I have discussed the complexity of the African identity in the 21st century on other platforms. For me, I find it best to define myself as a Nigerian-American. I refuse to deny my American identity. I was born in the USA and I LOVE being an American, and particularly the freedom the USA has afforded me to complete my childhood dreams of being a lawyer, specifically a trial lawyer.
High school onwards has been spent in the USA. Kindergarten and grade school was spent in Nigeria. I also do not deny my Nigerian heritage. I LOVE being Nigerian. I’ve been told on both sides that I am not “Nigerian enough” or “American enough.” *Shrugs shoulders.”I’ve never been one to try to fit in or try to fit into other people’s boxes of what they think I ought to be. So, I’ve always been okay with that. I create what I know is right for me. I am a ” Nigerian-American” woman, take it or leave it.
Many across the country, I believe, are caught in these corridors of culture. Indeed, a nice article that takes on the complexity of the African identity and birthing yet another box to capture who Africans are, is the article on ‘What is an Afropolitan?’ by Taiye Tuakli Worsonu. It is a great read and you all should read it, if you have not already.
Nigerian-Americans (Americans born to parents of Nigerian heritage) and Nigerians in America, how many times have you been to a Nigerian focused event here in the USA where you ask one of the kids running around where they are from? The question is not meant to elicit whether that child is from the USA. Usually, you want to tell whether he/she is from the East, West, North or Southern part of Nigeria. The response you get is usually not what you anticipated. Time and time again, you hear, “I am not from Nigeria. My parents are.” They then proceed to tell you the specific state they were born etc.
I will be honest. When I first used to hear that, I would shake my head and think, “these kids are lost. Their parents sit down there and want to delve into parenting other people’s children when theirs have no sense of their identity. If these kids do not even know their cultural identity, how can they truly make it without falling through the cracks, especially in America?”
Over the years, I have begun to question my view and I have really tried to listen to what these kids are saying. One of the reasons is that I have attended numerous gatherings of other ethnic minorities over time: Chinese, Korean, Cambodians, Iranians, Mexicans, Laos/Hmongs, Afghanistans, Vietnamese, Indians (yes, I love diversity and culture a lot) etc. What I find is that the children of these Nigerian parents I meet at Nigerian parties who tell me they are Americans, not Nigerians, share a parallel with kids of other ethnic groups born in the USA.
Like kids born in the USA to Nigerian parents, kids born in the USA to other minority groups respond the exact same way. They are not Indians, Iranians, Mexicans, Koreans etc. their parents are. If all these kids identify as Americans, is there a possibility they may be right? By birth we know for sure that they are Americans. Further, many have never stepped foot on the soil that their parents were born. So, why should they identify themselves as anything other than what they are and know i.e. Americans?
If I was born and raised in Nigeria, had never been to the USA but my parents are Americans, irrespective of dual citizenship I may be able to obtain by virtue of my parents being Americans, what exactly is wrong with saying I am Nigerian when asked? Do I loose being Nigerian because my parents are Americans? I am Nigerian, end of story.
So, I wonder. Are children born in America to Nigerian parents expected to claim to be from the motherland when they are simply not from Nigeria? If you do not speak the language, you have never been to Africa much less the country your family is from, your reality around you is that you are just another black kid. Should you be forced to claim Nigerian when you simply do not define yourself as such?
This takes me to why I wrote this post in the first place. Nigerian Olympic Basketball Player Al Farouq Aminu was recently cornered by TMZ and asked whether he was from Nigeria. He denied he was from Nigeria but that his father was from Nigeria. I feel and agree with the TMZ commentary that there is something fundamentally wrong with playing for the Nigerian basketball national olympic team; and you can’t even claim pride in the country you played for. That’s wack, really. I think his case is distinct because: 1) he wore the Nigerian uniform; and 2) purported to represent an entire nation in an olympics game. Given he actually has a Nigerian passport for the dual citizenship, it would seem to me that he ought to at least claim Nigerian.
I also think TMZ was also unwise aka foolish for playing on that Nigerian scam stereotype. If it was meant to me funny, it IS not. They could have gotten to the heart of the story without using their powerful platform to crucify Nigerians with the 419 stereotype.
However, independent of Aminu distancing of himself from Nigeria, and assuming he did not play for the Nigerian Basketball Olympic team, is he expected to claim to be Nigerian if he is not? Is his answer that his father is from Nigeria but he (Aminu) is from America wrong? I think of many “White” Americans whose parents hail from all parts of Europe. Majority are not expected to claim their heritage. In fact, we expect a “White” American to be just “White.” It is therefore not unusual for many to laugh at that question and just say they are, “mutts.” Still others say, “my parents are from Russia, Italy etc.” with no affiliation whatsoever to where their parents hail from.
Is it betrayal, then, and a loss of culture when American born children of African immigrants simply say, “I am American. My parents are from Africa?”
For Al Farouq Aminu, I think he denies his heritage, since he played on the team for Nigeria and has dual citizenship, because the team got spanked by the USA basketball team, like really bad. If the team won, he would be saying a different thing.
Many are caught in these dichotomy and I sort of wonder.
Watch the TMZ clip below: