I am a first generation Nigerian-American in Chicago. With my parents growing up in Nigeria instead of America, I had a different childhood than a lot of black youth, I grew up with Aki and PoPo instead of Madea and Tyler Perry, Afrobeats instead of R&B, and all the gospel songs were in broken English. Because my parents and all my older relatives are so connected to Nigeria, I automatically have an immediate cultural connection that a lot of people wish they could have, so what do I mean when I say I’m trying to reconnect culturally? Well my grandma and mom speak three languages, my grandpa dad and all his siblings speak two, most of my cousins speak two, and my siblings and I speak one.
When my parents came to America, my dad had such a hard time adjusting to the professional world with his thick Nigerian accent that when he met my mom before they had kids they sat down and decided, which took a long time because my mom wanted her kids to be bilingual originally, that they were only going to teach us English.
I’m not mad at my parents for making a decision they believed would inevitably better my future, but I am frustrated, because I believe they did me a disservice, giving me an Igbo name, putting me in a trilingual church where the most commonly spoken language isn’t English, and introducing me into circles and spaces where kids my age were speaking different languages and I would just have to sit and wait.
I do not regret how I grew up, I had a wonderful childhood, but the disconnect I feel to Nigerian culture, all because I don’t speak anything but English is all too real. When we would dress up in Native for special events, I would feel like an imposter almost, and it would hurt because I wanted to know another language, more than anything. I even had tried to make an effort to learn, but everytime was never the right time for my parents or my cousins, which is understandable because they're all busy people. The other day though I came to the realization that they might always be busy, and for them it might never be the right time, but for me the right time is now, and I can’t keep waiting for other people to encourage and support me to go after what I want. I need to be my own motivation, and chase my dreams myself in this case and that's more than fine to me.
So now, as freshman about to start my spring quarter, at 19 years old, I have decided I’m going to learn two new languages. I plan to learn Igbo, the language my dad and his side of the family speak, and Yoruba, one of the languages my mom and grandma speak, as well as the main language of my church and my friends. Although I do not know how exactly taking this language journey this late in life will turn out I’m ready for anything and everything life throws at me. Because I can take it. I plan to start this summer with Igbo learning classes, and I don't want to rush anything, but my goal is that in three years, by graduation, I’ll be fluent in the languages I’ve loved and admired from a distance for so long.