as those who have stayed for an extended period are likely to feel at “home.”
“There always seems to be some sort of issue with me when it’s time to return to from my homeland,” Smith said. “I just find my self wanting to stay longer than my planned vacation time, but I know that I have to return to the life that I’ve built in America.”
Immigrants’ frequent return trips to their homeland are primarily motivated by the desire to invest and build within their own country. Transferring knowledge, trades, and skills learned in the United States to natives has long been a common practice. Immigrants returning to Africa frequently organize workshops and panels that the general public is encouraged to attend. The hope is that the attendees will pass on the knowledge they gained from the panels to even more citizens in their country.
“It is an honor when you are able to return to your home with knowledge and essentials,” Mitchual said. “It’s like you’re being looked at as a hometown hero.”
Dr. Neesaytee K. Browne said that family in Liberia proudly “brag” on having a doctor relative who often returns to give back. They see her as hope and inspiration.
“We have many doctors in Liberia, so it feels great that when I land back home my family can see that I have become one well, but in America,” Brown said. “They are so very appreciative when they see all of the essentials that I have travelled back with for them.”
The lack of supplies has a significant impact on schools and orphanages in Africa. As more young adults return to their home countries with limited resources, non-profit organizations are more important than ever in ensuring that they can all continue to learn effectively. Some even collaborate with local town hospitals, transporting medical supplies donated by some of the best hospitals in the United States to Africa.
Dr. Serena Mitchual has created an organization that produces funding and dental essentials to the citizens of her home land in Ghana. Spreading the word among her colleagues in the United States has proven to be a tremendous help, as more doctors are starting to realize how the most common practices and products here are not as easy to attain there.
“ I would like to present the natives, my people, with as much opportunity as possible, in hopes of maybe one day that a young girl will grow up to be a doctor and will do the same for her people,” Mitchual said.