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4 Tips on How to Be Authentically Nigerian-American

How to Be Authentically Nigerian-American

Growing up, I never felt secure in my Nigerian(ness).  I couldn’t speak Yoruba, but I understood when my mom disciplined me. For some reason, discipline seemed more official in my parents native tongue. I quickly learned the meaning of “ma gba oju é” at the tender young age of rebellion.  I didn’t need any translation. Lol. All joking aside, even though I grasped what my parents spoke most times, read Yoruba, cooked Nigerian food, went to a predominantly Nigerian church, wore Iro and Buba on special occasions and travelled to Nigeria a few times, I still didn’t feel Nigerian enough.  Why? Because I allowed the “Nigerian Experts” to dictate my cultural identity and authenticity.

You know who they are; they were the self-proclaimed authority to all things Nigerian. They would correct every misplaced accent in our attempt to speak our native tongue. Usually, the correction was followed by disappointment, because we hadn’t learned the language through osmosis. Every tomatoey jollof rice attempt would have resulted in them sucking their teeth and blaming our parents for spoiling us.

However, I’m here to say, it’s okay not to perfectly understand, do or know everything about our culture to still be recognized as apart of it.

1. Don’t Apologize For Who You Are

Don’t feel bad that you can’t speak pigeon like the best of them or that your Shoki looks more like an accident than an intentional dance move. It doesn’t make you less Nigerian. You probably grew up on a quiet street in the middle of Suburbia, USA not the hustle and bustle of Lagos, Nigeria. Being Nigerian-American doesn’t lessen our Nigerian authenticity. The fact that our parents were born and breed in Nigeria, gives us the defaulted right to be accepted into the Nigerian community. That’s how heritage works.  The fact that our parents came to America to provide better opportunities for their families is nothing to apologize for or be ashamed. Our first-generational status is a badge of honor, so stop trying to imitate someone you are not. Go forth and eat your Iyan with a fork (…is that only me?)  and don’t apologize for it.

2. Appreciate Yourself “As Is”

Sometimes, it’s hard to accept who we are as individuals. Especially, if we are surrounded by influential people that we admire. Sometimes you may feel you don’t measure up. I have been there. Many of us have. However, as hard as it may be, we should try not to envy other people’s talents or progress. It’s counter-productive. No two people have the exact same destiny, not even twins. I believe everyone has a God given purpose and talent and when they coincide with God’s timing amazing things happen. Our true unadulterated selves are actualized and the world is better because of it. Therefore, appreciate who you are today and realize that you are on your own individual journey. Not Folake’s or Temi’s or Bisi’s journey. We may not have perfected our Egusi soup to our mother’s dismay or learned how to tie our gele, so that it stands correctly. However, don’t fret, that doesn’t make us less Nigerian. If we focus on who we are and what makes us authentically special, we can become people others are influenced by too.

3. Develop At Your Own Pace

Everyone has to start from somewhere. However, not everyone begins and ends at the same point. A wise person once said, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” We should try not to compare ourselves to others. Everyone is a work in progress. Self-development takes time and patience.  We have a lifetime to develop into the person we want to be and were created to be, so let’s stop hoping we were a decade ahead of where we should be now. Every season of our life is meant to help us learn and grow. There are seasons of planting and seasons of harvesting. We need to recognize which season we are in and develop from there. Take a cue from Nollywood. Personally, I couldn’t sit down for two minutes to watch a Nollywood film. The acting was a bit repulsive, the multiple parts on different DVDs was obnoxious and the overplayed instrumental for every scene was detrimental. However, year after year the industry continued to grow and improve, expanding globally and landing a section on Netflix. If we are consistent and persistent with developing at our own pace it will be rewarded.

4. Recognize You Have The Best of Both Worlds

As Nigerian-Americans, we have the unique ability to identify with two distinct and rich cultures. This is the beauty of being first-generation. We can experience the best of both worlds. I learned discipline, hard work and cultural pride amongst other things from my parents. I also learned how to appreciate diverse cultures and backgrounds by being American. Because America is such a melting pot, it helps me resist the prejudices of tribalism that is so prevalent in the Nigerian community. It’s much easier to internalize Nigerian unity and drop tribalistic prejudices when my co-workers force me to become Nigeria’s crisis manager after reading an article about another victim of the 4-1-9 scams. A cultural commonality is necessary during those sensitive times. Although, times like that are undesirable, it makes us much more interesting, because we have insider knowledge of two distinct cultures. Learning to effectively balance between the two grants us access to the best of both worlds.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Lola

    I absolutely love this post!.. Like so much you said was completely accurate.. a lot of people struggle with fitting in the hierarchy of what it means to be a “real- african” and in this case “Nigerian”.. and i’m glad you spoke about a lot of issues many of us Nigerian- Americans face yet rarely talk about.

    October 28, 2015 at 3:43 PM
    • Reply Bisola

      Thanks Lola, I’m glad you could relate to some of the issues that I raised. My purpose was to encourage others that struggled to fit in.

      October 28, 2015 at 11:05 PM
  • Reply Bunmi

    Great post B! A great point you that you mentioned is that being first generation is not a bad thing and that it embraces heritage. I use to hear people say to me “you are an American or you don’t understand Yourba.”But those same ppl want you to formally greet them or pack food for them at parties. Sometimes individuals in our culture pick and choose the ideas and values that we are suppose to up adapted to. I feel like if you going to expose us to the culture than you have to love everything else about us, including being first generation. We don’t choose where we are born or who birth us. And I often think traditions and people forget that ……FYI when I went to Nigeria I was one of those who ate with my hand instead of a fork. I found that it was easier to blend but I love the fork style too!
    Great Post Bisola

    October 31, 2015 at 9:29 PM
  • Reply Yedei

    This is a really good post with great tips! I can definitely relate to living in the middle.

    November 9, 2015 at 8:38 AM
    • Reply Bisola

      Thanks Yedei!

      November 10, 2015 at 2:00 AM
  • Reply Stephanie Anyadike

    But who makes those ‘Nigerian experts’ experts.. mschewwww!
    Too many times, I’d felt ostracized as those from my parents generations would laugh at my trying attempts to speak the language.
    Here you’re not fully American and even there.. you’re not fully Nigerian..
    Wonderful post Bisola! I think its important us ‘in-between-ers’ recognize the advantage we have rather than seeing it as a shortcoming

    November 9, 2015 at 11:05 AM
    • Reply Bisola

      Thanks Stephanie!

      November 10, 2015 at 2:00 AM

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