Lunar Moon

Letters

Written by: Ziora Ajeroh 

Igbo culture

I grew up in a typical Nigerian-American household. My parents both immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in the 1990s; and since neither my mother nor my father is the “assimilating” type, it meant that whether I liked it or not, Igbo culture would be at the heart of my development…

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I was born to “kuru nwa” 

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In accordance with Igbo tradition, my great grandmother, accompanied by my grandmother, moved to the U.S. in 2003 after I was born to “kuru nwa,”  the Igbo term for the customary assistance a family receives from the grandmother in raising the child. Aside from the simple “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you,” my great grandmother, known affectionately as Mma Adeline, did not speak any English; another factor ensuring my chiefly Igbo upbringing. Great grandmother and grandmother fed me a diet consisting mostly of isi ewuogba, and ofe okworo with garri, and had me say the Grace in Igbo every night. 

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Navigating American Culture

By the time I turned four, I had become like Mma. I could understand English but only spoke Igbo. I entered preschool with a very limited understanding of how to navigate American culture. However, with the help of the preschool teacher, my family, (and my favorite book of nursery rhymes), I learned English in seven months. The next year I started kindergarten reading at a third-grade level and was immediately promoted to the first grade.

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New Moon

When I started school, I was naive and innocent like a new moon. I talked about my heritage to anyone and everyone in earshot. As you can imagine, this didn’t exactly play out well within a small southern town. Other children began to assault me with racist and xenophobic remarks every day. I was told to “go back to my country,” called a “dirty African,” and became a class joke. As a result, I began burying myself in novels and other languages to distract myself. Thus, my journey down the road to self-hate began.

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I started to detest my background…

I resented my parents for being unapologetically Igbo and my classmates for their hurtful actions, but most of all, I resented myself for allowing their words and opinions to affect me as much as they did. I refused to wear the African styles – the way my mother braided my hair for school, and didn’t speak Igbo to anyone but Mma. My father grew concerned. He started making it a point to encourage me to speak Igbo, educating my sister and I on Igbo customs, and teaching us new words.

I deflected his efforts until after Mma’s funeral. I was talking to one of my aunts, and for some reason, the Igbo word for lotion had slipped my mind, “Ude.”  It was simple, but this momentary lapse of memory sent me into a panic. I’d been excelling in Latin class and was also well on my way to becoming fluent in ogbaogba yet I was losing the ability to articulate myself in my own language. I instantly recalled Mma’s warm voice sternly reminding me that “Igbo amaka,” (Igbo is beautiful). It was a popular phrase among Igbo elders, my great grandmother especially. I thought of how Mma would feel if she knew how ashamed I was of the culture she had so proudly instilled in me, and how revolted she would’ve been by my actions. From then on, I started paying attention when my dad spoke. At family events, when the adult men were discussing politics in Igbo, I listened in. I began practicing some traditional Igbo dances in my room and watching Nollywood films with my mom. Bit by bit, I began to recover the culture I had lost while learning about the cultures of others.

Two personalities

Now it seems I have two personalities, Igbo – Ziora and American – Ziora, and I am still adjusting, but I’ve been teaching myself the delicate balance between the two. In the words of the ever-so-wise Hannah Montana, I’m finding the “best of both worlds.” The journey of self-acceptance throughout my adolescence progressed like a waxing moon – and now I have finally reached my lunar bloom.

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