Stuck between two cultures

14Jan08

When you are the child of immigrants, no matter where your family has come from, I think you go through a phase (that can last for years or forever) where you feel like you’re stuck between two cultures: that of your parents, which you usually claim as your own, no matter if you weren’t born in the same country as your parents, and the culture you live in, which you absorb because we humans are resilient and adaptable.

I wasn’t born in Nigeria but I did live there between the ages of three and six. So even though less than 1/9th of my life was spent in Nigeria, I find the influence of Naija through my parents is strong. My parents, like most Nigerian parents, were strict. Education was important and excelling was drilled into me at such an early age that I wanted to be the smartest student alive. I’ve heard that many Naija kids’ parents strongly urge them to do their studies in a particular discipline—medicine or law or pharmacy, for example—but my parents never really cared, as long as it was a field that we would hopefully be able to support ourselves in. I’ll admit that when my sister said she wanted to be an artist, they weren’t exactly jumping for joy. Being practical people they told her about how financially difficult the life of an artist would be and she didn’t end up studying art.

My parents were (and are) very involved parents, and I think this is typical of immigrant parents: if I was having trouble in school, they (especially my father) wanted to know, if I’m going out, they want to know where and with whom. I think it’s part of them feeling like they’re letting their child loose in a strange country, even if they’ve lived in the country for most of their lives. The part of me that is completely North Americanized wonders how they can still care so much, when they have my three younger siblings to worry about, but that’s just the way they are.

Back to the things my parents disapproved of: sleepovers, parties where teens would be drunk, premarital sex, staying out all night, general hanging out, going online at all hours of the night, basically anything that most kids would do (I’m not saying these are all things I would do!). I was a terrible liar so I didn’t try. I was also very strong headed so while I would listen to my parents’ warnings and declarations that I was not to do something, I would often give them a speech I came up with and thought was so clever:

You raised me well and I come from a good family so you never have to worry about me doing something stupid. And if I do, it would never be because you didn’t teach me right from wrong.

My little speech used to drive them crazy and I know they would disagree that I’m a good Naija girl.

This bit of overprotectiveness on my parents’ part, coupled with my own natural need to be who I am and be independent (the North American in me!) led to many clashes through my teen years and early 20s, and clashes occur even today. As you can imagine, I’m thinking of moving into my own place soon and even though my mom has started saying she agrees that it’s time, I’m not sure I believe her. In her dreams (she’ll never admit it if you ask her), she thought we would live at home until our husband came and plucked us from the nest. I’ve decided I can’t wait that long for him to figure out where I am, talk less find his way here (but more on that later).

Another result of having overprotective parents who just want to take care of you is you become a bit…superstitious and fearful too. I was so sure the world would end if I made a wrong step when I was younger that I tried to avoid doing so, even when I was attending parties that my parents didn’t approve of. I would never drink or get into uncompromising situations with guys. I was always the sober, observer, and most of the time I felt like I was observing how the species Adolescent North American behaves, and making invisible notes somewhere.

Even though I know I can handle a mortgage and living on my own, having lived with five other people all my life makes me wonder if I could do it, or if I’d be calling mummy and daddy after a couple of days. It’s a scary world but I can do it.

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One Response to “Stuck between two cultures”

  1. 1 Queen

    Thats basically almost exactly what i”m going through now.
    My parents are Nigerian but i was born here. The whole Nigerian influence is so strong though that it effects EVERYTHING i do. It’s not like i hate being Nigerian -actually i think i would prefer to be Nigerian then American- it’s just that no one at school can really understand what it’s like. I cant get a “B” in a class, i cant stay out too late, i cant talk smack about my mom, i cant get all touchy with guys or any of that stuff normal kids do. also being black everyone expects me to be “ghetto” or loud or something like that but im not. I dont talk back to the teacher or even talk bad about them when i get a low grade. I cant invite friends over to our house because my grandma would scare them, and my mom is always cooking something that smells like fish. you try to explain to someone would isn’t Nigerian American and they couldn’t understand, how i hate it so much but at the same time i love it cause it’s who i am.

    Also i feel like i’ll never find the right guy for me. I can date a black guy cause my mom thinks are blacks American are drug dealers and i can’t marry a ‘raw Nigerian’ as i call them because they want a wife who will cook and clean and bare a million children for them. I can clean and have kids but i cant cook for my life. White guys Asians and Hispanics are out too because my parents wouldn’t allow it, and if they don’t approve of my marriage i feel like it would go straight to hell.

    Anyways i’m only in 10th grade but i worry about all those things, and i just wanted to let you know that i’m going thought something similar and it sucks cause my parents don’t understand and people at school and outside of home don’t understand, add on top of that, that i’m already weird even in the Igbo community and well my life isn’t very fun right now.

    -Queen



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