The Power of A Nigerian Woman in America: The Battle of Belonging Part 2

I lived in Nigeria for all of my pre-teen and teenage years.  I was raised in a Christian home, with my immediate and extended family members. My parents instilled in us a strong sense of identity, so at a young age we knew exactly where we were from, our family’s history and our tribal background.  Traditional family values were very important in our home; we all understood our responsibilities as members of the family. Being the Ada (first daughter) and oldest child of my parents, I grew up with plenty of responsibility. I was in charge of caring for my younger siblings, assisting with preparing meals for the family, helping with chores etc. I was always reminded that as the oldest child I represented the family wherever we went. I was to be the ultimate role model for my sisters.

 I left Nigeria for America in 2002 to go to college.  A few nights before I left, I had a nice long conversation with my mom. We covered the basics- what to do in case of any emergencies on the way, what questions to ask on the trip in case I got lost. Then she told me how proud of me she was. She was confident I would know how to handle myself in a new city as I had lived away from home during my high school years, attending a school out of state… “Respect your aunts and uncles there”, she said “Treat them like you would your parents. They will become your parents now. Don’t forget who you are, you come from a good home, don’t give anyone reason to question that”.

I remember the culture shock of returning to the United States after over 10 years of living in Nigeria. I was in a new place with new faces, and with family members that I hadn’t seen in the same length of time that I had lived apart from them. My accent was different, I wasn’t used to the food, or the sidewalks, or the people. Life was going to be a little different from then on.

With every interaction I had, there was an internal battle as to how to present myself. Nigeria wasn’t very familiar to many people and I was nervous that my country and culture would be unimportant or irrelevant because it was unknown. I was afraid of rejection. So I kept that part of me sacred and didn’t share it with many people. For many years I have lived with the tension of trying to follow Jesus as I understood how- as a Nigerian woman. Living in America I have experienced church and ministry under mostly Caucasian leadership, the gospel I grew up learning appeared almost different in this context. I struggled with being comfortable enough to worship or serve completely because I didn’t want my ethnicity to make anyone feel uncomfortable or weird.  Being an African American woman in every sense of the word, I felt like my life had been split into two because one piece always trumped the other. Either I was African or I was American. There wasn’t much room to be both. Did that mean that I would never truly be able to serve Jesus with every part of my being?

”After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “ Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne” (Revelation 7:9-10) All throughout the bible God expresses his Kingdom in the context of cultures and multi-ethnicity. Everyone lives out their faith in the context of their history and heritage. It is our theology. Who is to say that my ethnicity is not a part of God’s great Kingdom?

When I walk into a room I know immediately that I bring my ethnicity and my diversity as gift. My faith as a Nigerian woman is not for me alone. I am called to serve Jesus and share him with every part of my life.  My cultural differences are a necessity to the community and to the kingdom. I stand out as a Nigerian woman in America, and after many years of struggling to find my place of belonging, I realize that I don’t just want to be here, I belong here.  My presence, my voice, and my perspective are valuable; everyone should be. I want my voice to empower many others in their ethnic differences; I want my voice to say that even though you are different from me…you are valuable too…you belong. That is the legacy I want to leave behind.

Ivy Enekwa

AuthorBradford Everett