Interview with Gloria Mangi: Tanzanian writer, producer, and podcaster.
What does diaspora mean to you, and how do you experience it as a woman and a feminist?
Gloria thinks of diaspora as something that can unite you to other members of your diasporic community through highlighting how different you are from the place and community you have migrated to, but it also illustrates the ways that you change and adapt while living away from “home.”
She was born in Tanzania and spent her formative years in Ireland before moving to Saudi Arabia. A racist encounter with the principal of her elementary school in Ireland illustrated to Gloria, in a painful and shocking way, that she was perceived as different from the other students. After this encounter, Gloria because newly aware of the way that her differences—hair texture and style, the foods she ate, the color of her skin—made her a target for teasing and bullying. Feeling so disconnected from the images of beauty and normalcy where you live brought about some insecurities for Gloria, particularly as a young child, but later it also brought about “a hunger to learn more about my heritage.”
Returning to Tanzania with her family during holidays gave Gloria some valuable opportunities to reconnect with her home community, but also reminded her of the ways that she was changed during her time living outside of Tanzania and outside of Africa. The condition of being in the minority, particularly in Saudi Arabia, generated a deeper appreciation for those moments of shared connection with other Africans, whether through the language of Swahili, shared food, similar clothing, and turning each other’s homes into literal community spaces. “These kinds of connections are very special to me, to this day, and were so important for keeping me grounded.”
How does your work connect to your experiences in the diaspora?
The genesis of the African Queens Project (AQP), Gloria’s African woman-based content and news site, goes back to 2012 when Gloria was selected to be a MILEAD Fellow with the Moremi Initiative. This program selects 25 high achieving women from around Africa and the diaspora, across fields, to convene in Accra, Ghana for three weeks. This experience was life-changing for Gloria, and she stills considers those women to be her sisters. One day during the fellowship the group was asked to share what had gotten the Fellows interested in the work we were doing, and what impassioned them. As part of the fellowship, each participant was tasked with coming up with a project for our year-long fellowship period. Gloria recognized that her work as a journalist could give her a platform to explore how media narratives in the west impacted the way Africans discussed and were informed about key issues. Listening to the other women share their work and interests helped Gloria realize that she wanted to provide a platform to share the projects, passions, and journeys of dynamic African women like those in the MILEAD Fellowship. “I realized that there weren’t enough Africans telling African stories, and when you focus on women that number is even smaller.” The African Queens Project was born of a desire to combat overwhelmingly negative media portrayal of Africa, Gloria’s training as a journalist, and her passion to share African’s women’s stories in a way that emphasized their uniqueness.
The African Queens Project has been met with success even in its early stages – they won a World Summit Youth Award from the United Nations, and were recognized as one of the Top 20 Initiatives by Google Africa. “I didn’t realize how much it was needed until it was done. And how well received it was when it did come about. And how receptive people were of it all over the world, not just in Africa.”
In light of this very strong start, Gloria wants AQP to go even further. “There’s so many places I would like for AQP to go – there are so many voices we haven’t heard; places we haven’t reached. I’d like to see a concept like AQP taking place in every country; a hub for people to document stories. I’m passionate about Africans being able to document our own stories.” This also includes making sure that Africans in more rural areas, who may not have consistent access to Internet, computers, smart phones, and social media, are not excluded from this storytelling process. “We want to think about how to both hear and share the stories that are coming from those areas.”
The next exciting step in the AQP journey is the upcoming Queen Things project, developed alongside co-producer IzE Ahanotu. Queen Things is a podcast that has a similar focus and structure as AQP, but is more focused on the diaspora. The first season of the podcast is currently being developed, and keep an eye out for more information to come soon.
What advice would you give to other folks living in and thinking about the African diaspora?
“I think it is so important to never forget or be ashamed of where you come from. This is something I struggled with because I was made to feel ashamed. Know and learn about your history, and don’t wait until somebody else tries to tell you about your own heritage. Being willing to talk to and learn from people who look like you, but also people from other backgrounds makes you more tolerant and understanding of other viewpoints and ideologies. It helps you gain an understanding of how the many different ways that people think. At the end of the day, everybody has a story to tell.”