I had no choice in determining where I would be born, but somehow my parents gave birth to me in Nigeria. Irrespective of new naturalization, your country of birth always follows you everywhere. Every government and official form you fill, including the new blue or red passport requires your country of birth. It’s like the color of your skin that cannot be changed easily. It stays with you anywhere you go and more importantly, be ready to answer those simple questions – “where are you originally from”, “how did you get to America and speak English so well”? You are left to ask yourself, if the question was asked to challenge your knowledge or these are just conversation starters.
I am still looking for the perfect answer to these questions and I have coined a few of them.
“My dad found a way to get my mum hooked and gave birth to me in a manger in Nigeria, but there was a missionary who taught me some English”
“I am from the big village called Africa and I walked to Morocco, where I learnt how to speak English, and took a boat to Spain so I could catch a flight to America”.
“I am from Nigeria but learnt my English while listening to the crew men on the cargo ship”
“I am from Africa but with the help of my monkey friend, I was able to climb trees until I found myself in the forest of California, where I learnt to speak the English Language”.
Not sure these are good responses but they might help refocus the conversations to my knowledge and what we bring to the table, and take away the focus from my accent.
Many immigrants have lost their self-confidence and esteem because they are asked over 5 times a day these questions in one way or the other, primarily because of their accent. Imagine been asked to repeat yourself every time you say hello. I remember a reporter asking a series of questions, and the guest was like – hey I got carried away with your accent but did not hear your question. Imagine if the interview was some very pretty, hot looking journalist, who had got a brilliant smile being told—hey I was carried away because of your beauty and did not understand your questions. These cool conversation starters are only designed to keep you quiet and not participate in team conversations.
However, there is the Immigrant spirit that tells you this is a journey you have to somehow complete. Each time you receive the calls from your cousins, aunt and uncles for financial help, you remember how you have been privilege to make a difference in the life of others. Hence, the Lagos hustle never dies but lives another day.
We are different in the way we process information and react to situations. Our likes and desires are driven by our experience and what we consider desirable. In reality, some of the cool stuff included in our to do list are derived from situations we believed may be challenging to experience. While some of our wants may derail us from certain aspirations, they seem to bring out our inner most passion and joy. There are certain wants and experiences in America they are desirable and interesting, but they are not meant for the Lagos boy.
Though these experiences are key to allow you view things in a different way, however, you realize that you need to put in another overtime and extra work to be able to make the additional $100 that ends up being sent to your family members. Somehow, you realize that the horror you experienced during your childhood is considered fun in the new country. How does the Lagos hustle fit in America is a question that keeps ringing in the head.
I was prepared for the hustle and ready to take on new challenges. I have been taught to be strong and withstand all challenges. I hiked several miles through elementary school, middle school, high school and college, ensuring that I attend all classes and do not consider these as a stumbling block to the future. Many wonder why I do not consider hiking to be fun when I spent most of my growing years hiking. I grew up in a jungle like environment with frequent power failure, and stayed in homes with 8 people sharing a 12ft by 10 ft bedroom. Frequent visits of snakes to our little unorganized play ground, waking up at night to see the rats feasting on the left overs that could not be refrigerated due to the lack of stable electricity, thus making camping less fun. Road trips are another part of the mix, I experienced road trips by using the popular buses known as Molue (as Nigerians call the rackety public transportation buses- Matatu in Kenya). I have entered enough Molue buses that I do not know why I need to spend additional hours on a road trip. I am not going to start a food diet because I grew up eating one good meal a day. Now that I can afford 3 meals a day, I can’t yield to the advice that reverts me to the horrific experience of my childhood. I need all the energy to work extra hours and make the money that helps bring others out of poverty. The Lagos hustle that teaches me to hope and pray that I can help others achieve a different life.
These are experiences that are fun to imagine but are real to many of us who are migrants. Hence, all I think about is the Lagos hustle and how I need to make a difference living the America dream. These friendly questions are making me sick and may make me lose my focus because I am no longer confident to talk in public. The Lagos hustle comes with the spirit of doing everything in a hurry and be ready for the next move. The need to work extra hours and ask for the overtime pay because we remember our families who need an extra help. We don’t enjoy the taste and flavor of our lunch meals as we do not have the luxury of time but need to finish the food on time. We go to the loo in a hurry, we drive in a hurry, we need to find that extra funds to send to our cousins and nephews. Working extra late just to be able to get a cheaper transportation home from work or reduce the cost of gas by not driving through traffic. We look for the cheap mama put (restaurants similar to the Taco trucks in California) so I could eat the least hygienic food because I worry about the cost savings.
To my corporate friends who keeps inviting me for lunch and happy hour. It’s not that I never liked you or I don’t want to hang out with you. These lunch, birthday, or happy hour invites do cost me money because I grew up always expecting my boss or the host to pay for these. I need to save as I have a whole family line to help and make a better person. That’s the Lagos hustle in me and bringing it to the American life is hard.
While these are real life issues and experiences, they depict some of the challenges most migrants face on a daily basis and in the early stages of their career. Unfortunately, while cultures are significantly different, we have to change our ways to survive and rise within the current system. We have to drop the Lagos hustle to learn the new society where we now call home. Our old ways and old cultures or lifestyle does not help us learn about the new society (the American way). While we need to encourage our new hosts to accept and learn a little bit of where we are coming from, the Lagos hustle needs to be changed and refined to the new world. The Lagos hustle needs to help us learn that while hard work is important, networks and relationships are key ingredients to building successful careers in the work place. No one appreciates hard work alone as that makes the work environment less fun.
It’s hard to live the Lagos hustle in America without being discouraged but the Lagos hustle must be refined to make a difference and an impact.