Let's talk about Identity - What does it mean to be Nigerian Anyways?
Updated: May 29, 2020
So most people that know me, know that I identify as Nigerian before any other identities other than being a Christian of course…. In some ways being a Christian is as a result of being Nigerian and some of that identity is entangled.
Something happened today that triggered this conversation about identity-----and after I had ronu-ed
(thought about it) the situation, I came to the conclusion that there are so many DIFFERENT types of Nigerians. From the ones that live in Lagos to the ones in the village, to the ones in the diaspora (Canadian Nigerians vs British Nigerians) and the ones that grew up abroad, they are ALL DIFFERENT. One thing we have in common though is our nature to be resilient (someone said -if you push a Nigerian to the wall, they will break the wall and keep moving forward). Another thing we have in common is our ability to be strong and to always (no matter what) rise to the top as a proud people. A lot of Non-Nigerians don’t understand why we are the way we are but by looking at our parents and their parents it is easy for us to see this strength and this sense of pride.
My Nigerian identity is quite strong BUT I have been living out of the country for the last 11 years in Canada. In that time, I have gone to school, I have graduated, gotten other degrees, gotten hired, gotten fired, gained friends, lost friends and really have become an adult but one thing remains; this identity. I grew up in Lagos and lived most of my life there. I’ve gone home every year without fail and participated in my family on a daily/weekly basis – shout to “Fam Jam” Whatsapp group. I eat Nigerian food regular-ish; I have a slew/army of Nigerian friends, co-workers, acquaintances and somehow I am not quite Nigerian because I don’t share in the daily struggle of living in Lagos so therefore my “Nigerianess” is not enough. I have heard this from my family, I have heard this from my friends and from people all around.
My name is Ibiyemi (I-BI-YE -EMI) which in Yoruba means I-BI – “this child” or “this birth”, YE- “suits or fits” and EMI– “me”, which can be translated in 2 ways depending on who’s perspective you look at. From my mom’s perspective it can mean “giving birth suits her”, BUT from my perspective it can also mean “my family suits me” because of the translation of Ibi and Ebi(family). Nigerian names, for the most part are prophetic! (especially Yoruba ones). People don’t just name their kids anything….. there is usually a meaning to every single name which is why I won’t ever let anyone shorten my name – BUT that is another conversation for another blog post lol. For the longest time it has meant “my family – meaning my brother/sisters & parents suit me” BUT I recently got a revelation over the last 9 months that it essentially means “my family – meaning my friends, coworkers, church community etc suits me”. I take that to mean that God has gone before me and set my destiny to be someone that will always have “family” around and that family will always be “just right” no matter where I find myself.
When I am “home” in lagos, I am not Nigerian enough because sometimes (rarely) my Canadian accent slips out, or I say something that doesn’t match with the Nigerian mentality which usually means “ ooo she has come again with her Canadian self”. The worst of it comes when I don’t share in a uniquely lagosian struggle and I hear comments like “you, you are enjoying o” which then leads to people down playing my own struggles….*sigh*. On the flip side, when I am here in Toronto, a place I have grown to call home, I am definitely not Canadian enough which to be honest, I don’t really pretend to be (chomping on my “smelly stew” in the office). BUT guys, guess what, I grew up in 2 different places that have somewhat opposing views and I am pulled from both ends so I created a 3rd identity. This identify that is simply Ibiyemi- the loud, full of LIFE, extroverted, extremely resilient, mildly OCD, type A, daughter of the King (Christ) who is overly empathetic for her own good. I am incredibly passionate and ridiculously positive (sometimes at the risk of sounding naïve) and I refuse to apologize for being this person who has flaws but WHOLLY accepts them and has the courage to change what is in her control.
Understanding my name, my identity, my purpose of being (another blog post) and authentically expressing it, can sometimes threaten others depending on their relationship with themselves….and I’m sorry to hear that BUT I’m not trying to play “Sufferhead Olympics” with anyone….anymore. Yes I live in Canada and yes I’m from Nigeria and yes I can’t relate to “ No light /NEPA issues – anymore” but I’m sure you also can’t relate to -45 °C and half the year in darkness. Let us all just count our blessings and look at the positive sides of our identity, after all- as my friend and roommate always says “we are just entry level adults trying to figure this ish out”.
*Sufferhead Olympics – the act of comparing your sufferings to see who has it worse, not to help each other but to take the crown for suffering.
Leave a comment, or a start a discussion! Who is done with playing sufferhead Olympics??