"BLESI", a short experimental film and story by Akwaeke Emezi.
"Where are you when you are in between?"
After roblogging Akwaeke’s most recent short, Ududeagu, I clicked on her Vimeo to check out her other work. As soon as yagazieemezi started narrating, tears started forming in my eyes. I’ve never heard the term “Blesi” (BLACK + DESI) before but it was as if I had been waiting my entire life to hear it.
I am the granddaughter of “coolies”, indentured servants from India and China, that made a life for themselves in Jamaica. Although Jamaica has a large Indian and Chinese population, I didn’t really connect with that side of my heritage. In Jamaica we like to stress, “out of many, we are one”, so there’s more of a focus on national identity than individual ancestry.
Once I emigrated from Jamaica to America at age 9, I had a hard time fitting in because of my looks. It was obvious that I was “other” and when I shared that I was Jamaican, people still wanted to know what that otherness was. I would explain that my maternal grandmother is Indian and my paternal grandfather was Chinese and their grandparents had both been indentured servants—people would quickly lose interested or roll their eyes are my long, complicated narrative.
I certainly never felt welcomed in Indian circles until later in life and I rarely share that I have Chinese ancestry because I have found that most people believe only what they can perceive based on your physicality. It seems my blackness is the defining factor and although I self identify as black, it has been painful to disassociated from the other parts of my self.
Anyways, thank you to these two beautiful sister for sharing their narrative. I have been following both of their work for some time now, but this short film has really been a tremendous gift.