One Woman, Two Different Cultures: Which one Reigns Supreme?

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Nigeria-America-flagWe were on our way to interview the lead character in our documentary production. Four girls. College students majoring in journalism. Two white, one Mexican, the other African. Somehow we started talking about culture. We were talking about why it’s important to hold on to it. How it’s kinda sorta part of us–especially for the African and Mexican girls. The latter said she sometimes felt like she didn’t belong whenever she was around her immediate family. That’s because she speaks English with no trace of an accent and to top it off she can’t speak spanish. For that reason she said she often felt like an outsider. She said when she is with her American friends, even though she is American born and raised, she also feels the same way. Her friends are quick to point to the fact that she’s Mexican. They expect her to know everything about her culture. They expect her to speak Spanish. So in the end, she feels like she’s stuck in the middle–not entirely Mexican and not entirely American.

“As an African, do you feel that way too,” one of the white girls asked the black girl.

“Yes, yes I do,” she replied.

The three girls waited for her to continue, to elaborate, she didn’t. She didn’t have to. The Mexican girl had summed it all up. Most of it, at least.

That was almost a year ago and now, I do want to elaborate. Expound. Annotate. I want to explain her point of view according to how I, “as an African” see things. Finally, I want to clarify.

nigeria-flag-2I am an African woman born and raised. My mother used to say, to know where you’re going you have to know where you’re coming from. I do. I’m African and I’m proud. I have never seen myself another way. Problem is when I talk to my African friends back in Nigeria–even via Facebook–they say I’ve become “a typical American.” Funny, because how can you make such an analysis from a computer screen? They are quick to point out the things that make me “so American,” and for anyone who’s wondering, an African saying another African born person is acting or coming off as American is rarely ever a compliment.

On the other hand, my American friends are quick to point out the things that make me African. The accent, the hairstyles–before I landed a job where Afrocentric hairdos are not exactly conventional–the mores, the everything. They usually do this with a smile though. They appreciate it. At least the culturally astute ones do. Strangers stop and smile and chat and ask questions when my siblings and I are out and about speaking our language. Still sometimes when I tell my American friends that I am Nigerian, they say, “No, you’re American. You live in America.”

One woman. Two very different cultures.

It is cause for pondering though. It’s like living in Diaspora. Now, after ten years of basking in a big and culturally diverse city flowing with people from the motherland, I’ve moved to a small one where I have to drive miles and miles just to find the closest African store.

American-FlagThere’s sometimes this feeling of Middleness–yes, I just made up a word. Like I’ll never be completely and totally African again because there are all these things that kind of make me American. Things I can’t completely turn off when I’m interacting with Africans. Then there’s the fact that I’ll never be American either because there are all these things that make me African. Things I want to hold on to for the rest of my life. In a way, it’s kind of the same feeling my documentary friend alluded to, and it’s a feeling many of my African friends who now live in the U.S understand as well.

That’s the beauty of life, though. It is an adventure. It’s a mixing of cultures and people and places and customs and things. It is a journey. I’m still trekking. I live in the U.S now, but tomorrow I could be in South Africa, India, Australia or back to Nigeria. The possibilities are endless.

To my fellow immigrants living anywhere in the world, yes, there can sometimes be a feeilng of “middleness,” but let it be known that we’re not stuck in the middle. We’re experienced. Experienced in various beliefs, ways, norms, traditions. We are Diversity.

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Strong Black Woman: Why the “Black” is Unnecessary

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ASIDE: It’s been about six months since my last blog post. Sad. Every time I write, I tell myself I will keep it up, but judging from my lack of posts these past few months that hasn’t been the case. So here’s my super late new year’s resolution: I’ll write at least one post every month. Hopefully this declaration keeps me accountable. Having said that, here’s to a new blog post.

african-women-lami-tollaGrowing up in Nigeria I wanted to be like my mom. She was amazing in every sense of the word. I knew it, my siblings knew it, our neighbors knew it. There’s a saying that goes, “you’re the man.” Well, she was “the woman.”

You could tell she was the woman in the way she bargained for the best prices in the market place. The way she could get the most experienced taxi drivers to reduce their fare. It was in the way she stood her ground for anything and everything she believed in–even when the world disagreed. It was in her presence, her aura, her demeanor. All you had to do was take one look at her and you could see it: She wasn’t just any woman, she was a strong woman.

Dike (dee-kay). This word in my language means strong or powerful. It’s a word that’s usually associated with men. Young muscular men. It was used to describe village warriors in the olden days or skilled hunters. Brave men. It’s also a word synonymous with my mom and yes that’s what villagers called her. It was a sign of respect. As a child, I wanted that. I wanted to be the woman. I wanted to be a strong woman.

Fast forward years later. The Nigerian me, now living in the U.S hears “strong woman”, but too often it’s used differently. It usually goes something like this “…strong black woman…” It’s a title. I’ve noticed that in America the black part suddenly made being a strong woman not so admirable–and understandably so.

tumblr_mbrjdh9Ve51qdj0o4o1_500You see according to the stereotype, according to movies and T.V shows, a strong black woman is not good. No. It’s not something anyone should aspire to be. For the most part–not all cases–but for the most part, a strong black woman is usually rude, obnoxious, ghetto, rolls her head every time she speaks. She’s probably a single mother. She’s single because her strength leaves no room for a man–mostly because they feel emasculated around her. That’s often a strong black woman–in America. Either that or a strong black woman is expected to be tough in every situation. She can’t break down. She’s expected to hold it down in her career, her marriage, as a single mother e.t.c. She’s expected to move mountains. Oh yeah, after all she’s a strong black woman. She should have everything under lockdown.

Seriously though, why can’t a black woman just be a strong woman? Why the “black”? They are many strong women out there. They are mothers, married, single, young, old, black, white, hispanic, Asian. I’ve never heard anyone say, “wow now that’s a strong white woman.” So why put the black in the sentence when describing the strength in a woman of African descent? The problem here is once the “black” is placed after the strong, its true meaning is sometimes distorted.  It’s something that never happened in Nigeria.

In Nigeria there is no such thing as a strong “black” woman. There’s no such thing as race. I didn’t identify as black in Nigeria. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t a little black girl, I was a little girl. If I go back to Nigeria today, no one will call me a black woman. I’m simply a woman. A strong woman–quiet, introverted, but strong all the same. No, it’s not because I roll my head after every sentence, it’s not because I want to prove I’m stronger than a man, it’s not because I have an attitude, it’s not because I have everything under control. I don’t. It’s because I am my mother’s daughter and her strength flows in my veins.

flowers-of-africaSo here it is. I am a strong woman…forget the identifier, forget the black. I’m a woman among many women who are strong, smart and capable. Like all humans, we have moments when we ache, moments when we’re fragile, moments when we mourn. In the end though, our strength lives on–just like that of my late mom.

Do Africans have an Inferiority Complex?

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3Here’s the thing, I’m Nigerian and I’m not going to make the mistake of assuming all Africans are the same, but we do have a lot in common. Our culture, beliefs and traditions are similar and these days it seems something else is as well: we have a tendency to over imitate and over assimilate.

After having lived in the United States for almost eleven years, I’ve seen many Africans make a total turnaround once they move here. They literally adopt some weird behaviors along the way. I get it, some Americans like to sag their pants, tip their hats to the side, some like “grillz,” others like to shout out a curse word in every single sentence, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to do it. Sure, “when in Rome do as the Romans do,” but you have to tread with caution. Even in Africa, it looks like we are forcing ourselves to become westerners. Why are we doing as the westerners do in Africa?

The last Nigerian film I watched was filled with American music. That was the film’s soundtrack!! American music. Nigeria is the rhythm of Africa. We have so many talented artists, yet our movies have American music in them? I don’t get it. It’s like there’s this belief that anything western is better. We abandon the beauty in our culture for what many of us see as modern.

2For example, many Africans have a traditional wedding and a “white wedding.” A “white wedding” is the everyday wedding in western nations. The bride wears a white dress, the groom wears a tux. The traditional wedding, on the other hand, encompasses the couple’s culture. They wear traditional clothes and the music, food and everything else is just that–traditional. The whole celebration is colorful, cultural and beautiful.

4As a child, I often wondered what the “white” in “white wedding” represented. Did it stand for the white dress the woman wears or the idea that we are borrowing the celebration from the “white man’s” culture? I’m not saying there’s something wrong with a “white wedding.” My sister had one. Still, there’s a problem if that’s all an African couple does for their marriage celebration. There should be some traditional aspect to any African’s wedding, but some Africans now only have a “white wedding.” That’s disturbing.

5The problem is that we Africans are throwing away our culture in the name of modernity. We don’t need to do that. Many in third world countries believe the only way to grow or be competitive is to forgo the ways of our forefathers, to become more western. That’s wrong. We are unique because of our culture, our heritage and our traditions. I’ve seen and know Americans and Europeans who admire the African culture. We should too.

Think about it, when it comes to Africa the world is ignorant. Many see the images in the National Geographic or the Travel Channel as a model of what Africans or Africa is about. We can teach the world. We can teach them about us, about our customs, but we can only do it by first upholding and representing those customs–wherever we go. It’s time for Africans everywhere to promote, build and take pride in the motherland. We are not inferior, and we don’t need to change the core of who we are in order to grow as a nation or continent.

There is beauty in a gap-tooth!

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America’s Next Top Model Cycle 6

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder–at least that’s how the saying goes. I met a beautiful woman at work last week. For me, the feature that made her beautiful is something so deeply rooted in my culture. That thing was in her smile. When I told her I loved it, she laughed, thanked me then exclaimed that she hated it. “It” was a gap-tooth.

In many parts of Africa, including my birth country Nigeria, a woman with a gap in the middle of her teeth is considered a beautiful being. Women wish to have her smile, men love to see her smile. It is believed that such a woman possesses some sort of sexual appeal and beauty. There’s apparently something about that tiny space in the middle of the upper teeth that makes many Africans go wild.

My sister happens to be blessed with a gap-tooth. As a child, I noticed that people loved and complimented her smile. From young guys with piereced ears to village elders in traditional clothing, everyone just seemed to smile when she smiled. It was as if there was this force that drew people in. Of course I’m willing to bet her beauty played a part in this, but I’m also convinced that the gap in her teeth had a certain magic of its own. After hearing “your sister is so beautiful” over and over, I soon started to wish I had that gap. Actually I remember wishing I looked exactly like my sister.

In United States though, having a gap-tooth is not as appealing. An American friend of mine once refused to date a guy for this reason. It’s fascinating that something seen as beautiful in one culture is considered a turn-off in another. I don’t know. I guess that’s the beauty of cultural diversity: one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure. For what it’s worth, I happen to be a fan of the gap. I think it’s just as beautiful on a woman as it is on a man or a child. Then again, that’s the Nigerian/African in me speaking.

Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and for me, a gap-tooth is the epitome of beauty.

African-ness: it’s what my wedding will have…someday

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“When I have my wedding, it will be simple. It will be me in a white dress and my husband to-be in his tuxedo. There will be no African clothes or whatever.” That’s what I have always said to myself after seeing my fellow African acquaintances wearing traditional attires during their wedding celebration.

Somehow though, that statement has changed into, “when I have my wedding it will definitely have some African/Nigerian/Kwale/Igbo aspects to it!” This change was born after I saw the beauty in my big sister’s wedding. It was filled with various cultural aspects and that alone added color, variety, culture, tradition and African-ness to it.”

What is African-ness? A word I just made up. Point is, I am an African woman born and raised. It’s my background, my culture and my heritage. As cliche as it sounds, to know where we’re going, we have to know and acknowledge where we are coming from. I love the African in me; I love the Nigerian in me. I know people who wish they had a culture like mine. Why then should I remove it from a day as profound as my wedding

When I saw my sister in her traditional attire I was awed. She looked amazing. Now, of course she always looks amazing but this time when I saw her in that dress I thought, “wow, now there is a beautiful Nigerian woman.” Even as she made her way back into the reception area after changing into the dress, I just wanted to shout out, “yes we’re Nigerians and this is what a Nigerian woman looks like,” to the transfixed American onlookers who couldn’t help exclaiming about how beautiful she looked.

On her wedding day, my sister wore two dresses: one was the usual white wedding dress, the other was the African dress. More than anything the African dress was a symbol of our culture, background and heritage. It was a symbol of the fact that she is and will always be first and foremost–no matter the country or continent she decides to live in–an African woman, born and raised.

When I have my wedding, I will be wearing a traditional African attire and I will incorporate many aspects of my culture into that wedding. It will be filled with “African-ness!”

Flavour Flavour!!

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I don’t want to make this blog all about music, but I can’t help the urge to post the Youtube video for Flavour’s song Nwa Baby. I’ve always liked this song and ever since the DJ played it during my sister’s wedding, I have had it stuck in head/mind/brain. It just won’t go away. So I’m hoping posting it to my blog will be a remedy.

If you’re wondering, I didn’t spell the artist’s name wrong. It’s spelled “Flavour” but the American spelling would be “Flavor.”

The video I’m posting is actually the remix version of the song and it’s the only version I have heard. I like this version way too much and I won’t spoil it by listening to another. Just listen to the song though! You will understand why I just can’t stop pushing the play button over and over in my head.

9ice: Nice name for a talented artist

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I love Nigerian music! I love to dance to it, listen to it, sleep to it, etc. I know of the Nigerian artist 9ice–pronounced Nice–but I had never listened to any of his songs–until now. His song Loni Ni has me pushing the replay button over and over. The song is on my gym playlist, my relaxing playlist, my dancing playlist, my studying playlist–I just can’t get enough of it. Which is why I’m sharing it with you, my blog peeps.

The song is in Yoruba and being that I am Ibo, I have no idea what it means! My sister who understands Yoruba should though. I’ll post an update to this blog post as once as I can get her to do some interpretation for me. For now, just enjoy the beat. If you’re Yoruba and you understand what the song is about, feel free to do some interpretation! Enjoy!!

I bet you didn’t know they were African!

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President Barack Obama

I’m sure everybody knows by now that Barack Obama is of African descent. Okay, maybe not “everybody,” but I’m willing to bet many people know that fact. For anyone who isn’t aware of this, his father was born in Kenya…now you know! So what’s my point? Well, the story goes like this…

A friend and I were talking about my blog and out of nowhere she wanted to know whether I knew of any Nigerian-American celebrities. Without giving me an opportunity to answer her question, she googled it and…wala!! She found some names!!! She’s the inspiration for this post. The only difference here is that instead of  Nigerian-American celebrities, I’m going to focus on mostly British celebrities of African decent. Why? Because England is a country I’ve always wanted and will one day visit. But first, let’s start with this American rapper.

Chamillionaire

Chamillionaire: To be honest, I didn’t even know this, but this Houston born rapper is of Nigerian descent. His parents are Nigerian and his real name is Hakeem Seriki.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idris Elba

Idris Elba: He is an actor. You’ll most likely remember him as playing Beyonce’s husband in the 2009 film Obsessed. If not, he was also in Takers. His father is  Sierra Leonean and his mother is Ghanaian. I gotta tell ya…this man is gorgeous!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Seal and his wife Heidi Klum

Seal: I’ve always been sure of this one–even when I was in Nigeria. In fact his real name Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel. Yes, I know. That is a mouthful. He is a singer and is married to former Victoria Secret model Heidi Klum.

 

Sophie Okonedo

 

 

 

 

Sophie Okonedo: You may remember this face from the movie Hotel Rwanda…or maybe not. She’s an actress born in London, England to a Nigerian father and Jewish mother who also happens to be half Polish and half Russian. Talk about multicultural!

 

 

 

 

 

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: The Mummy Returns, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Lost. What do these have in common? Adewale. He played a role in all of them. Judging from his name, I think it’s easy to tell that his parents are Nigerian, but he was born in England. Oh by the way, I love his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Okwu

Michael Okwu: I really can’t go on with this list without adding a journalist to it. After all, I want to be a journalist so it’s only fair…right? Anyway, Okwu is a Nigerian American journalist and correspondent. He works at NBC News where he contributes to NBC Nightly News, MSNBC and Today.

 

 

 

As you may have guessed there are several other celebrities who are African but I chose these lucky few–yes getting a mention on my blog is a privilege–because they have appeared in notable films and music. They are most likely many I’m not even aware of so feel free to let me know about them. Just post a comment and thanks for stopping by!


Libya: The future is uncertain

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A lot has happened in just one week, so now instead of answering questions about African nations I’m going to talk about  an African nation: Libya.

When I started this blog, my second post was about Gadhafi’s reign and the future of Libya.  Due to his recent death, now is the best time to revisit that topic.

October 20th was a day of celebration for many Libyans because it marked the death of the former dictator. It marked the death of an era. Even though Gadhafi went into hiding after the National Transitional Council took over as the country’s interim leaders, he still controlled parts of the country–the city of Sirte being one of those countries. When Sirte fell to the rebel forces, Gadhafi was captured and killed–at least that is simplest way to put it.

The true circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown. Photos from this CNN article indicate that it might have been a brutal death. According to CNN, the United Nations and the National Transitional Council have called for an investigation over his death.

It’s clear that even in the midst of all the celebrations, the future of Libya is still uncertain. No one knows who will now take off over as the country’s leader. No one knows whether this new power will rule fairly or justly and most of all, no one knows if Libya will ever return to the Libya it once was.

Talents from Ghanigeria

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Stephanie Okereke

In line with my last post on African entertainment, this post is going to be about some African actors and actresses. I’ve gotten some interesting questions about films and Africa so because my blog is about answering those questions, I think it’s best to address another one. Let’s do it…

Do you guys have actors in Africa or do you watch movies from here? That’s the question many acquaintances have asked me once they learn I am from Nigeria. That question has two answers. First, Nigeria does not equate the whole of Africa–like I have reiterated in one of my posts, Africa is a continent. Second, yes we do and considering there is an annual African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), it’s safe to say many countries in Africa have actors and ac.

These films sometimes have the same themes as those from the U.S and other times, they are worlds apart. For example, a Nigerian film about a village and ethnic customs will definitely appear foreign in comparison to a James Bond movie. Either way, Nigeria makes movies, as does Ghana, Somalia South Africa Kenya and many other countries. For this blog post I’m going to talk about Nigeria and Ghana. So far, they are the leading countries when it comes to producing films, Nigeria being number one. Actors/Actresses from these two countries are well known all over Africa and some cultured American friends of mine surprise me every time they throw one of these names around.

Omotala Jalade Ekeinde

She is indisputably one of the most successful actresses in the Nigerian movie industry and she has been around for long time now. Movies are not are only thing. Since 2005 she moved into the music scene and has been successful in that role as well.

 

 

Genevieve Nnaji

Genevieve Nnaji. She is Nigerian and considered one of the nation’s best actresses. She has starred in many successful films including the 2010 award winning film IJE: The Journey. I will even go as far as saying an African from any African country is aware of her contributions to the Nigerian movie industry. If you watched D’banj’s Fall In Love music video from my last post, you’ll notice she plays his love interest in that video.

 

 

 

 

Ramsey Nouah

Then there’s Ramsey Tokunbo Nouah Jr who is known as Ramsey Noah. He is another well known actor in the Nigerian movie scene and in 2010 he won the AMAA for Best actor in a leading role.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Majid Michel

Son of Lebanese father and Ghanaian mother, Majid Michel is a well-known Ghanaian actor. He has appeared in both Ghana and Nigerian movies.

 

 

 

 

Jackie Appiah

Jackie Appiah is also from Ghana. She won the AMAA for best actress in a leading role in 2010.

As you would imagine there are many more actors and actresses from other African nations but I’ve just chosen to name some notable ones. Oh first picture you see is Stephanie Okereke–my favorite actress. Of course I realized that not too long ago so I feel the urgent need to proclaim it.

What about you? Prior to my post, did you know about any of these talents?