Musings for October: Whose Culture Is It Anyway?
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9
Growing up, there was always this feeling of being pulled by both arms in the middle of my identity. To my left was Nigeria – a bountiful country with issues galore but a deep, rich culture, beauty, and an ambitious people. It was where my parents hailed from, it was the food I ate whenever I came home from school, it was the music my dad blared in his car on the way to church.
But borderline dislocating my right shoulder was America – where I was born and where I lived. To be American was to be McDonald's eatin', hip-hop listenin', back-talkin', comin' home late, and more things that made a Nigerian grandma kiss their teeth with a resounding *mtchewww*. Thinking around our October prompt "Tradition" reminded me of that split-emotion in a big way.
I always felt like I had to choose one.
Like I wasn't allowed to both be from New Jersey and also a Yoruba girl. Or that I couldn't bring Jollof rice to school because it would look too different from everyone else's ham sandwiches. Early on, America has a way of asking you to draw a line in the sand: are you with us or not? We see that so clearly now, in how kneeling or, insanely, wearing Nikes makes you "un-American". The line is thin: don't support the war? Un-American. Won't say the Pledge of Allegiance? Un-American! The rules of being American were burned into my brain and I was deathly afraid of making any wrong moves.
I remember when my new school wrote "Abby" on my folder in first grade and how upset my mom was when I brought it home. My full name is Abisola, my parents call me "Bisola" for short, but when my teacher asked to call me "Abby to make it easier," I shrugged and said okay. I was also eight so the awareness of my traditional name washing away was beyond me, but my mom was not having it. She tried to make Abisola stick but the teachers didn't make the effort, so eventually we fell in line.
It took a while for me to build a world where both sides of myself could be embraced.
A long while. (Did I ever tell you guys I wore blue contacts in high school? Welp! I did now!) But when that time came around, I felt so free. I met other Africans, I proudly brought Nigerian food to work and let friends try, I felt my soul in old Fela Kuti songs and new Maleek Berry tunes. It felt good to decide that traditions are your own, not what is expected of you. I chose to embrace my Nigerian background while also loving a good (but bad) 24-hour diner. I am still fully African when I crank my AC to a frosty 68, too.
Despite the definition, tradition is a malleable thing. I'm so excited to hear what all yours are. Stay tuned for the RSVP to the salon on Tuesday, 10/16 and an even bigger event to lock in your spot for this Friday. (Hint: It's a celebration!)
Founder + CEO
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