I am a medley. A mixture. A hodgepodge. I was born in the city of Abeokuta, Nigeria and I am a citizen of the United States. I would like to say that being born in a different part of the world makes me special, or the fact that I was born in a hospital room with no doctors present means I’m different, or that since I suffered jaundice worse than that which disabled my sister and killed my brother, the fact that I still lived makes me a survivor. But, really, these events are like stories to me. I have no memory of being born, no memory of being sick, and no memory of living in Nigeria.
I arrived in the United States at the age of two, speaking as much as two-year olds do. I spoke a mélange of my native tongue, Yoruba, and English, the universal language in Nigeria. My parents had lived all their lives in Nigeria and were new in every way to the land of opportunity. We quickly integrated into the Nigerian community in New Haven, and everyone around me was like me. When I started preschool, the new array of faces and sounds startled me. I did not speak a word for the first two weeks, and the caretakers began to worry that I was dumb. It is more likely that I was gathering information, assimilating the way the kids spoke and behaved, and assessing the novelty before me.
By the time I reached elementary school, I had become skilled at masking my accent, but incorrectly pronounced words still managed to escape occasionally. When I put the emphasis on the ca in Capri Sun instead of the pri, my friends did not see me as different or weird, instead they asked why I said it like that. I have learned that children do not see skin color or ethnicity; they are better at seeing the person.
By fourth grade, I was fully integrated into the African-American community at my school. I was black, the kids were black, so it seemed they were the people who were meant to be my friends. As hard as I tried to camouflage myself and become like those around me, they still saw me as different. I would be called salamander or my last name would be purposely butchered, as armanoman or armadillo. If we watched a video about African villages with straw huts, I would be asked if that was where I had lived. Many people would click to me, suggesting that I spoke in clicks and clocks.
All this information I processed and assimilated, and by seventh grade, my friend group changed. I began to hang out with the “crackers,” and this made me an “oreo.” While my new friends still made black jokes, they were just jokes, not the comments with underlying suggestions that I had previously been accustomed to. Again, I watched their behavior and mannerisms, and I quickly fit in. I began to try harder in school; I began to play soccer; and, I began to think about life after elementary school.
It was not until I came to Hopkins that I became myself. Forced to combine all the different versions of me that I had been in the previous years, my manners and behavior conformed to the Nigerian customs; my humor became mixed between black and white; and, my work ethic and reasoning mirrored that which I had observed from my white friends.
At Hopkins, there was no separation based on skin color. It was as if I were a kid again, and while they could see the skin color and the ethnicity, they also wanted to know how to correctly say my last name. It was there that all the experiences and communities that I had been part of coalesced to make me the person who I am today.