Nadia Sasso ’11 talks code-switching and bi-cultural identities in her new film

Danielle Taylor, Staff Writer

On Oct. 1, Nadia Sasso ’11 kicked off the first leg of her film tour here on campus. The University alumna and now film director returned to Lewisburg, Pa. to discuss her film, “Am I: Too African to be American or Too American to be African?”

The film, which was shown on campus two weeks prior to the talk, explores the experiences of young African women living in America and West Africa. It details the complexities of their identities through their bi-cultural existence.

“Growing up as a first generation child in America, you kind of live a double life,” one of the women said.

The film addresses issues ranging from culture, community, and complexion to dialogue and fitting in. The discussion of the concept of “code switching” resonated with many in attendance. Code switching is swapping dialects and mannerisms based on the setting you are in–speaking one way when you are at home or with your parents and speaking differently when with friends.

“I can code switch to be from around the way,” Sasso said.

“You’ve got the way you talk with your friends, you have the way you talk with your parents; and now that we are growing up as educated individuals, we have to learn how to speak in a professional setting,” Sarran Lan Jabbie (Sierra Leone), one of the women in the film, said.

While it seems minor, the practice of contextualizing dialects, or other forms of self-expression, is an embodiment of how complicated dual-cultural identification can be.

Also addressed in the film was the struggle to find acceptance here in the United States, even among African Americans, and in their respective African countries. Several of the women in the film shared childhood memories of being called derogatory terms such as “black cockroach” and “African booty scratcher” while attending school in the states, and being referred to as “JCs” or the “just comes” when visiting in Africa.

“I always question myself … What can I do to make it right? Or make me right? Good enough for you guys to say ‘oh, okay, she’s Nigerian’ or ‘okay … she’s American,’” Odunayo Adeoye (Nigeria), another woman featured in the film, said.

Sasso said that before beginning this film as part of her Master’s Thesis, the central concept was one she began to deal with during her time at the University–navigating African culture and American culture. Sasso, whose family hails from Sierra Leone, a country on the western tip of Africa, grew up in the United States. She is a Posse Scholar from Washington, D.C. and the 2013 recipient of the Posse Foundation’s Ainslie Alumni Achievement Award. The Ainslie award is one of the foundation’s most prestigious awards given to one Posse alumnus, yearly, in recognition of his or her leadership and commitment to giving back to his or her communities and the world.

During her years at the University, Sasso also served as the president of the Black Student Union and founded Yehri Wi Cry (YWC), an organization that distributes birthing kits in Sierra Leone to help increase the safety and success of birth and delivery. Her project earned her funding from the Projects for Peace organization. More recently, she was named among Katie Couric’s “Next Generation of Female Leaders” and received the Young African Committed to Excellence Award from Face2Face Africa magazine.

Directing “Am I” is just one of Sasso’s many accomplishments, but it wasn’t easy.

“Making this film has really taught me what resilience means,” Sasso said.

Sasso is a few years removed from the University community, but it is obvious that she still serves as an inspiration to many other women on this campus.

“It was nice to have somebody who I can relate to on more than one level come and speak to us about issues that Bucknell does not normally talk about,” Amarachi Ekekwe ’18 said. Ekekwe is a first-generation college student whose family is from Nigeria.

“For the most part, when we talk about diversity, it’s race and LGBTQ … we do not talk about ethnicity. As somebody who is from Africa, it was moving for somebody to display the struggles and the beauty of a bi-cultural identity,” Ekekwe said.

“It was something I could resonate with, as a first-generation African American,” Shirah Moffatt-Darko ’18 (Ghana) said. “It was crucial for me to see it but I think it could have been beneficial for other Bucknellians to be there as well, just to better understand the cultural tensions that their peers deal with.”

Sasso has an M.A. in American Studies with a certification in Documentary Film from Lehigh University and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Africana Studies at Cornell University.

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