This Is What It Is Like To Be A First Generation Nigerian American

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First generation Americans have unique, often bootstrap, experiences making first generation stories uber interesting and important to tell and to hear.

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Why First Generation Stories Are Important To All Of Us

First generation citizens have a unique perspective on what home, history, and everyday experiences are like. On VProud there is an amazing women in fashion video of Ola Abayomi, the Nigerian-American founder of Dual Citizen, a New York City and online based globally inspired boutique, discussing the way embracing her Nigerian roots helped her create her boutique and live out her passion project. Below, we're absolutely thrilled to have Ola's perspective on what it is like to be a first generation Nigerian American, as a child in school, starting with the everyday experience of helping teachers and peers pronounce your name. At first blush, it may be hard to wrap our brains and hearts around the concept of how tricky this can feel; but really take a look at Ola's words. First generation stories are so very interesting and unique and offer so much insight that we are not often privy to. We are all bettered when we listen to, and truly hear, them. Take a look at Ola's perspective, and see how it shifts yours.

—The VProud Team

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By Ola Abayomi for VProud

How does one come to embrace the very thing that makes them unique, when all they want to be is like everyone else?  At what point does one desire to be the one that stands out? For some, it comes later in life.  For others, they are as they say, “born with it.” I am a member of the former group.

As time goes on I’ve become more aware and appreciative of the experiences that make me different from some of my peers; of the unique experiences that led me to become the person I am even though when I was younger, I just wanted to be like everyone else. To describe this feeling let me tell you a story:

Sitting Indian style on a pale pink carpet surrounded by my suburban peers, I anxiously await an all too familiar greeting from the teacher as she glances down at the very first name on her attendance list. 

“I just want to apologize in advance if I butcher your name,” she says as she smiles just enough to know that she really means it.

“O… Olat…Olateeweewa?”  My ears cringing at her attempt to say my name I pierce my hand through the air to confirm I am present and to please stop trying to pronounce my name.

“I just go by Ola.”  And this little dance happened every first day of school for my entire adolescence. For years and years I wished I had a name like Sam or even Chloe – something that rolled off the tongue a bit easier than Olatilewa Olufunke Abayomi (and incase you are wondering, my name is 24 letters).

My name was a source of much insecurity. I grew up first generation Nigerian-American.  Born in Boston, my younger self identified more American than Nigerian even though I spent summers, holidays, and more in Lagos at my grandparent’s house. The fact that I identified more closely to America might have been the source of some struggles that any other first generation child can probably understand. My parent’s upbringing was very different than the one I experienced in Bethesda, Maryland, which led to different points of views on the common trials and tribulations of adolescence.

That all said – I’m not sure when I came to embrace my individuality; when I learned to appreciate my experience growing up in a Nigerian household combined with a free spirit; when I was ok with being the one and only Ola.  At some point I learned that ignoring part of yourself is to not really be yourself and not being yourself is simply exhausting.

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About the author: Ola Abayomi is the Nigerian-American founder of Dual Citizen (2014). Growing up, Ola would spend summers in Nigeria and it was during these visits that she discovered the talent of local designers. Year after year, Ola would return to the US with accessories, clothing and other items that were unique yet fit seamlessly into her style. She describes Dual Citizen as “a store that started unintentionally. Through travel, I realized there is so much more than what most are exposed to. That realization combined with living in New York City was really the catalyst in creating this platform that aims to show that great style is great style, and it can come from anywhere." Dual Citizen at the surface is a globally inspired boutique, but on a deeper level, it is a celebration and reflection of what can happen when different cultures, ideas, and stories are shared. Join Ola's honest conversations on VProud.

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