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.