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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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    Being First-Generation American

    Being Nigerian-American

    Me wearing my big gele 🙂

    In honor of the closing of June and it being Immigrant Heritage Month, I wanted to share my thoughts on being first- generation American.

    Growing up, being a first-generation American was HARD.  I had to learn how to be a cultural hybrid.  To be both Nigerian and American at the same time was a lot of pressure for the younger me. I had to learn how to be Nigerian, which meant eating and cooking Nigerian food, deciphering the level of anger my parents were experiencing through their tonal Yoruba accent when they were disciplining me, respecting every single adult and learning when to call someone “aunty” or “uncle” even if they had no relations to me, and kneeling down to “big mommies” and “big daddies,” because they were older than my parents.

    I also had to learn how to be American, which meant burning a pot or two while perfecting my Hamburger Helper recipe, begging my parents to take me to get my learner’s permit  at 15 1/2 yrs. old, so I could finally hang out with my friends without having to call my parents to pick me up, and obsessing over wearing the perfect prom dress and having a perfect prom night for memories to come.

    All of those moments, were easy to deal with, but accepting my identity got tricky.  I honestly didn’t like the fact that I was Nigerian-American. I wanted to just be American. I used to be ashamed of my name.  Why did I have so many names? People couldn’t pronounce it and I would always get ridicule from classmates (“Bisola…Coca-Cola…Ricola”). I didn’t like when my parents were spotted with African attire, with my mom’s big gele and all (“Why couldn’t she just wear a suit like the other moms?”).  I didn’t like having to over study for everything (“Mom, it’s just multiple choice. The questions are not open-ended.”) and being called the teacher’s pet for getting a perfect score.

    However, my mom always reminded me that although I was born here, my heritage is from Nigeria. She would say that I needed to be careful not to adopt certain historical, societal and cultural mentalities that negatively conflicted with my heritage.

    That meant, appreciating my name, because it had great meaning. A name that prophesied over my life a rewarding destiny. It meant paying attention to how I presented myself to the world, no sloppy clothing, dressing well at all times, 14kt. gold sets and all, so that the world would know how I wanted to be treated, with dignity and class. It meant I was college-bound and shouldn’t take the easy road in school, because anything that I did then could effect my college admission options later.

    Sometimes, when I would feel burdened and confused about racial tensions I witnessed around me, on TV and in class, my mom would remind me of who I was and continue to be. That I am first and foremost a child of the Most High King, and in Him no one is made inferior. That I came from a good family of hard-working respectable people and that I came from a country that have powerful leaders who look just like me. That I shouldn’t succumb to societal norms, but continue to keep my head high and live like the jewel I was created to be.

    Yes, at times, being a cultural hybrid was a challenge. But with it came a rich cultural background, perspective and vision. Now, I would have it no other way.

     

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    Found in Translation: Las Gidi

    LasGidi

    When I was brainstorming the name for my blog, I wanted a name that both represented my cultural identity and feminine aesthetic. Initially, I wrote down every adjective I could think of that I felt represented me and my style, but the concepts didn’t give me that “yes, that’s it!” feeling.  I was getting frustrated. because all the ideas I came up with didn’t click for me.  But when I prayed, I felt more about peace with not having an answer right away. After some days, the name Gidi & Pearls came to me.  Yes, that’s it!

    “Gidi” stems from “Las Gidi,” the nickname of Lagos, a progressive city in Nigeria with a lot of young professionals accomplishing and reaching their goals. “Gidi” was also a play on the word “giddy,” my state when I’m excited and playful about something, which relates to my femininity. The word “Pearls” represents my feminine and classic tendencies. And that’s how Gidi & Pearls was born.

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    Going Back Home

    Owerri, Nigeria

    Owerri, Nigeria

    Being a bridesmaid at my friend's Igbo traditional wedding

    Being a bridesmaid at my friend’s Igbo traditional wedding

    Look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Your race, your culture, your citizenship?  For me, I have always had to balance my American citizenship with my Nigerian heritage.

    In the Summer, I went back to Nigeria for my friend’s wedding. It was a long time coming. Ten years coming, in fact. The last time I went was for my grandmother’s funeral, which wasn’t a joyous occasion, so I didn’t get to experience it the way I wanted to. This time around I had a lot of expectations. For the country and for myself. Instead of Lagos, I was going to Abuja which I heard had the feel of the States and it did.  A little bit of Texas with the wide highways and a bit of Cali with the palm trees flowing from side to side.

    But this time around I had changed too.  I wasn’t 19 anymore, and I had fully embraced my Nigerian heritage. The family I was born in, the ogbono and egusi soup, the black soap and shea butter, the braids and twists, the pidgin and Queen’s English, I had finally accepted. I also embraced my American influences. The place where I was born and raised, the fried chicken and mash potatoes, the Dove soap and Nivea creme, the updos and curls, the ebonics and American English, I was not ashamed of.  See being a Nigerian-American, wasn’t always comfortable for me. Having to delicately walk the fine line of my birthing place and my family’s culture was a challenge at times.  Some said I wasn’t American enough, some said I wasn’t Nigerian enough, but I learned that I am rightly proportioned the way God created me to be.  I have the best of both worlds.

    Nigeria is as much my home as America is.  Going back home allowed me to appreciate both influences on my life. Knowing now that both homes have positively influenced the person I am today.

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