Growing Up Nigerian in America


Nigeria is a cultural, ethnic and tribal melting pot, but some commonalities cross all these “boundaries” when immigrants make their way to American shores, and raise their Nigerian-American children.

Growing up Nigerian anywhere that is not Nigeria is sure to make you stand out from the crowd at one time or another in your life. Many Nigerian traditions and a constant meddling of family in your every move all attribute to the unique experience of growing up Nigerian in America. Here are the top 10 things that set Nigerian-Americans apart.

1. The shortening of your name

Nigerian children are traditionally given long names, in relation to the day they were born, their parents religious practices, or the joy related to their birth. Hopefully your parents don’t give you any hard to pronounce traditional Nigerian names that really don’t mesh in American society, but if they do you are more than likely going to go about shortening your name for the rest of your life, just to make things easier. My name is Simisola, not the most difficult to pronounce, in my opinion, but you would be surprised, hence the shortening to Simi, in which case when I hear my whole name I usually run for the hills, because its mom ready to unleash some sort of fit.

2. The role of family

Always a point of vehement annoyance, your mother is constantly pointing out how you are not like your American friends, more aptly, and crudely, white people, family bears an overarching importance to the point where your every move or lack thereof is a reflection on not only your parents but down the familial line going back centuries.

3. Cousins are like siblings

Many Nigerians will even call their cousins their brothers or sisters when introducing them to outsiders because this is really how they feel. Cousins are your first and best friends. Of course, they come as a package deal with your aunts and uncles who will probably meddle in your business a time or two.

4. School lunch

You are more often then not going to put up with the mystery meat at school lunch because it gives you a peaceful break from otherwise trying to explain why you brought millet/cassava based “mashed potatoes” to school, or why you are eating it with your hands and a “spicy sauce”.

5. You have regular school and then Bible study/the study of the Quran

Atheism, agnosticism, spiritually, these are some of the words you will never see come out of a Nigerian parent’s mouth. From the time you are born until the autonomous age of 18 you are obliged to bible study or the study of the Quran. Choose not to go and face the wrath of disappointed parents telling you, that you are shaming them in front of their fellow church/mosque members, families, and friends. Your religious opinion and desires don’t matter, unless of course you want to burn in hell, and don’t truly care about the blessings the pastor/imam grants into your life everyday.

6. You can dance

That’s right, you can certainly cut up a rug, as they say, you are all the rage at school dances, not only because you are in tune with all the up and coming RnB, Pop, and Rap artists in the States, but you also have Naija blood coursing through your veins, the unofficial home of Afrobeat, the land of the best produced, distributed, and collected African music, so you can catch and ride a beat like no one else.

7. Nigerian weddings

Being Nigerian you will have to go to a lot of Nigerian weddings, which is the perfect platform for you to use your native tongue and your dance moves! The wedding ceremonies are seeped in tradition and while you are there, as you get older, your entire family will try setting you up with a nice Nigerian girl or a nice Nigerian boy. Lucky for you, escaping the chaos is made easy by hitting the dance floor.

8. Nigeria is Africa, no other country matters

You will be an expert on a plethora of information that only Nigerians will find informative. For example, Ghana where, Liberia what, South Africa is that a thing? Basically, your Nigerian parents will drill into your head ad-nauseam how there is no other country or people on the African continent that matters. Nigeria is the best country, therefore, the only country. This is all while they simultaneously expect you to be very knowledgeable about facts, economics, and history of those same countries that you were supposed to ignore, especially if they are spoken about by correspondents on CNN, NBC, MSNBC, CBS, and ABC, respectively.

9. You will always be involved in an extracurricular activity

Never think you can stay home and just chill. Your Nigerian parents have no chill. After school, if you are not involved in a religious activity, you better take up sports, theater, debate, anything to keep you out of the house and productive. Also once you find the activity you love, you must be the best at it, your mom will become a Tiger mom not only because she wants to support you, but because this could lead the family out of the constant struggle of having to work, more specifically, her struggle of working as a nurse or nurse’s aid, you can make it big!

10. Your mother most likely works in the medical profession or once did

Of course Nigerians will take up any profession because their “hustle mentality” is strong. Many are actors, professors, and lawyers, but there again, many entering into the country found the easiest way to make a quick buck was to enter the medical profession and move up the ranks, or continue their education. Mom/dad did it for the gains while trying to stabilize themselves in a country they knew very little about. More so, work in the medical profession serves as a social environment to meet with other Nigerians.