A window on Zaneta's Life
Island filmmaker and musician Zaneta Ambassa says she would like to see the school curriculum expanded to teach Island students more of PEI's Black history.
The 14-year-old Grade 9 Stonepark student says a lot of her classmates ask her questions about being black, black islanders and her African heritage. Zaneta, whose family emigrated from Kenya, Africa before she was born, says she learned a lot of PEI’s Black History from local musician Scott Parsons’ music.
“I try to answer as best I can but I don’t have all the answers,” Ambassa says. “We learned about the Black Loyalists in school but there is definitely more we could be learning, about The Bog (Black community in Charlottetown in the 1800s) and how people were treated.”
The young Islander had her first film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2017 when she was only 12. The three-minute film, which she co-wrote with her sister Kendi Tarichia, was chosen to be a part of the Kids Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Showcase. Read more in a story we ran in 2017 about the film and Zaneta's participation in the film festival.
That experience, and being chosen to have the film screened at TIFF, motivated Ambassa artistically; and right now she’s busy writing music that she describes as happy/sad. This month she is recording her first song with Desi Caruso.
“I am not sure what genre I am in right now,” she says with a laugh.
Zaneta helps sell African food at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday at her family’s business Out of Africa. Last December they visited her mother’s family in Nairobi, Kenya. She shared her experiences (holding a baby crocodile and going on a safari) on her YouTube channel called Zaneta’s Life.
She says she feels safe growing up Canadian but thinks the experience of black teens and children is much different than adults living on PEI.
“Racism is more abrupt,” she explains, “people will ask if they can touch my hair. I used to not know how to handle that but now I explain why it’s not appropriate to ask. I don’t think people realize how much that kind of thing is being done to black women and how much it affects people of colour. Even if you’re not trying to be offensive, it impacts people.”
Zaneta would like to help organize something for teens during Black History Month next year to help build the community.
“Black people in PEI lack of lot of brotherhood and sisterhood; it’s stronger in other places,” she explains, noting she feels that connection in Africa.
“There is more assimilation here on PEI. That’s why Black History Month is so important; it brings people together. After Black History Month ends we need to keep it going.”