Ever since Lupita Nyong'o started getting big, the entertainment pages of Kenya and Mexico have feuded over which country gets to "claim" her. Last night, Lupita put the debate to rest. "I'm Mexican and Kenyan at the same time," she said, according to El Mañana. "I've seen the quarrels over my nationality, but I'm Kenyan and Mexican at the same time. So again, I am Mexican-Kenyan and I am fascinated by carne asada tacos."
So there you have it. And yet, Milenio a Mexico City-based paper, noted that "Mexican Lupita Nyong'o" won the Best Supporting Actress award and that she "was born in 1983 in Mexico City, but her parents are of Kenyan origin. The actress grew up in Kenya, but at age 16 her parents sent her to Mexico to learn Spanish." Her parents are Kenyan, but she's Mexican. Of course, Kenya's press has been staking its claim on her for months. In January, the Daily Standard produced a video that described the "debate" over her nationality as if it were a diplomacy issue. The fact that she was born in Mexico is a big deal.
This little tidbit, fueled by foreign reports, one of which specifically referred to Lupita as a Mexican actress have led to heated discussions online, begging the question: Who owns Lupita?
...This is not the first time that Kenya has discovered a link with a famous person, only to be forced to back down.
The last time was when Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, ran for president.
Obviously, no one "owns" her, and it doesn't matter whether she's Kenyan, Mexican, both or neither — unless she's the first person from your country to win an Academy Award. Kisumu county Governor Jack Ranguma told the Kenyan Daily Standard that her win had put them on the map. “This is a win for Kenya and for Africa as well, being the first Kenyan to be nominated and to win an Oscar Award. It has put Kisumu and Kenya on the World map,” said Ranguma. Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta congratulated her as well, with “I join millions of Kenyans and worldwide fans to congratulate and support Lupita Nyong’o as she confronts one of the biggest nights in her career so far." As we explained earlier, her nomination was a big, big deal in Kenya that goes beyond her. Whether she wants to or not, for some she represents Western media taking an interest in African culture that stems beyond violence, disease, and death. Lupita winning the Oscar is the only international, happy, pop culture story coming out of Kenya right now, but only if you accept that Kenya can take credit for her win.
And it's possible that pressure has been weighing on her. "This award belongs to me," she said according to El Mañana.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.