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Chinedu Achebe: Redefining the Nigerian Identity Home or Abroad



Chinedu AchebeAs I was scrolling through the comments section of my previous article that was published on BellaNaija – {click here if you missed it} I witnessed that an interesting development was taking place.

It seemed that a few folks had started their own conversations centered on Nigerians in the Diaspora vs Nigerians living in Nigeria. I started to realize that this discussion was nothing new and was something that was being routinely being debating amongst Nigerians. For myself, I didn’t enter this conversation until I started college at the University of Houston, which has a good sized Nigerian population.

Growing up my family lived in places that had little to no Nigerians, so I was pretty much out of the loop in knowing what was happening amongst Nigerians for the most part. Besides eating jollof rice and rice and stew which is a staple in every Nigerian household for the most part, I also was able to understand Igbo, but never really spoke it. The only Nigerian music that I knew about was the old Oliver de Coque and Sunny Ade stuff that my dad used to play on his cassette tapes. So it was to my surprise that there was a kind of a distinction on campus between the Nigerians who grew up in the States like myself and Nigerians who came to America for college.

I remember since the Nigerians from abroad spoke the native tongues and Pidgin English that they were considered real authentic Nigerians. They were also aware of certain traditional customs as well. While folks like myself were seen as “Americanized.” I remember in my early college years thinking if I could really be both black American and Nigerian at the same time.

In some crazy way it reminded me of the debate that black Americans had between the folks who lived in the suburbs vs the hood. The folks who grew up and stayed in the hood portrayed themselves as the protectors of blackness, while the black folks who moved to the suburbs were seen as sell outs to their race. But the other interesting dynamic was how Nigerian American men and women handled dating differently.

While in college and even today, I have seen a good amount of Nigerian American women prefer to date and marry a Nigerian from abroad who they think will help them become more ingratiated in traditional Nigerian culture. Nigerian American men for the most part are less concerned about finding a woman to uphold their culture to the tee. They are more interested in finding a woman who is physically attractive and who they can get along with. They usually are more open to dating a woman regardless of her race or ethnicity. With all of this, we have to come to grips with the fact there isn’t one way to be Nigerian.

For my traditionalists, I ask them is a Nigerian who grew up in the village more real than one who grew up in the Lagos. In my opinion, our experiences shape who we are and not the borders of the country that we live in. It took me a while to get to the place where I realized that I can appreciate and embrace my Nigerian heritage along with the role that black American culture and history has helped in shaping me into the man that I am today.

I also have love for my Nigerian brothers and sisters from abroad who come to the States as well. They inject a renewed sense of hope and optimism for new found opportunities that many of us here take for granted. In the end of the day, the same blood flows through all Nigerians bodies. We need to embrace our differences while still finding ways to be a united people as well.


  1. Steph

    March 8, 2016 at 1:40 am

    I believe everyone’s experience is different. As a Nigerian who grew up partly in Nigeria and moved to the U.S when I was 11, it was a little bit hard for me to get integrated into the system and flow of things when I moved to the U.S. Apart from the difference in accent, I found it hard to get along with the “Nigerian-American” kids I came in contact with, at church and in my middle school. They would actually make fun of my accent more than the American kids. But after a while, I embraced my accent and I felt the Americanized Nigerian kids warm up to me. A lot of them were mis-educated about their culture and I figured what better way than to teach them, which I did. Now, almost 13 years later, I’ve lost my Nigerian accent but I go back to Nigeria every year and I’ve never loved been more Nigerian than I do now.

  2. Cher

    March 8, 2016 at 4:15 am

    I love these types of articles on BN. Also love the way you wrote it .

    My mom is Black American my dad is Nigerian I was born and raised in HOUSTON , I never went to Nigeria until I was 20 . And I’m mad that I never went sooner. Nothing can tear me away from Nigeria now. I Can speak and follow pidgin . I’ve travelled all over Nigeria and I come home every year . As like the girls you said I must marry a Nigerian man .

    But those who peg themselves Nigerian here especially the girls are not so friendly it’s like some cult/club they have and if you’re not “Nigerian” enough you can’t sit with them . I really want to do research or when I start a PHD program on the disconnect between Africans/ and African Americans in the Diaspora. This convo can last for days .

    Nobody can tell me that I’m not 100% Nigerian tho.

    • le coco

      March 8, 2016 at 7:03 am

      @Cher you go girl!!.. i have never understood those people who feel the need to group nigerians. or those who tell others that they arent Nigerian Enough.. or that because their father is of a different nationality then they Cant be considered Nigerian.. you are Nigerian if you feel that you are.. its just that simple.. and if you do not want to associate with us then thats fine.. i have friends who were born in Nigeria but the moment they leave they claim another nationality.. and thats their problem.. and i have also met White people who either lived and worked in Nigeria and would tell me that they are Nigerians.. and that is fine too…

      Its great that you come and visit every year and you make an effort to learn the cultures.. thats what a lot of so called ” Nigerians” are missing.. no matter where i grew up my dad did not allow ignorance oo… that i live abroad isnt enough reason not to know whats happening in Nigeria..

      to all those who associate with Nigeria.. please make it a point to know about your country.. know your identity… know about your people… dont come and be spewing ignorance like one lady i met at a party and the topic of biafra came up and this lady, who claims to be nigerian, had no idea what biafra was about, and made it worse by saying.. president obasanjo should do something lol… in 2016..

    • nnenne

      March 8, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      Just like my cousin, mother Black American and father Nigerian.
      She is more Nigerian than some kids born and raised in Enugu. Her brother is the opposite though.

  3. IgboQTlostinYankee

    March 8, 2016 at 4:22 am

    It’s interesting that you characterize American-born Nigerian women who want to marry other Nigerians as seeking to “ingratiate themselves into the traditional culture,” whereas American-born Nigerian men who are open to marrying non-Nigerians are just looking for “someone with whom they connect.” American-born Nigerian women seek out others with Nigerian roots, not to “ingratiate themselves,” but for the same reasons people typically seek out those with similar cultural backgrounds– to connect. It’s okay if you prefer to date non-Nigerians (from your statement it seems like you do), but don’t be negative about others who choose to date Nigerian.

    As an American-born Nigerian woman who is looking to date Nigerian, it can be quite difficult because as you mentioned: American-born Nigerian men typically aren’t seeking Nigerians at all, and then you don’t connect with the Americans because your upbringing and values are different. Nigerian-born persons sometimes look down on you for not being a “real Nigerian,” (which is quite unfortunate), but at the end of the day, as an American-born Nigerian, you’re much more likely to meet someone Nigerian-born who is actually looking for another Nigerian.

  4. Author Unknown

    March 8, 2016 at 5:47 am

    Your position that an American of Nigerian parentage, born and raised in America, could somehow be as “authentic” as one that was born and raised on Nigerian soil is laughable. Personally, I don’t think the Nigerian/ Nigerian-American divide is as serious as you make it sound. Neither side has an issue with the other. At least I can tell you that Nigerians generally do not have an issue with Nigerian-Americans, I think 🙂

    • I have to say this...

      March 9, 2016 at 1:57 am

      His argument was not that the two experiences are equal in authenticity, but rather he’s calling into question the notion of the “authenticity” itself because one could argue on and on that this type of Nigerian experience is more authentic than some other, etc. If an “American of Nigerian parentage” as you put it (which I think does imply that you are rejecting the notion that an American-born person can indeed be a Nigerian as well– but you’re entitled to that opinion and moreover it is a very popular opinion) wants to happily walk the street proclaiming his/her Nigerianness, I’m at a loss for why this would trouble another human being unless there is some underlying insecurity or mental illness in the person who is upset. Particularly because the Nigerian government (who in fact is the authority on citizenship) itself has seen fit to confer citizenship on such “Americans.”

      I will be blunt…. What I do think it a bit sad is that some Nigerians would more readily accept a white person living in Nigeria (who has colonized them and continues to do so economically), as being a “true” Nigerian, before they accept the child of one of their own who happens to have been born elsewhere. I think the problem is not the lack of connection between the Nigerian-born ones and the American-born ones because you can’t force a bond on one who doesn’t wish to bond, but rather that certain Nigerian-born ones think that their opinion of someone else choice to identify as Nigerian is actually worth making known to that person. Again unless you are harboring some anger (at that person or at the world in general), why make it your business to undermine someone else’s sense of self? It’s like if I start telling mixed raced people that they are only one of their races, etc. It’s a strange, negative thing to do, and it can’t possibly make you feel good to do it.

  5. Benito

    March 8, 2016 at 7:39 am

    To each his own

  6. scott

    March 8, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I believe everyone’s experience is different. it can be quite difficult because as you mentioned

  7. larz

    March 8, 2016 at 11:43 am

    This whole debate about Nigerian culture or not is not as complicated as we make it seem.
    You are genuine Nigerian if you can identify with that culture i.e. its language, food, music, traditions, values, history etc. Just because you know and identify with these things doesn’t mean you agree with it. For example, you can be aware that your culture eats human beings but you dont participate in such acts. My problem is when people born in a different country (e.g. America) knows nothing about Nigerian culture and claims to be Nigerian. The question is, if I were to pick up 5 random people to observe you for a day. Would they identify you as being Nigerian or American? I know an Irish girl who after dated a Nigerian man for 10 years and is more Nigerian than I am. She should be able to identify with that if she wants to. Your cultural identity is not where your ancestors come from but what you identify with.
    Having said that, once identified as being part of a culture, I am not sure it adds value to begin to measure who is more Nigerian and who isn’t.

  8. TeeS

    March 8, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    I moved to the US after 2 years of college in Nigeria. The Nigerians I hung with where the ones that where born there. The ones like me where just not having it. I couldn’t sit with them, I wasn’t Nigerian enough and didn’t look like them. Oh you look Akata ! Great! I didnt act Nigerian enough, because I wasn’t going for their parties and all that stuff. I’d say the Nigerians like myself who moved are less accepting of our fellow people than those born here. I also realized those born in America are more curious about their culture and always wanna learn in comparison with the ones who moved here that’d be forming. You’ll realize that it’s even the international students that be doing the most!
    I really don’t get it. Now I hang out with Many races, I’m often the only black person , but wth! They are more accepting of me than my own people

  9. Nedu

    March 8, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Kudos to BN for publishing this story. It is heart warming and very decent, Intellectual and soul searching. Good one Chinedu Achebe. I smiled till I finished the passage .It flowed naturally from you and I agree with it all .

  10. Tochi

    March 8, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks Chinedu for writing this article. Interesting read, looking forward to more.

  11. tatafo!

    March 11, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    I enjoyed the last article and the comments section. I’m enjoying this one as well. Great discourse, kudos Chinedu!

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