Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review: All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo

Who are you? Probably the most important question a person can ever answer, if the question is considered seriously, it is not necessarily easy to answer. Down here in the South, the question also contains the seeds of the question "Who are your people?" Again, for some people, this is not always easy to answer although the advent of commercially available DNA tests is making this a little clearer. And while the question (at least here) is meant to pinpoint who your family is, it can be expanded to be asking who you identify with, who is your community, where do you belong? These questions and more are the big questions that Patrice Gopo is looking at, thinking about, and working through in her collection of biographical essays called All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way.

Gopo grew up in Alaska, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, her face the only brown face among a sea of white. When she went off to college at Carnegie Mellon University, she was again in a small minority, especially in her chosen field of chemical engineering. Only when she went to South Africa, where she met her Zimbabwean husband, was she not the minority, but even then she didn't feel a sense of belonging. Gopo's essays meander through her life and experiences, large and small, confronting the idea and reality of being "other," examining her cultural heritage and identity and that of her children, and exploring race and what that means in all the different places and stages of her life.

Her essays are thoughtful and introspective as they reflect her desire for belonging, acceptance, and home. The essays don't necessarily follow chronologically, some touch on all the stages of her life so far while others focus on one specific time or event or object in her life but they are all connected by the thematic threads running through them. She looks at herself not only through the lens of the personal but at who she and her family are in a larger, more universal context. Her experiences are uniquely hers but they are also broadly the experience of so many other women of color. She writes of herself as a woman of color, as a mother, as a wife, and as a daughter in this world. She writes from the perspective of a child in Alaska, of the descendant of Jamaicans and Indians, of an American in South Africa, of a mother of multicultural children in Charlotte, NC. She writes as a citizen of the world searching for belonging. Readers who identify with any piece of who she is will see at least part of themselves in her essays. Readers who don't will see a reality they probably have never considered but should. If you enjoy essays that resonate, that inspire thoughtfulness, that explore identity and culture, then you should settle in with this one.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her book to review.

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