Cultural Love: My Roots

My parents are first generation Nigerians.

A couple of years into their marriage, they decided to travel abroad to live and work in the United States. Despite living abroad, they are still so deeply enriched in their culture.  With this in mind, there was no shadow of a doubt that they would pass it on to their offspring.

Some years later, I was born and grew up as close to the Nigerian culture as I could be, being that I wasn’t born there.  Most of my parent’s friends were Nigerian.  Out of this population, many of them were from the Yoruba tribe, just like my parents.  If not, they were of African descent.

I went to a predominantly Nigerian church, and ate Egba with egusi soup or Jollof rice for dinner. I was as African as they come, besides having actually lived there, and I was proud of it! That is up until going to school made it hard for me to express my pride.

It’s no news that kids can be mean. This is something that most people have dealt with. I had always heard of it, but never experienced it first hand.  My culture had a lot to deal with how other kids treated me.

Going to school in New York, you learn quickly that whatever isn’t “cool” or accepted, you’re better off quickly disowning. Whether it was Sketcher sneakers, USPA sweaters, or box braids, you knew that the second someone was called out for it, you’d need to discard that part of you unless you’d be next.

That being said- since elementary school, kids made it the common joke to call students “African Booty Scratchers” and other similar terms as an insult. What’s strange is that it wasn't even towards African’s directly, rather it was people who clearly weren’t African. After being “insulted” in that manner, the target would begin to denounce and swear against being associated to this identity.

Calling someone “African” became the ultimate diss.  Now I wasn’t the only African in my school, and I wasn’t ever directly targeted for my culture, but being exposed to such acts made us all cower and begin to try to hide that part of our identity. Having a name that was clearly distinct and African made me always get to class extra early on the first day of school to ensure that the teacher knew not to call me “Oluwakemi Kehinde,” but rather its shortened more “normal” version “Kemi”. I even let my peers call me “Kimmy” or “Kimberly” to further assimilate to the “norm” (something that I will never except now.  I began to denounce my African heritage in my younger years, only truly being my full self when I was taken out of that judgmental setting.

It wasn’t until maybe middle school, when people slightly matured when I started to embrace and even promote my culture. To tell you the truth, I can’t say exactly how it happened. Maybe it was because I realized I was happier when I allowed myself to be my full self when surrounded by those who understood me, rather than when I was trying to conform.

The days where I would rush to class to stop the teacher from butchering my name ended, and I let them say it fully (even though it still was butchered and that was a little annoying). I would simply correct them, while listening to and disregarding the snickers and laughs from some of the people I called friends.

Sometimes the teacher would ask me questions like “What does that mean?” and “Where is that name from?” and I would gladly answer. Ultimately instead of disregarding my own culture, I disregarded the irrelevant opposers to it. I think that was a good change and something that has largely shaped me into the person I am today and I am so glad for that transition.

Let’s fast forward to my experience as a college student.  It’s the epiphany of figuring out my true self.  Being Nigerian and of African descent is something I am not ashamed of in the slightest. It’s actually nice to have some culture and customs and things that belong to you that no other culture shares. I like that I’m distinct among Americans. I like that I am truly African American. 

I think that celebrating this part of me has helped enrich the minds of others who didn’t understand or get my culture. Now whether it’s now being appropriated is a topic for another day (literally, this will be discussed shortly) but I like that some seem genuinely interested in something that they’re not well accustomed with and that I’ve been given the grace and opportunity to inform them about it. Ultimately embracing my culture and myself was the best decision I have made in finding my true self and arguably it’s one of the best decisions that anyone can make in finding himself or herself.