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Daddy’s darker, Mommy’s lighter

Wilita arrived in the U.S. from the Congo as a refugee when he was ten years old. He shares his experience as Dad to mixed race kids in the U.S.

Habits and Skills
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Wilita coped with bullying at school because he looked different. He is now teaching his mixed race kids that “different” isn’t bad.

“I’ve always had a passion for holistic education, ever since I was a kid. Given my experience with the war in the Congo, I believe that if we want real change to happen, we need to focus on how to holistically educate our young people because they are going to be the change agents. Investing into them and pouring into them allows them to reach their full potential and that’s the key to make lasting change.

I was actually born in the United States when my parents were here to study, so I was a naturalized citizen. We went back to the Congo when I was six months old. I had my whole childhood there. Because of the war we had to smuggle ourselves out of the country when I was ten years old.

My father was in the States at the time getting his Ph.D., so my mom and we five kids escaped the Congo and went to Central African Republic. After that we went to Cameroon. It took about three months to get the visas and refugee status, which is very fast. We got support from a lot of people and because of my status as an American, we were very fortunate to actually get here.

I experienced culture shock when I came here. There was bullying because I looked different. Having a darker complexion, not being able to speak the language — that’s fertile ground in middle school and high school for bullying. People were trying to take advantage of my situation and make fun of me. Because I was African, I was perceived differently. Amongst non-African Americans I was perceived as African American or Black. “You’re not white. You’re not one of us.” Amongst African Americans who didn’t self-identify as African, there was also that racial gap and colorism. All the negative associations with being from Africa were also brought up as well. To me it was very hard because there was no sense of belonging anywhere. I’m really grateful for sports because that gave me a venue to escape a lot of that and find the place where I felt comfortable.

My children are mixed race. We’ve started the conversation with them about difference; “Daddy’s darker. Mommy’s lighter. We’re in between Mommy and Daddy.” I want them to understand that differences are not a bad thing. Differences is what makes us beautiful and what makes us unique, going beyond the color of your skin. “Saia, you’re really good at drawing. Lola, you’re really good at athletics, running.” We are all unique and that’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean you have less value. Human dignity: that’s a really important thing. We all have human dignity and Brittany and I really try to push that with them.

Our hope is to live in the Congo for a little bit so my children can get an understanding of the other part of their culture. I think it’s important for them to know about my life as well as have a personal connection to their Congolese culture.”

– Wilita in San Diego