Meet Edna Kalinko, born in Ghana, who invites people to ‘see me as me’

America is a melting pot, the saying goes. At times in her life, Edna Kalinko has felt that it was melting away her true identity: her roots in Ghana in West Africa, where she was born. She’s determined now to make sure her history and heritage are key ingredients, part of the richness that makes up the United States.

When people see her, they often assume she’s a Black American, she says. But she was born and raised on the Accra plains in Ghana, a member of the Ga tribe. She was 5 when she immigrated to the United States, settling with her family in Denver.

“Black people, we’re not a huge monolithic group,” says Kalinko, a Starbucks legal practice assistant for corporate securities, based in Seattle. “If I didn’t tell you my story, how would you know that I didn’t share the experiences of the other Black people here?”

This February, during Black History Month, Starbucks is proud to celebrate the unique stories of our Black partners. We honor them and we see them, and we encourage you to see them too. Move past the stereotypes, the assumptions, the misperceptions, the things you think you may know, the skin color. And get to know them as individuals. Learn the breadth and depth of their distinct lives.

Look closer.

“See me as me,” Kalinko urges. “See my true self.”

When Kalinko arrived in the U.S., it was a shock – and not just because she moved from summer in Ghana to winter in Colorado. She was picked on for her accent, the way she dressed, the way she smelled. “Our foods are very distinctive and engulfed my home and imbued my clothes with the scent of our culture,” she says.

In her new home in the U.S., she felt most comfortable with other immigrants and Ghanaians who gathered to celebrate holidays from back home, cook together and eat traditional foods like jollof, banku, fufu, waakye and suya kebob.

She experienced tension with her African American counterparts growing up, butting heads on what blackness meant. She felt her peers had misinformed and stereotyped ideas about Africa – that everyone lived in huts and wore no clothes. Her parents were in the civil service back home and were educated upper-middle class citizens. English was not a foreign language to them, because Ghana’s national language is English.

As a student, Kalinko took refuge with “outsiders,” finding commonality with other immigrants and marginalized groups, finding solace in heavy metal and Russian novels, both of which spoke to her frustrations and inner turmoil of having one foot in each culture but not belonging anywhere completely. When she got to college at Seattle University, she met people with similar experiences growing up.

“We all had feelings of being outsiders, of melting away our identities to fit in, and now we were like, we’re not going to melt away anymore,” Kalinko says. “We’re going to be the main ingredient in this melting pot that’s called the U.S.”

When Kalinko thinks about being truly seen, she wants to be seen as more than her blackness. She’s a first-born daughter of the Annan clan, an older sister to three siblings, a mother of a 3-year old girl, Jewish, an African, a writer, a British comedy nerd, a fan of Spanish-language movies, a lover of heavy metal.

“I want to make nuance normative in the Black community,” Kalinko says. “For Caucasians, they can be many things and there’s not a surprise factor associated with it, like if you’re into Viking (television) shows or if you’re a concert pianist or you’re into grunge rock, all those things are normative. But for Black people, usually there’s a box that you’re put in and when you step outside that box, there’s a lot of shock and surprise.

“That’s not fair because there’s a range of things that you can be when you’re Black. That’s what I want people to see: the full range and not just a preconceived notion of what blackness is.”

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‘See me as me’: Starbucks honors Black History Month