Living between my Nigerian and African-American identities

I shoved my research notebook in my desk drawer and slammed it closed.

I’d just completed my dissertation study. I should have been eager to sift through the pages, but that notebook was the last thing I wanted to see.

The year before, I’d traveled to Detroit to purchase it.

I barely recognized Woodward Avenue. No longer decorated with broken streetlights and vacant lots, it was now well-lit and laced with high-end stores, modern buildings, and farm-to-table restaurants. The media called it “an urban renewal,” but Detroit natives knew it was gentrification.

“I can get out here,” I told my…

This Is Us

Illustration: Niege Borges

i hate those stories

the ones
where women recall
how they once hated
the shade
of their deep dark skin

the same stories
that appear in
Oprah’s documentaries
and characterize
the dark-skinned women
across her network

whenever i hear them
i never understand
how ugly words
can form on the lips
of such beautiful women

i hate hearing them

because
they dig up
old memories
i buried

memories
of when
i wanted to
live outside
of my own skin

it wasn’t my choice
it was
the narrow
beauty perceptions
that are placed
on young Black girls

Black
African
booty
scratcher
girls like me

why you so dark…

Photographer: Tanya Shrivastava

the sun had set
long before
i boarded the train
for the first half
of my long commute
from Newark, NJ to Queens, NY

exhausted
fatigued

when i finally
entered my house,
i met my father,
sitting at the kitchen island
dipping his perfectly rounded
pounded yam
into a big bowl
of ogbono soup

he invited me to join him
i gracefully declined
okra isn’t my thing

like most evenings,
i lamented
about the
inevitable challenges
that accompany
the first year of teaching

i posed my infamous question —
the one i asked whenever
i’ve felt wronged:
why would they do…

Photographer: Jon DeBoer

poverty scares me

it always has

i remember
the first time
i met poverty

on the corner
of puritan avenue
and roselawn street
right outside
of my first
elementary school

i could
clearly see
poverty
from the
second floor
in Ms. Korn’s classroom

it loomed
over and inside
of the brick
liquor store
owned by
Lebanese men
who sold every
convenient item
imaginable

they’d smile at us
take our cash
or food stamps
and even speak
in our Detroit lingo

their hands never touched ours

we were
separated
by the thick
bulletproof glass
that they installed

a clear boundary that…

You’ve got a blank canvas,
that’s what they keep telling me

they smile when they say it
some of them even laugh

i mirror their smiles back at them

but they don’t know
that my mine is forced
my laughter is too

and my stomach
twists into knots
at the mere thought
of illustrating my own life

which colors shall i choose?
will they complement each other?
what if my brush strokes aren’t precise enough?

i’ve never designed my life

my old life
was a conglomeration
of artwork
from self-proclaimed illustrators
who meticulously drew images
that satisfied their desires

twisting
bending
restricting me
paralysis

so,
i smile when they tell me
that I have a blank canvas

i also fear

i found my voice

buried and hidden
in between
the crevices
of people’s desires.

unrecognizable at first,
i walked right past her.

she
called me,
compelled me,
demanded me
to finally stand still
and listen.

i dusted her off.

then she took me on a long walk
down a pothole-ridden street.
i cannot recall exactly where we were,
but the breeze resembled a Midwestern one.

she reminded me
of all the times that
i ignored her,
distrusted her,
and firmly pressed down
every sound that she struggled
to release from my mouth.

her temper rose…

she told me
that she was…

Illustration: Sacree Frangine

yesterday
my younger
cousin called me

we hadn’t spoken in 7 months

midway
through
our call,
she told me
she wants to
see herself
as beautiful

i understood her
but
i kept silent

because
some things
cannot be explained

some things
must
be
lived

and as we
live through them
we
fully grasp
deep truths
that entangle
themselves
with our DNA

if i were to
tell her anything,
i would have told her
that the beauty
for which she searches
cannot be found in any mirror
no matter how deeply she stares into it

nor can it be found in…

my mother
hates
when
i wear
all black

it should be reserved for those who mourn, she says

i fell
in love
with
black clothing
on the east coast

New York City

subway passengers
semi-patiently
waiting for trains
clothed in all black
exuding
quiet
unbothered
laser-sharp focus

Confidence

an aura
i’ve
always admired
but never knew
how to acquire

not until recently
so i’ve been wearing all black

last week
my mother jokingly asked,
Lakeya, are you mourning?

a response
came from my depths,
Yes, mommy. I am.

i went on to tell her —
i am mourning
the woman
who…

Photo Credit: Lakin Ogunbanwo

I’d barely taken off my coat before my grandmother walked into the living room and asked her infamous question: “Iyore, which day you go marry?”

She placed her hands on her hips and slowly moved her waist from left to right, singing , “Eh eh…I wan shake my ikebe.”

Iye, my grandmother, was ready to dance at my wedding — the same wedding that she’d been pestering me about since I graduated from undergrad ten years prior.

My stomach could no longer resist the food that awaited me in the refrigerator. I debated whether I would devour egusi soup with…

Lakeya Omogun

Storyteller & Ph.D. Candidate @ The University of Texas at Austin. Writing about society, culture, and identity. http://www.lakeyaomogun.com/

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