In my younger and far naiver years, I decided I wanted to get a second tattoo. This tattoo, I had decided—and it was a decision made after almost a year of my researching and pondering—would be an iteration of a Ghanan word and symbol: Sankofa. Sankofa has different meanings and translations but the idea I liked and refer to is something along the lines of: to learn from one’s past to build a better future. Here comes the disclaimer where I mention that I am not from Ghana nor do I have any direct connection to the continent of Africa. As I said, I was younger and the concept of cultural appropriation hadn’t yet hatched within me. I’m sure I must have picked up the term from an interview, movie, or something of the sort. I apologize if I took something I should not have.
Underneath the symbol I have an Alice in Wonderland quote. I’ve since grown more and more distrustful of people with Alice in Wonderland tattoos, myself included. Again: I was young, naive, young. The quote, as the symbol, speaks of change and transformation. Constructive shedding. The tattoo has slightly faded and it is placed on a section of my hip which has not been treated kindly by weight fluctuations. The quote is barely legible and this has become irrelevant now. Back then, I am sure there was a far angstier, more teenagery drive to my choices but the main idea has held steady in my life. I come from a personal history of constant change: schools, friends, languages, territories. Each time, I have I had to choose not so much who I wanted to be (that is a lie from the movies) but how I wanted to be there. So far I’ve led twenty-six years of looking back at how my life has worked in the past and deciding what I would change to make it better.
Come to think of it, rebirth is too strong a word for what I’ve been doing. Rebirth asks for a previous death, for flames and a spectacular entrance. I haven’t gotten there yet. Mine has been a slower, methodical process. More of a faded sankofa on my hip than a reborn phoenix.
By Daniela Serrano.
Daniela is an editor, writer, and translator based in Boston. She has worked in publishing in Colombia and the US. She has previously written for the Ploughshares blog and The Millions. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @dani_serranog.