As a child, Gifty found the story of her parents’ immigration insufficient, so she invented better stories. In kindergarten, she thought her teacher was punishing her by making her sit with a runny-nosed kid. To torment him, she claimed she was an African princess.
There have already been several moments when Gifty has interpreted someone else’s thoughts or feelings and then presented her guesses as facts. Her willingness to embellish and retell her parents’ story to make it suit her makes her an unreliable narrator of her family history and suggests the limitations of her insight as an adult. But this also points towards one of the quieter sources of trauma in Gifty’s childhood: growing up both Black and as an immigrant in the American South.
Gifty wanted her family’s story to either be a fairy tale or to reflect the war-torn and famine-stricken Africa she saw on TV. But her mother’s stories were matter of fact and ordinary instead of exotic and desperate. A few months after her mother and Nana came to America, the Chin Chin Man joined them. Her mother was a home health aide, caring for the racist, cranky Mr. Thomas. Despite overwhelming evidence, Gifty’s mother would never admit that they experienced racism in Alabama. Yet, her father couldn’t find a job and became reclusive.
The story of how and why Gifty’s family immigrated isn’t exotic or exciting. Her parents wanted a better life and struggled to make one in the United States, where they were surrounded by racism. Gifty’s story offers a stark reminder of how difficult life can be for immigrants and also that not all immigrants succeed in making a better or happier life in a new country. Her father seems to struggle from the moment he arrives.
The Chin Chin Man’s arrival reminded Gifty’s mother of how much she owed God. And to help him out of his rut, she knew she needed to climb out of her own, so she started going back to church at the First Assemblies of God on Bridge Avenue. On her first visit, she knelt down, prayed for a long time, and started to feel like she might get used to America.
The Chin Chin Man’s arrival in America begins the family’s relationship with their church. It’s the first Pentecostal church Gifty’s mother found. And at least as far as Gifty understands, it’s the continuity of her faith that helped her mother to flourish in her newly chosen home.