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How My African Immigrant Heritage Shaped My Life, “When I Was Your Age!”


TIM, Heritage, Arlando Mba

When I Was Your Age!

Arlando Mba

One day I was eating dinner at the table with my family and my mom started to talk about the time she was my age, about the school she went to in Cameroon and how she worked all the way through college. She started off with this, “When I was your age, I did not wear the braids you had, I had to have my head shaved…” As she went on through her talk all I kept telling myself, “This is it. I have a few months and I am headed off to college.” In that moment, I realized how much I was going to miss my family and miss my parent’s life stories specifically the ones about them being my age.

When I was a child, I thought my father and mother’s stories about Cameroon were funny and intriguing. I remember sitting on my father’s lap and how he would always say, “Now let me tell you about me, ‘When I was your age, I climbed up a tree, and fell down and got this bump on my head’.” Then he would go on to talk about himself and his family. I would always get lost and laugh at the things he said, thinking that they were one of a kind.

As I got older, I got tired of hearing them. At that point, they felt redundant and old and became more of a lecture than a different world. For instance, “When I was your age, I did not have many clothes, but I always made sure they were clean. I would wash them… And you know what my dad said when I wore those clothes?” My brother, my sister and I would just look at him with blank stares and he would say, “ Moose, you look good.” The boredom and the agony of wondering when the story would end.

It was not until I was entering high school that the stories that were lectures were meaningful. I started to see that these stories were not only meant to teach me to be grateful, but to aspire. Aspire to be someone who will make a difference in the world, usually in science, technology, engineering or medicine. America is a land with so many opportunities that you will only fail if you don’t take advantage of the opportunities and the nuggets of wisdom that people offer you. They don’t want to see me fail.

Lastly, they want me to do better than them when I am an adult. Seeing their own child do better than them is all that they want as parents. I think that is every parent’s dream: their child will do better than them when they become adults. When a child reaches stability and is doing better than them, they know that they have done their job, well. They don’t want to see their little girl struggle or fail, but the reality is no matter what I do with my life, there will always be struggles along the way. I will have some failures. They cannot protect me from life, all they can do is guide me and hope that I make the right decisions.

I know I will never have the same experiences as my parents or go through the same ordeals, but all I can say is thank you. Thank you for the stories filled with history that gave me insight about your past, your country’s present, and knowledge to be better and do better.


Arlando Mba is currently a student in her senior year at Los Osos High school. Her poem One Tennis Ball and Four Rackets will be published in the book, A Celebration of Poets this spring.


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