who i am


there is a question i have asked frequently ever since i was a little girl. that is, who am i? i suppose this stems largely from being born in the west to nigerian immigrants. without the luxury of being born in my parents' place, the question begs an answer.

i live at the nexus of over a half dozen cultures. there is white america, black america, brown america, immigrant america, akwa ibomites in america, akwa ibomites in nigeria, nigerians in the diaspora, and of course nigerians in nigeria. i have always held it up as some miraculous thing, having access to all these cultures, but it is a major task to remain conversant in all of them.

at some point, tiring of the politics of black america, i can simply say i am a cultural outsider and don't understand what they're on about (i used to do this alot as a kid, in fact, i hardly understood some aspects of black culture although i secretly wanted to be "cool enough" to be black).

at some point, tiring of the politics of being an akwa ibomite in america, i can simply pronounce my name in that weird way that sounds like 'spoon' instead of 'song' and pretend i don't know how to say good bye in ibibio. this is much how i walked by the 'concerned citizens of akwa ibom' group three weeks ago, protesting kidnappings near the UN. although i came to join them, they looked like a bunch of crazies shouting on the street with their placards raised, while a passerby shouted back that akpabio's built so many good roads and how could they possibly jeapordize the success of the state in this way. i was happy to pass by unnoticed.

and tiring of politics in general, i can always sit among a gathering of my white friends and pretend to be somewhat cultureless and colorless. (it is the path of least resistance, and yet the one i shun the most.)

but who am i really? i tried going through all my blogs to find a place where i say definitively who and what i am and found nothing. a part of it is i love personas, am intrigued by the way other people project their realities on to me. there are friends who've known me for decades and have been told on several occasions that i was born in the u.s.of.a. and still don't believe me. i am a sleeper cell, in their eyes, who will one day take over america and redistribute all her resources appropriately to the developing world. or i'll simply take over hollywood and move it out of country, hire native nigerians (and maybe indians) to run it and say to hell with white people. (i am not that interested in hollywood. i might also respond that the nigerians and indians would label me as not being 'authentic' enough and reject the offer, not before chopping all the money and running it into the ground, of course.)

so what does it all really mean? are place, race, culture, custom, and nationality everything? or are they relative? i have always fancied myself a bridge between cultures and it seems that, despite the many internal questions that still prevail, this is finally becoming a reality. i'm now the family historian, of sorts, and the first person people think of to ask obscure questions like what year my mother came to the u.s. from nigeria. (it was my uncle, her elder brother, who asked. he's also the one who brought her here.)

they place their hope in me, marveling at how i am able to simply plop myself down in akwa ibom and not complain about the electricity or have a care for what's going on in the states. some of them have never thought of going back, but secretly long for the courage. i imagine that, as a person who craves an existence that is not relative, it has been very important for me to create a space for myself there. perhaps also why i am an artist, so that i can live and create any- and everywhere.

if i could only choose one thing to be, it would be an inspiration. appropriately so, my life now seems to be less about 'who i am' than my chosen purpose and what i represent for other people. i am not sure whether to raise disclaimers about being their great hope, or to simply embrace it and rise to the occasion. i only hope that i will be able to express the pluralities that exist within me in a way that i do not misrepresent myself.

i have no answers and certainties, only questions and relativities. i exist as a being in the flesh, but perhaps am closer to a concept than a reality. i think it would be easier for me and those around me if i was some other way, but it wouldn't be authentic to who i am. such is life. --AL.

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  1. i probably sound presumptuous now, but you really do underestimate your ability to give answers. As reflective as this post is, there are salient points/answers that you give here.


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