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Martin Chinagorom: When You’re a Nigerian Newbie In America



You’re never handed a navigation manual for most experiences in life. You just have to figure them out as you go; you know, wing it. And when you have done just that,  you can beat your chest knowing that no one would come bearing a smirk on their face and saying, “I told you so.” You’ve pieced it together yourself, like I have done in my short stay here.

So this here is not an advice of Biblical sureness, but one of jest, borne out of recent experiences of mine and other US newbies who are Nigerians as well. You laugh, that’s the idea; you vex, your choice!

So, verily I say unto you, when you are a newbie in America, do not be surprised when people tell you “Congratulation!” Do not as much as ask, “For what?” Trust me you don’t want to be that pretentious and ungrateful fool and claim you don’t realise that God has buttered your okpa by allowing you into the US. Claim the congratulations in muteness. And please save yourself the stress of wondering why no one congratulated you when you lived in Europe.

When you’re a newbie in America know that you’ve just become uppity and haughty; any description of arrogance is now your chief character. It does not matter what your disposition is, the manners you put out, or what opinions you have. A simple statement like “I am thirsty,” could be considered arrogant. Why did you have to say it like that? My dear, don’t take it personal. Don’t ask why it had to start now, why it is you’re suddenly arrogant. Because you’re thinking, when you were in Europe, no one called you arrogant. The thing is, people sympathized with you when you were in Europe, and living there you couldn’t have been arrogant. “I am thirsty,” from Europe would have been pitiable. Biko, don’t even mention when you were in South Africa and Malaysia. It was like you went to Lagos from your village in Arochukwu.

In that light I advise that you up communication with your friends from three times a week to 3×70 times a day. You don’t want them asking you, “So because you’re now in America you feel too big to ping/whatsapp/call?” Never mind that they know your work/school schedule has become hectic. Never mind that they are the same ones who would reply to your messages at a time you have forgotten the discussion. You’re in a new place and arrogance comes with the geography. The thoughtful ones would understand; may they be your consolation.

When you’re a newbie in America, you have no right to hold an opinion that your ancestors in US migration do not share. You have to consult them to sanctify your opinions and make them worthy of your holding. Were you not told that your rational strength starts where theirs stops? Did you not know that they have been in the US since before your grandmother developed those body parts which marked her a maiden? Or did you not see the Orient TV Owerri breaking news where the mayors of the cities where they live crowned them Obiarije I of Nigeria, Verifier-Of-Nigerians-Opinions-On-American-Issues?

Two passports filled with border entries but none of the US, my dear you are still a JJC so shut up already about America. Let them know when you’ve been a hundred years in the US; they can hear your opinions about America then. You have been warned! Be careful! Or you will have your opinions about America judged by the longevity of your miserable F-1 visa. Yes, they have Google to help them research your pitiable life and they even know that you were allowed into this land where they have become ancestors through JFK airport, and not LaGuardia. And yes, they are jobless that way, so don’t be surprised.

In line with the above, don’t have a contentious opinion about black Americans. You’re black yourself and you have no business expressing a disagreement about other brothers and sisters. If they eat shit, request a big portion and eat it with a big smile and say it is the best thing you ever had. You don’t want your arrogance and JJC proven and certified.

Have no opinions about white folks either. You should be grateful they created this haven where you now seek greener pastures. Never mind all you know about the black labour on which said haven was built. Please when they say your thick accent is sexy, do not be flattered. They may be patronizing you and “You have a sexy accent,” might be euphemism for “You sound really weird.”

They don’t know that to your ears they have an accent, but take heart and please play no imitation games. Wear your tongue proudly. You don’t need an accent to blend in, assuming you have to blend in in the first place. If you want to try, don’t say you weren’t warned when you bite your tongue slurring on those r’s, t’s, and th’s. If by chance you get deep into the wannagonna’s, please do yourself a favour and drop it when you call Nigeria. You don’t want your mama looking into the phone and asking yet again if it is really her child.

Lastly, but a serious note, do not commit the sacrilege of comparing Nigeria with US. That is an ultimate offense. Be proudly Nigerian, it is a calling.

It is hard, you have a lot of balancing out to do. Such is life. Take a clue from you Igbo brothers and know the difference between pomo and kanda. When you bite on pomo it comes off at once. But with Kanda it is a big fight, and two hours later you’re still grinding that single bite. With all these rules, all the winging it you have to do as a newbie, you need tough skin to hold your own; kanda, never pomo.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Dennis Owusu-ansah 

Emeka Chinagorom is an analyst in Washington DC. Born in Onitsha, he studied philosophy in Rome before moving to the United States. When he is not obsessing over food, he is trying to read and write. His short story, NOW THAT YOU ARE BLACK IN AMERICA, won the 2017 Ian McMillan award. Emeka is working on his first novel and some short stories. You can find him on Instagram @emmyemc.


  1. iseemaths

    January 5, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    These days who cares. I noticed that if you give it too much thought you begin to find things you do not like about the place and people etc but if you live your life and enjoy the things around you it becomes part of the life you are living. The chin chin that i came back with from Houston i will give some of my friends here (white) they love it and they kept on texting me to remind me to bring it. They are fascinated about you just as you are about them. Just have an open mind.

  2. Nahum

    January 5, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Really Nigerians like to make a big deal of relocating to the US. Just assimilate and let us hear word abeg. Yes, when it snows outside, it is cold and you need a jacket. Yes, American life is very different from Naija life, what do you expect…YOU ARE IN AMERICA!!! I know this article was written in humor and jest but I am really sick and tired of Nigerians whining and complaining after fighting tooth and nail to relocate to America. This is what you were fighting for so just shut up and deal with it!

    Phew!!!! Ok, so I apparently needed to vent. Feels good

  3. Jo!

    January 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    For those who will have trouble with this, It is SARCASM.
    You’re welcome

    • Tru

      January 5, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      thank you o…can we not appreciate satire???

  4. D

    January 5, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    @ Nahum like you said you needed to vent but I think you need to re-read what the author wrote. He is not in anyway whining about relocating/settling stateside. My point is your venting seems misplaced on this article. He is complaining about fellow Nigerians using sarcasm about how they now have an opinion about everything you do and say once you move to the US.

    • Pat

      January 5, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      @ D Hi5 🙂

  5. dee

    January 5, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    hahahahahahahahahahahaha… funny.

  6. Pat

    January 5, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    “have a contentious opinion about black Americans. You’re black yourself and you have no business expressing a disagreement about other brothers and sisters”. LOL This reminded me of a Black American woman I met not too long on the street. She told me that the only Christians are the Israelites and Black Americans. There is something very ignorant in her statement and I wasn’t going to be the one to point it out to her. I asked how come out of curiosity and she said because Moses in the Bible only saved the “Israelites” and Black Americans and that they are the chosen ones. I nodded in agreement. LOL. She said people from the Caribbean are all gay and that they sleep with their relatives and that that is their culture. She also said Africans and Italians all do voodoo. She said people from the Caribbean and Africans who migrated to the US are African Americans that she doesn’t know why white people categorize her as African American because she has never been to the Caribbean or Africa and that she is Black American not African American. She also said she doesn’t know why foreigners are treated better than Black Americans. And I asked treated better by who? She said by the whites. She also said that babies are born racist that is, they come into the world racists and that racism is not something that is learned. She said other ignorant things and was going on and on. I smiled and cut the discussion short saying “it was nice to meet you I have to be on my way”.

  7. bolu

    January 6, 2015 at 12:33 am

    @pat some people are just ignorant and cray cray

  8. Bruna-ala Bruno

    January 6, 2015 at 2:06 am

    In spite of the “satire”, @ Nahun is so right. Thanks jare, sometimes I want to be like “duh!”

    Re opinions about black Americans and “US migration ancestors:… I see this all the time with newcomers.
    The issue is that someone who has never left Lagos or Enugu or wherever suddenly gets here and has opinion, and it is usually opinion with capital O. E.g. “Ah, those Akata’s, they are lazy, won ki lo school, those Akatas, they are…”
    It’s like you’ve been here all of two weeks, you are calling home and talking about Akatas, or the “juus”. Half the time you have no context or history of how people/groups are and have come to be or the dynamics of the society. Instead of you to sit back, observe and interact with open-mindedness, all of a sudden you have become sociologist extraordinaire. They hear native American on TV, they are ready to drop Opinion about the “Kora”/Lebanese/and Bollywoood. Just way too much oversabi, based on nothing.
    It can be entertaining to watch. If newbie is a family member, I will say, “ngwa wait now, observe and have YOUR OWN experiences before you jump into all these conclusions based on nothing”, otherwise, I don’t care if you assimilate on way or the other, I will just enjoy the entertainment that is the Opinionated newbie, if the Opinion does not get cringeworthy.
    That being said, some people had never left their Ilorin before coming, they arrive, open their eyes, ears and mind and are sharp.
    I don’t care if you go to the US, Asaba, Ghana o, Sudan or Maurtius,.. if you open your mind, you will benefit and improve yourself. If you go everywhere being all-knowing, you might as well sit in your orile- agege.

  9. Bola

    January 7, 2015 at 1:09 am

    Can bellanaija please only let people who can actually write on this blog. This was a terrible article. Poorly composed.

  10. Diuto

    February 15, 2015 at 12:12 am

    This article was somehow (searching for a diplomatic way to express my opinion). I felt as if the writer could do better. I found it difficult to read cos twas boring. Chinagorom you can do better than this

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