Diaspora of Ifemelu

Cultural identity is a complex term. It has different meaning under different circumstances and from different perspective. In the essay Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall talks about the key features of black diasporic identity. According to him, black cultural identity is the same for every black person yet so different. All black people share the same cultural identity because of their shared history and ancestry, but their cultural identity also varies from person to person because of their inner expropriation and personal memories (Hall, 226). And then he continues to talk about the complexity of Caribbean identity, which includes three essential presences. I thought in Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie, Ifemelu perfectly demonstrates the diaspora caused by different cultural identity. When she first arrives Lagos, she feels dizzy and strange:

“Had it always been like this or had it changed so much in her absence? When she left home, only the wealthy had cell phones… She had grown up knowing all the bus stops and the side streets, understanding the cryptic codes of conductors and the body language of street hawkers. Now, she struggled to grasp the unspoken. When had shopkeepers become so rude? Had buildings in Lagos always had this patina of decay?” (Adichie 475)

I thought in this passage Ifemelu demonstrates two aspects of diaspora- time and memory. The diaspora caused by time is obvious and easy to understand. She has been gone from Lagos for fifteen years, and as a third world country, Nigeria has been developing at a rapid speed that she could not follow it in her mind. Her hometown has changed a lot — better facilities, more roads, wealthier common people, and other parts in life. In this way, ifemelu shows that she has experienced diaspora, because the portrait of Lagos in her mind is not the same as that in the mind of people who always live in Lagos. She would identify herself as the person who has grown up in the poor city and seeks “choices” in America. However, common people in Lagos nowadays probably do not feel the severe poverty in their city any more as they forget the old time. There is a gap between their understanding of the city, or more broadly, the country, due to the time lag, and in this way Ifemelu has a different cultural identity than the common people in Lagos.

She would also feel the diaspora because of the unintentionally polish of her memory of Lagos. As she says, she does not remember the shopkeepers being so rude and buildings looking so obsolete. It is normal that people forget about the bad memory and only keep the pleasant one (yes, this is based on a scientific research), especially when it is about a place they love. However, bettering Lagos in her memory means that Ifemelu has a different impression of Lagos than people who live there all the time, and that causes a diaspora. I personally relates to this closely. When I came back to China every time for vacation, I found the food less delicious, people less polite, and city less beautiful than I remembered. And when I complained to my friends and family, they were laughing and saying I was talking nonsense because it had always been this way. I was disappointed and when I read the passage quoted above I immediately knew the feeling that Ifemelu has. Her cultural identity becomes different than the other people in Lagos because of the time lag and the fade of memory.

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