The empirical motivation for the argumentation in this paper comes from observing Africans in China, especially in the markets of Guangzhou and Yiwu and in urban hubs like Hong Kong and Macau for more than 20 years.
In the course of questionnaire administration and in-depth interviews for a research project, the author observed the changing nature of identity among Africans in China. Africans often gave different answers to Chinese than they would to the
author as their fellow African when asked about certain identity parameters.
In one instance, when the author’s Chinese assistants asked Africans what their native languages were they would mention any of the former colonial languages English, French, or Portuguese, depending on which country they came from. But when the author asked them what their native languages were they would mention Igbo, Yoruba, Akan, Dagaare, Zulu, Xhosa, Wolof, Kikuyu, Swahili, and the myriad of African languages they speak so well.
Not just only on language but on many other aspects of identity, Africans kept on introducing themselves differently from different contexts of communication. Indeed, this constant practice of presenting oneself differently from one communication context to another is not limited to Africans in China but to many other diaspora
community members throughout the world.
Almost universally, very many Africans in the global African diasporas package
themselves as royals of some sort in their villages, town or countries of origin when introducing themselves to non-Africans.
The author has come to refer to this changing nature of identifying oneself as identity packaging.
In his book, Africans in China, he has described identity packaging at length: Africans in China constantly pack, unpack and repackage their identity as they interact with different groups of people in different communication situations. Some Africans, especially some of those of the Maghreb sometimes deny altogether that they come from Africa but once there is a business opportunity for Africans, like a Chinese businessman looking for African business partners then they suddenly say they are Africans. He has even had Africans from former French colonies in Africa introducing themselves as being from France.
In this paper, identity packaging is looked at as an aspect of a cross-cultural theory of community identity building and packaging (Bodomo 2012, Bodomo and Silva, 2012), where factors such as commonality of language, food, and music play important roles in community bonding and community identity building among migrant groupings in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural settings.
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Bodomo, Adams. (2020). Identity packaging in Africa – China cross-cultural communication. In Tembe, Paul and Vusi Gumede (eds) Cultures, Identities, and Ideologies in Africa – China Cooperation. Thabo Mbeki Institute and Africa World Press