Your Ancestors Were Immigrants Too, Ya Know!

In Chapters 9 and 10 of Americanah, Adichie gives readers a glimpse of the struggles Ifemelu and Uju face as a FOB (fresh off the boat) and a six-year immigrant, respectively. There’s an obvious culture difference and repression as Ifemelu thinks hot dogs are sausages and Uju tells her not to teach Dike of anything Nigerian–Dike even says he doesn’t think he likes Nigeria.

Once upon a time ago, in 1492, the floodgates opened and all hell broke loose. 525 years later and here we are, the United States, a tossed salad full of citizens with different cultural backgrounds. I refrain from using “melting pot” as race tensions in the U.S. continue thus prohibiting its citizens from fully converging and respecting all cultures as a united whole.

Despite the fact that there is no actual American ethnicity–even Native Americans technically aren’t from here but Asia–there is a difference in attitudes on cultural embracement.

Generally, by the third generation of immigrant families, people start to lose connection with their roots–obviously this isn’t the case for everyone, but it becomes harder to remember where you came from as your family’s time and submersion in a new homeland’s culture increases.

Generally, conservative Americans of the upper class today like to display their wealth by proving the American Dream still exists because their older family members were able to make money and pass that wealth down to their children. News flash: the American Dream doesn’t exist and institutionalized racism prevails, thus ensuring immigrants (more specifically, people of color) are locked in the lower ranks of society.

But how does this relate to all Americans being immigrants at one point or another? Well, the point is, my friends, that from the start of colonial America, citizens have been disconnected with their roots, forgetting that Europeans were basically their brothers–and sisters.

Throughout U.S. history, there has been this idea of people “Americanizing” themselves so as to set themselves apart from their European comrades. This involves abandoning native tongues, dress, and customs for what is considered “American.” Eventually, POC took on this trend in order to fit in with white society, and now cultures from across the globe are considered too foreign for Americans. Of course, there are the white kids who love to act like they love learning about cultures outside their own (cultural appreciation) but end up appropriating them instead.

In essence, cultural identity is lost in the U.S. in attempts to conform to societal ideals. POC assume this is how they will rise above the lower ranks they fall into when immigrating to America–even though the wealthy elite continues to use systemic racism as means of preserving the social order. There really is no true reason to forget your past; embracing it is what makes people unique and more cultured than white people! Obviously, if you’re highly resentful of your past country, then there’s room for non-embracing your heritage, but think. You’ve only got a cultural background that distinguishes yourself from others, love and display it!

The Fake Communist’s Note: The point of this post wasn’t to tell POC immigrants that there’s no point in trying to conform and act like an American to others since elitists use racism to oppress minorities. The point was to say cultural differences should be embraced since they’re the only thing immigrants have when coming to a new land.

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Forget Foreign Opportunities, Home is Where the Heart Is

Most readers expect stories involving immigrants to center around their struggles in their new country. It’s archetypal for authors to build a heartwarming story off the backs of foreigner protagonists who attempt to speak a new language and balance three jobs while still squeezing in time for love. Upon first glance, the blurb of Americanah makes it seem as though this will tell the tale of two lovers who part ways when emigrating from Nigeria to other parts of the world. Adichie’s novel steers readers into a different direction by introducing Ifemelu as a fluent English speaker, 13 year resident of the U.S., and a girl who has just broken up with her boyfriend as she plans on returning to her home country.

When observing Americanah through a postcolonial lens, the novel takes an unconventional twist in the way the protagonist is presented: Ifemelu has left postcolonial Nigeria for ex-imperializing powerhouse America. She represents the diffusion of two cultures as she finishes her fellowship at Princeton and avoids taboo American words like “fat,” while getting her hair braided at African salons every few months. Despite deciding to move back to Nigeria, it’s apparent that other African immigrants–more specifically, Aisha–disapprove of her decision without any plausible reason, i.e. marriage. Aisha’s distaste for life in African homeland epitomizes the stereotypical immigrant, one who leaves their past life to settle into a newer, more opportune country. Ifemelu defies immigrant expectations by coming to a new country to create a new and successful life for herself up before returning to her home country.

Similarly, Obinze leaves Nigeria for Britain and comes back with a high-class education. He uses his knowledge and agreeable attitude to climb up the social ladder and becomes a rich man. Despite the growing capitalism-based society in Nigeria–thanks to British imperialism–Obinze knows that the large house and beautiful wife does not complete his life. He longs for something more in life, past all of the material wealth and superficial people: Ifemelu.