The American Way: Part Two of Four

Charlene Machakaire strives to integrate her two cultures.

Even though she was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Junior Charlene Machakaire spent the first four years of her life in Zimbabwe. The first-generation American was 12 the last time she went back to visit. 

She wore a new denim dress that fell just above her knees, bought it in America, the place she called home ever since she could remember. Machakaire and her cousin boarded the bus to volunteer at the local church.

But as she got on, people started staring and whispering about her. By the time they got back home, Machakaire was in tears. Her family said people in Zimbabwe are just more conservative.

Conservative in the way they dress. 

Conservative in the way they address their elders.

Conservative in the way they live.

This was the first time Machakaire was exposed to the cultural divide between her home in America and her home in Zimbabwe. But it wouldn’t be the last. 

As she acclimated to life in America, she lost her traditional Zimbabwean accent. 

To her family in Zimbabwe, it was yet another example of her “Americanization.”

“There are certain things they don’t say to me now because they think I won’t understand,” Machakaire said. “It feels condescending because I’m aware…obviously moving to a new country would change me a little.”

This conflict isn’t limited to Zimbabwe either. In America, Machakaire faces a constant struggle between choosing her American identity or her African one. But she and her family have finally settled on a happy medium. They go to church, but they wear Zimbabwean clothes. They attend sermons, but they preach in Shona. They go to weddings but incorporate their own traditions.

Four years later, Machakaire slips into Shona while hanging out with her American friends, forgetting they won’t understand. She awkwardly sidesteps the comment and continues as if nothing had happened. 

It’s becoming more and more rare, but her misstep is a constant reminder of the fact that she is more than just American. Her name is Charlene Machakaire, a Zimbabwean American immigrant who is comfortable with both her cultures.