Although I tailored my writing to individuals with Nigerian parents; I am certain that children of immigrants from other countries have had similar experiences.
Feeling accepted can be very difficult for children born to immigrant parents. Throughout my years of being teased and taunted because of my Nigerian heritage, I could never understand how someone who looked a lot like me (my peers) could see so many differences between us.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to fit in with my peers. I would overthink a lot when I would speak because I would try to decide on what pieces of my family-life and history I would leave out of conversation to avoid being the weird one.
Daily, I would prepare myself to hear my peers making “tribal” sounds when I walked in the room or jokes about my last name. Somehow, I managed to keep my middle name a secret from my friends for some time to avoid being teased about it as well. I could not wait to get married to an American man so that my last name would change (that has not happened, by the way). I have always had amazing friends, but I still felt very different. I felt too American to be Nigerian and too Nigerian to be American.
I challenge anyone who has had a similar experience to try these suggestions:
1. Learn more about your culture
You may be able to use this as an opportunity to educate others. Read books, browse the Internet, and talk to your family about the facts about your heritage! I became so disgusted with my culture because people down talked it so much that I didn't want to know anything about it and I didn't want to speak the language. Well, guess what? I still got teased because people still knew that I was different. If I could've presented some solid "bet you wish you were Nigerian too" info, I could've closed some mouths! Nigeria has so much to offer and as I began to learn more (post-high school) I became more confident in who I am as a Nigerian American woman.
2. Talk about it with your family and teachers
Don't hold that stuff in. Bullying and teasing are serious and not addressing both can affect you in adulthood (Hello, it happened to me!) I remember bursting out in tears when my parents accused me of dating without their permission. I shouted, "They think I'm ugly and they make fun of me!" Then, I went into detail about all the ways that kids would taunt me because of my big lips, my last name, or anything else that they could think of! My parents were so upset that I was teased, but more upset that I believed the lies. I had waited until I exploded and that should have never happened. Get support from family and make sure that teachers know what's going on. Expose those bullies.
3. Be proud of your culture
Wear Nigerian attire just because you can! Let your friends/classmates know about some of your customs and let them taste Nigerian food! Keep up with Nigerian music and sports and post about them on social media. There are so many reasons to love being Nigerian and no one should make you feel ashamed. One of the most attractive attributes is confidence. So, go out and be a confident in who you are!
It took several years for me to realize that there is no shame in African heritage. Don't wait as long as I did. Embrace it, love it, and rep it!