Ananda Ambrose: A Myriad of Cultures

Ananda Ambrose is the Community Organizer and co-founder at Onstack, a video crowdsourcing platform. She has fifteen years experience as a media professional working as a production coordinator and writer. Ananda is completing her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from California State University at Northridge.  

 

Identity is something I wrestle with as someone who works in media and in storytelling. I struggle with my own complex identity, as a daughter of Caribbean immigrants, as first generation American and as a woman of color in America. I’m proud of the many parts of my heritage, but identity is certainly something that is hard to reconcile.

My grandmother, a Hindu woman who worked on the wharf, met and married my grandfather, a Muslim small shop owner. In Trinidad, it is common for Hindus, Muslims and Christians to live side by side, even in small villages. The whole country celebrates their religious diversity and even celebrates religious holidays together as a nation. So when they married there was little discord, though it wasn’t completely smooth and some family members weren’t happy about it. They raised my father and his brother without strict religious practice, though many of our family members did preserve their Muslim and Hindu traditions.

My Muslim identity is part of my heritage and in some of the family values that continue to prevail even today after migrating to a new country.

When my parents, who are a mixed race couple, moved to the United States with little family, they found community in an American Christian culture.

My parents were both born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and I have traveled there many times, in fact we were all there on a family vacation this past summer.  I have always identified strongly with Trinidad as my home life was always culturally different than my American classmates, as our values were differentiated, as the “Americans” were always a “they” and not a “we”.

I never lived in Trinidad, but from my experience, Trinidad is a unique place. It is a tiny country of less than 2 million residents, but we are very diverse. For example, one tiny village can be the home of several religions. Hindus, Muslims, and Christians live in close quarters and raise families together. They celebrate each other’s holidays and consider themselves Trinidadian first.

This political climate has been very polarizing for my family and I. My parents worked hard as immigrants from Trinidad to America, but in that process of assimilation they had to leave so much behind and I think they resent the idea that other newer immigrants are not so quick to part with their histories, or cultural practices.

I believe that my parents have certainly let go some of their traditions. Communities were very close knit in Trinidad and that network was not available for them in the United States. It was a very hard transition for all of us.

Educational opportunities have been very impactful for us. Access to good public education was not as readily available in Trinidad, it was a very competitive process to get in to high school and certainly university.

I’m a member of a feminist organization called the Sister Diaspora for Liberation, a collective of women with an ethic of love. We read together and support each other gaining civic education.

The biggest challenge of living in the United States is the daily confrontation with anti-blackness, anti-browness, with the daily awareness of racial bias. It’s discouraging to know that most institutions and paths to the pursuit of liberty and happiness come with checkpoints and visa denials and so many obstacles to realization.

I am a U.S. citizen but I do hope to live in other parts of the world one day, at least for a time. I’d to experience life in a different culture.

The best part about living in the United States, and New York City in particular is the cultural diversity that makes this place so rich and innovative. I love that as New Yorkers, we are accepting and welcoming of everyone, we’re all neighbors.

I am a member at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I am also a member of a social justice organization for women of color called the Sisterhood for Diaspora Liberation.

One of the happiest moments of my life was marrying my husband David Ambrose in a small ceremony in Lisbon, Portugal. We have been very fortunate to be blessed with similar passions for social justice. We are both people who care deeply about people and have worked together on media projects for several years before collaborating on a video storytelling platform called Onstack. The act of telling and listening to stories has the power to bring people together around common experience and social media provides the opportunity to connect with neighbors and strangers. We are currently collecting healthcare stories in support of Senator Bernie Sander’s “Medicare For All” bill.

I am most proud of my educational achievements. I am the first of my immediate family to graduate from college and to attempt a Master’s degree. I do have many other first generation cousins that have also attained advanced education. I am proud of all of us who are living in diaspora. I am proud of all of things that make me who am I.