Monday, June 6, 2011

The Plight of the Nigerian-American

Im not talking about Uchenna who was born in Nigeria, moved to the US when he was 5 and visits Owerri every few years. Nor am I talking about Babajide who was born in the US after his parents moved to NYC from Surulere. (obviously i just made up those names but who doesn't know an Uche or Jide?!?)

I am talking about the Nigerian-Americans...those children who were born and raised in the US to one American parent and one Nigerian parent. They've never been to Nigeria. They know nothing about the culture. To them, "pidgin" and "dodo" are types of birds. (i thought that was a clever play on words. feel free to disagree lol).

Today, LadyNgo is here to tell you that it is a very tough road to travel. And its always made me somewhat despise the other Nigerian children (and adults as well) that come to the US and are so quick to adapt to American culture- from changing their mannerisms, their diet, even their names! When there are so many "lost Nigerian children" trying to find, learn about and identify with their roots, to see people casting it aside is both saddening and frustrating.

Just to put things in perspective, a lil bit about my background:
My mom, African American, my dad, an Igbo man. They met, fell in love, got married, eventually had me, and eventually divorced. Leaving a child who has not seen her father in almost 20 years. As a kid, I never really cared one way or the other about the fact that I was a Nigerian. Not because i thought it was stupid or a waste of time, but because there was no exposure. The few Nigerian friends i had growing up, the only reason i knew they were Nigerian was because of their names. (Kinda hard to down-play Ifeoma, Obinna, Temitope, Olawale and Oluwaseun- just to name a few.)  But as i got older (and eventually kidnapped adopted by the Nigerian community) I decided to take it upon myself to find that "missing piece" of who i am rather than passively sitting around listening to old Bright Chimezie records and looking at old pictures of long lost relatives in their ichafu and george wrappers.
I was inspired to write this piece by a post i stumbled upon in the the nigerians in america forum (albeit a quite old post). Basically its woman (i think) that was born in the US, knows nothing about Nigeria, doesn't know who her father is other than the fact that he is Igbo and really just wanted to know more about that part of her culture and familial heritage. I've seen soooooooooooooo many stories like this (including that the daddy is some Igbo man, extreme side-eye) over the years. Its really sad. But also has made me thankful that at least in that respect i was somewhat ahead of the game. I know who my father is and had him in the home with me so if i saw him walking down the street i could spit on him recognize him, coupled with the somewhat uniqueness of my surname and the fact that i have some relatively important relatives making it extremely easy to find people and connect or re-connect as the case may be.

Culturally speaking- OMG, do you know how difficult it is to learn about ANY African culture in the US? I know highly intelligent grown folks who don't even know who Nelson Mandela is or even that South Africa is a country rather than a region! Forget finding someone who knows anything about Umuekea lol. Not to mention the differences within the "subgroups" of Igboland (which i'll blog about at a later date because the entire thing is quite annoying).

Then there are your "friends" who insist on making the journey even more difficult and complicated than it needs to be. In my own personal travels, i have encountered several "kinds" of friendship roadblocks:

  • The people that refuse to claim you as a Nigerian because you weren't born there. 
  • The people who say "Your father is Nigerian so you are Nigerian. Knock it off with the 'I'm American' talk because you are a Nigerian. Act like it!" (sometimes these are the same people who will not claim you as a Nigerian if it doesn't suit their needs)
  • The people who don't understand why finding your roots is important to you. "You are an American so why are you trying to be something else" (usually the american friends or the Nigerians that are pretending to be american)
  • People that forget that you are American and proceed to give you the side-eye when you don't know about/haven't experienced one thing or the other or look at you funny when they meet your parents and are wondering why there is no accent. I've even had people tell me they think im lying about being American because im "just so Naija" (thanks, i guess)
  • People that forget that you are Nigerian/mesmerized by the fact that you know anything about Nigeria. 
    • For example, i was talking to my friend the other day and he was telling me how he had just finished eating Isi which i replied "eewww" and "where did you get that from". Mind you me and him have been friends for quite some time and have attended way too many Nigerian functions to count. Why does this man insist that I do not know what Isi Ewu is?!? First there's this thing called will seriously change your life! Second, i am Igbo afterall and even if i didn't know Isi Ewu as a food (which i obviously do), i know that Isi=head and Ewu=goat. Not a big leap lol
    • My reply to these kinds of people are always the same: "Man, don't try and downplay my thirst for knowledge about my fatherland"
I say all this to make 3 important (or important to me at least) points:

To the Nigerians in America- the next time you come across that familiar surname (or anyone with a genuine interest in our country), before you shut them out take the time to try and educate them. You never know, that might be a relation of yours!
To the "lost" Nigerian-Americans (or any other child of an absentee immigrant parent)- I know its a tough road but if you really want to know about your history/heritage/culture, jump right on into it. It can be scary and intimidating...and there are gonna be plenty of times where you'll feel like the pink elephant in the room. It can also get extremely confusing especially if you don't know your familial background. But do not let that deter you!
To the men (and women too possibly) that are going about spreading their seed in the US/UK/where ever and leaving these lost souls to find themselves on their own- shame on you! I imagine that a lot of this is due to people marrying and playing house in search of a green card. But honestly have some decency and avoid the creation of another human life if you know good and well that you have no intention of being there for your child.


  1. The last paragraph touched me. It's so sad that in this day and age people are still going around ruining the lives of innocent children in the name of green card and living abroad...smh.

    I don't want to sound like the "people who are mesmerized that you know about your heritage," but given your story, you have done a great job and you shouldn't be bothered by what anyone thinks.

    It's sad when I see people show no interest in their culture.I have some cousins who aren't interested in knowing anything about their heritage, simply because they were born here. And the sad thing is that they have TWO Igbo parents who have been trying to educate them on Nigeria since they were little. It's disappointing that they're not taking advantage of what they have..

  2. I can sorta relate to this, and I'm 100% Nigerian although I didn't grow up there. Some Nigerians I meet, usually in school call me a "fake Nigerian" just cos I don't have the accent among other things.

    It really depends on the individual, if you want to get in tune with your heritage, it doesn't matter where on the planet you're from, it can happen.

  3. I swear i was going to ask you about this on your last post. I'm really curious about people with your background. You write pidgin english (I think?), watch Naija movies etc I guess it makes sense when you say you were adopted by the Nigerian community.

    Kudos for trying to learn. I can imagine that it's not easy but at least you are trying and i think you are doing a pretty good job of it.

  4. I am shocked. I had no idea. Wow, you are amazing LadyNgo. I honestly thought you were an "Uche".

    I used to know a man who is the typical seed spreader. He has a family in Nigeria but decided to carry on with an American lady and have kids with her (she found out about his other family and still stayed), it makes me so angry that our men are carrying on and being so careless with the lives of innocent children.

    I grew up in Nigeria, went to college in the US and learnt the languages I know via the Internet and the Nigerian students around me.

  5. Be encouraged by our Presidents story.

  6. Well done for finding more about your heritage.

    Obama is a great testimony to the fact that the more you know about your roots, the more you know who you are.

    Food and language don't make you a true daughter/son of the soil...its in the blood.

    I am always amazed by how many people in Nigeria fake accents...just to appear 'American' or 'British'and reject anything too 'native'.

    Meanwhile, in the UK and US, we have kids who eagerly embrace anything 'African' and travel to Africa to find out more about their heritage.....mmm

    Well, as my people say - A river that forgets its source, will one day run dry.

    i don talk my own

  7. One word for anyone tryin to reconnect with their Nigerian roots, FOLLOW NIGERIANS ON TWITTER... you will pick up lots in no time, ask question *get laughed at a bit* :P, but ud still get answers lol
    Could have sworn you grew up in naija sha WOW
    Thumbs up for the effort
    and i never can understand men like that *sigh*

  8. *a standing ovation*....weldone sis...up 9ja! :D

  9. Wow! I cant believe you've never been to Nigeria. You seem to have done a good job familiarising yourself with the culture.

    Great post. very insightful

  10. I can't say i understand how you fell,i can only just imagine how you feel.Meanwhile,i am very proud of you,you did a very good job familiarizing with the 9ja culture (even if not the mentality).As for those that are not proud of being Nigerian,all i can say to them is 'SORRY'.

  11. You have done really well all by yourself!! Good for you!

  12. Good on you girl. Even people living in Nigeria are turning their backs on their language and culture, how else can you explain a naija born and bred child who does not understand or speak any Nigerian language? I honestly don't get it. I went back to Nigeria a couple of months ago after being away for about 16 years and was shocked to hear radio presenters with American accents. One was even boasting that she did not understand her own language. Imagine! Well done on your quest to embrace your culture. As for those seed spreaders, *kisses teeth*.

  13. You've done very well for urself...not so many people have the depth & value you have.

  14. Thanks all for the encouraging words. I really do appreciate it :) It really has been one of those things where taking the first step was the hardest because you are not sure how you will be recieved but im glad i did it.

  15. Lovelly post. I am Ghanaian lol "Nana" should say it all. But with the Ghanaian kids, especially the one that were born in Ghana and brought overseas, they pretend to not speak or understand the language, it really pisses me off. There are people who are looking for their heritage. and there people who are denying it.


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