The Nigerian American
How I learned to embrace my Naija roots.
As a child, staying connected to my Nigerian roots never interested me. I had no desire to embrace my culture and proudly rep my roots. My primary objective was assimilation, and that meant being as American as possible. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, a place where if you weren’t at a gathering specifically meant for Nigerians, the likelihood of running into one was slim. Being African in such an environment instantly put a target on your back. I distinctly remember a time during my freshman year in high school when I lied and told the class that I was half Egyptian, cause if I had to be African, I decided I would be from the “cool” part of Africa. I remember parent-teacher conferences when the other kids would hear my parents speak with their thick Nigerian accents, and I instantly became embarrassed, knowing that it would be open season on me the next day at school. I remember all the clicking noises my classmates would make at me, and the demeaning questions like “did you guys live in huts and run around naked back in Africa?”. I remember all the jokes and laughter at the expense of the only Nigerian kid in class.
I grew up in a time and place where being bullied for being African was a matter of course. I heard the term African booty scratcher so many times that I actually gave serious thought as to why Black-Americans thought “booty scratching” was a uniquely African trait. Didn’t everyone’s butt itch from time to time? The bullying never hurt my feelings, but it did confuse and anger me. I wondered why I was being bullied by people that look like me. Why are they laughing at my last name? LaKwonda and Dae Dae don’t sound any better. I didn’t fully comprehend the whys of the insults and jests; I just knew that they really rubbed me the wrong way.
The more I got picked on for being African, the angrier I became, and oddly enough, the more American I wanted to become. I remember being ashamed of my heritage and doing whatever I could to present as a black American. My desire to fit in far outweighed my weak and underdeveloped ethnic identity as a kid. I was being bullied for a myriad of things, things entirely out of my control, but my ethnic identity, that I could control. But my ethnic identity though, the culture I chose to internalize and present as my own? Now that, I could change. So I silently began scrubbing the Green from my skin and instead adorned it with the colors of Old Glory.
It wasn’t until I moved to the DMV that I began embracing my Nigerian roots. I saw more Africans in one day than I would in two weeks back in Nebraska. What drew me in, even more, was that these people were proud of their roots. A lot of them would openly speak their language in the hallways at school. This was a wild thing to see for a person like me who had been hiding his native culture for so long. I began making African friends, which was very new to me. Any African friend I had back in Nebraska was either a family member or someone I knew from church. At functions, the DJ would shout-out different countries in Africa, and people would get hype and start doing dances that I had never seen before, to music I had never heard before. I was both shocked and greatly pleased. It made me see that there’s no need to be ashamed of my birthplace. I quickly realized that being Nigerian is fucking lit. I no longer felt like an alien in a foreign country.
Needless to say, my days of shunning the Naija part of me are long gone. I love my heritage, my culture, my people, all dat. Everything we touch turns to gold, well except the Nigerian government, but that’s a story for another day. Catch me at your local Afrobeats party looking for my next ex-girlfriend. Yoruba Angel out ✌🏾.