This summer I had the opportunity to work with a young man from Nigeria whose stories were quite thought provoking and validated our societal need to listen more generously. In our hurry to achieve and accomplish, many of us have lost the capacity for taking in much more than sound bites. The important process of storytelling is transformative for both the listener and the storyteller. I asked Tito to share a few of his insights.
Upon arriving in the United States, at the age of six, I quickly learned to compartmentalize my life into two convenient sections: one Nigerian and one American. Leaving my house on the way to school each morning was like the plane trip here; once I closed the door behind me and took off, I was in a new land.
The rules were different.
The expectations were different.
The behavior was different.
From my perspective, the American spirit is deeply rooted in nationalism, liberty and absolute autonomy. “African Pride” is pride in fierce will, heart and passion; a people broken, but still hopeful in the concept of resurrection and rebirth.
While in high school, the African passion of storytelling found its way into my academic essays only to hear teachers tell me they found my writing “too flowery” or that it had “too much fluff”. “Just state points and wrap up with a cohesive conclusion!” I was simply writing like a storyteller who captures every aspect of the experience that is being stored and catalogued in order to share it all when the awaited opportunity calls. So when asked to write a paper focusing on the pyramids of Egypt, I not only included the dates they were constructed, but also the inspiration they lit within me. How gazing upon such an architectural marvel in a time without modern technology could force a belief in the limitless will of our species. From my perspective the “simple” structure tells an amazing story.
I saw a story in everything, but it seemed sharing them was frowned upon throughout my school years. What I feared most began to manifest; the difference in my culturally derived thinking process became a major liability. People didn’t have time or care to listen to my ideas. I did not see this as uniqueness, but as an internal battle only I was fighting.
Today, I now know that almost every immigrant undergoes similar challenges. For most of my life I tried to ensure that this difference never became a liability; I have since realized it is my greatest asset. Only when I stopped seeing myself as a product of two irreconcilable cultures and rather as a unique individual with an interesting mix of ideals and perspective, was I able to embrace my identity. Though monumentally different from most of my peers, it was mine. The experiences, the advantages, the challenges…all mine.