Learning from Chimamanda’s experience in the US

I am a big fan of Chimamanda’s books since I started with Half of a Yellow Sun, some years ago. I then move back through her bibliography and have been learning both about Nigeria and the US  with her. I like several things from her books that sometimes lack from Francophone writers: simplicity and clarity of style, something very important to widen your audience to non-native English speakers; and second, maybe her biggest talent, the ability to observe and describe daily situations in a reflexive, factual yet hilarious way. Here are some quotes from her book I am reading currently The Thing Around Your Neck.

 She [the protagonist] could not complain about not having shoes when the person she was talking to had no legs.

Then he told you how the neighbors said, a few months after he moved into his house, that the squirrels had started to disappear. They had heard that Africans ate all kinds of wild animals.

I must confess that at the point I read the second citation I broke into stertorous laughs. I laughed so much that I wanted to cry. This sense of humour, plus her ability to connect with many of its readers amongst the African diaspora, by explaining experiences we go through daily or some situations we all know someone who went through them, all this while teaching us about Nigerian life, History and society, which is so African in many ways and so familiar even for those like me who haven’t spent many years on that soil… And, apart from connecting me with my African side, she is incredibly interesting on the way she describes America. With so many experiences. The complexities of some many lives often reduced to two facts: the quest for legal immigration (read the chapter about the American Embassy on this same book The Thing…), and the poverty struggle. Plus, she has many videos online talking about so many issues on Nigeria, Africa, the US and so, that she has become kind of parts of my life. Strange things today, right? Not only can we read about our authors, we can follow them on tv interview, attend to their conferences and public readings…Some even send emails and add them on facebook. I am not there… yet.

Anyway, my point is that I relate to her American stories because I feel like in the same situation. True that I came already with a job, but still I like to reading her analysis about relationships between Africans and Americans (be they black, white or latino, so far I have not read about Asian-Americans and Africans. And to be honest, I would like to read something about that.); and I have started to read more and more about my African descents American cousins. Of course I feel and know that we have many things in common, and I can relate not only for that millennial origin, but also for knowing what’s like growing black in a white dominant environment.

Many people people think that each time you raise this type of issues you want to talk about racism, and sometimes they are right. But most of the time, it’s just to make them aware of the many aspects of society in which you realise that you are not represented and not taken into account. Some of the most obvious and most influencial aspects are Mass media platforms, TV, RADIO, CINEMA, THEATHER, NEWSPAPERS. It’s obvious to anyone with some little critical spirit to realise that the portraiture of people like you (if any) is not possitive; that the heroes, Historical characters, influencial people in society, popular politicians, artits, etc. Sometimes it’s just that there aren’t any people like you in certain fields; other times the one you see play a role you can’t relate with. They are just stereotypes of what your people are, and often not very possitive. Growing within the blatant minority at many structural levels makes many things harder that it seems. Basic things such as educational achievements, security and active citizenship, ability to access country’s wealth, political engagement and power, and of course, healthy selfsteem.

To acknowledge these carences may create great sense of anger and frustration, especially when people around you seem unable to understand your reasons. But I always say that the irony of live make rich people of richer countries unaware of their fellow citizens on the working class, but these at the same time are unaware of their fellow working class colleagues in poorer countries. You can spend a lifetime trying to make them understand the privileges they inherited, but they won’t see it. Most won’t. It’s just part of the system they were born in. They feel entitled to them. If you get angry and claim what you think is your place, then you get labelled aggressive, criminal and other nicer words.

But I think there many other ways of improving things. Begining with the selfsteem. I definitely believe that every African descent person should live once in a life in Africa. I mean, live, not believe. I know this from my own experience. Your value of yourself changes and you stop being a vulnerable minority. This is useful for many healthy and pragmatic reasons. You will also get to acknowledge the good aspects of your homecountry. Travelling around the world also gives a bigger picture of how things work, pros and cons of live in another corners, learning that every place has its own issues and that you can always choose the place that suits you best. And the one you know the better is still home. I believe in freedom of movement. Especially for these cases. European Americans have very close ties with their continent of origin for these same reasons. Not only practical, but mostly emotional and cultural, and this does not make them any less Americans. This is the bless of this country, I believe. Its ability to emotions and feelings in anypart of the world. Its diversity reflects the diversity of the planet, and this is definitely and advantage, in my opinion. 

I have observed that Identity problems are more often present in the offsprings of Africans or immigrants in general who do not have a balanced sense of belonging within their two cultures. We don’t need to choose, just as between man and dad. We are both. For this move, I would urge African countries to do something useful for once and allow doble nationality for their descendants overseas. This will soften circumstances and unite people who can truely learn from each other. I also strongly advocate for  more cultural and civic ties within the two continents, by the help of international programs, professional cooperation and emotional ties between these two communities. More international couples and cultural events would definitely help, as well as common goals on matters such as educational achievements, security and political reinforcement at a global scale. For instance, most of the Africans that arrive to the US are graduate students who come to further their studies and/or work. These could definiteley collaborate in a national program to improve educational outcomes on local communitie,while the later help us integrate into the American society. The African American universities may build major exchange programs with African universities to promote mutual contact and learning. This applies also with Latin American countries with visible African descent population such as Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Perú, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. This is the kind of things I would do. Create international and intranational meeting points and produce common goals and work for it. I would be glad to participate in programs that would help increase the number of African Americans  and Hispanics who access higher education, for examples. I been reading about and I think it needs a community-based response to sort it out. Just my naive opinion.

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