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Too African to be American, Too American to be African: Growing up as a first-generation African Immigrant

Growing up is not easy. I mean, think about all the changes you are confronted with as a baby living most of your days at home with mama and papa. Then one day, they send you off to school, where you start interacting with people from all walks of life. At one point, you grow into a teenager with raging hormones as you begin discovering your sexuality. As a young adult, you have an internal compass directing you towards your self-identity.

You may not have thought about it much, especially if your life seems to have turned out okay. However, the dynamics of your environment while growing up can have far-reaching consequences.

First Generation African kids growing up in the US

In this article, we are going to discuss the experiences of first-generation African immigrant kids while growing up in the United States. We are going to start by painting a picture of such a kid, so here we go.

They probably have a wildly different name compared to the average American kid walking around the block. That is because their parent(s) still have a strong connection to their African ethnic community and in-keeping to their culture. The child will have a name with meaning to their ethnic culture.

They stand out while in America

  • The first thing that will tell an African kid from say, an average African-American kid in America is their name. A lot of folks in America may have trouble pronouncing the name. It can be two, three, or all of the names given to the child.
  • As you know, religion also influences the naming of a child. African Christians tend to give their child an English name as a first name, then an ethnic (tribal) name as a middle and last name.
  • While most African immigrants coming to America have a good mastery of the English language. Their accent sounds wildly different to the typical American ear. Kids who came with their parents to America will have a foreign accent to people in the US.
  • African kids may look different, not just to people from other races, but even to African-American kids. Their complexion may be darker, fuller lips and wider nose, among other things. Their physical differences from the African-Americans are mainly the results of interracial mixing spanning centuries between the whites and blacks in America since the two races met in America thanks to the TransAtlantic slavery. Africans, for lack of better words, come in as a pure stock of the African physical attributes.
  • The parent-child respect in African immigrant homes is likely different from what the typical American homes expect. Across many African cultures, kids are taught to bestow respect to anybody older than them; even if the age difference is a couple of months apart. With African kids, especially those who came immigrated alongside their parents, they tend to show a higher level of submission and respect to other people in the community.

Hence, they are more likely to follow law and order by figures of authority in their classrooms, schools, or out there in the streets. That is not to say American kids are disrespectful or anything, but they are used to speaking their minds. They are more likely to challenge a directive from a figure of authority, which might not be the first response you get from African kids.

Still Stands out during Cultural Gatherings among Africans

As mentioned, African immigrants have strong ties to their communities back home in Africa. Hence, from time to time, they will travel back to their home country, as a family for the festive seasons and cultural gatherings.

The African immigrant kid will still be the odd one out from a gathering of other African kids in Africa. With their continued stay in America and as they adapt to their new life, they will have picked up while dropping a thing or two.

  • While they will probably wear their African names and physical characteristics for the rest of their lives, their accent may have changed along the way and to Africans back home, come off as foreign.
  • Hell, they might even be made to feel like they have no right to their names because they pronounce it funny. Often the adult relatives may correct them on how they pronounce their names as they introduce themselves.
  • The cultural limitations of some African immigrant kids may be too obvious to ignore. First, they might not appreciate the relevance of tribal affiliations and customs. They may have a hint of that popular hogwash that Africa, one large country, made up homogenous people.
  • The African immigrant kids may come off as disrespectful to adults in Africa simply because they have learned to be assertive and speak their mind. Greetings to the immigrant kids might be something you only do to people, you know, while in Africa, you are expected to greet anybody you come across.
  • There is also the notion that they must be rich, given they live in the ‘land of opportunities.’ While in reality, the immigrants might be living in the less affluent neighborhoods of the US and occupying the less lucrative jobs in the employment market. In Africa, they are expected to be rich, yet while in America, the expectation is that they can’t afford much.

The African immigrants are caught in-between two worlds, each having contradicting expectations. They find themselves not American enough while in the US, and too changed to pass off as a regular African while in Africa.


How African Immigrants create little Africa in America to keep their Identity and Culture alive

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