She smiles and reaches out to hand me a flyer of the upcoming Nigerian parade; she is a member of the African Student Union club and she seems friendly, so I take the flyer from her though I know already that I will not be going to the parade.
My first time at the Nigerian Parade was two years ago and though it was a nice experience to see Nigerian-Americans from all over the city like me gathered together, it was nothing memorable. I remember being initially excited to go but unlike other situations where I had high expectations, the aftermath of the parade wasn’t a let down.
For some time now (prior to my first parade), I have been struggling with the all too familiar identity crisis about “who I am” and what that even meant. Of course, I had to start with my ethnicity because many people interconnect their cultural roots with their identity. Yes, I am Nigerian but I didn’t exactly feel Nigerian. If it weren’t for the Nigerian church I attended or the fact that my parents speak Yoruba at home (while I do not) I would feel an even greater disconnection.
I started to not feel Nigerian enough strangely in the place that gave me the most sense of a Nigerian connection: church. The more I attended Nigerian parties, I realized I did not know the mainstream music that flowed easily from the lips of my fellow Nigerians; I didn’t know the dances and only watched as they danced together. The more I socialized with Nigerians, the more I felt myself trying to be someone I was not. Don’t get me wrong, Africans come in all personality varieties, but I felt like I had to be more comedic and more “African” (when I was younger, I was told I acted white by Nigerians, so acting more African was acting less me) around other Africans. For example, if you speak the language well, you can joke with your friends by calling them a name like olodo (“fool”) or whatever other funny names you can tease your friends with. But for someone who does not speak the language well, that connection is not there.
These experiences could have just been my shy self reacting in situations where I felt pressured by social interactions but over time, I realized I only felt these inward conflicts in my socializing with Nigerian-Americans, or other, Africans.
In pertinence to socializing with Nigerian-Americans comes friendships with Nigerian-Americans, which I believe I have none. I know a lot of Nigerian-Americans thanks to church, but I would group them more as acquaintances in varying age groups. Well why should having Nigerian friends matter in feeling Nigeria you may ask? Well, I believe you get integrated into the culture more. Same as having more Spanish friends, you tend to learn a lot more about Spanish people. You have people you’re comfortable with just being yourself, but for me, when I always feel like I have to pull up a facade, I can never really get comfortable around Africans.
Being Nigerian consists of nothing except being from Nigeria, right? But to me, it simply does not feel that way. Being Nigerian to me consists of having a deep connection to one’s cultural ties and I believe I don’t have those connections.
I Ain't Sh*t