‘I am a Citizen of the World, and my Nationality is Goodwill’ Socrates
My name is Aderonke…try pronouncing that…A-DE-RON-KE. ‘A’ as in Apple, ‘De’ as in Day, ‘Ron’ as Ronnie and ‘Ke’ as in Ken without the ‘n’…. Hahaha…what a mouthful! Aderonke! Meaning ‘Pampered by the crown’, ‘pampered by the King’! This is the middle name my parents gave me at birth.
So a little story about me. I was born in Birmingham, UK to Nigerian parents. I lived in England during my formative years, mostly Elementary school, and was fostered to a white family for a few years. An interesting experience! While I was enjoying the loveliness of life in good old England, my parents decided it was time to ‘ship’ my sibling and I back to Nigeria. We all left for Nigeria on what I call a cruise — a beautiful long journey by a cruise ship. A pleasant and memorable experience. That is, until I found myself in Nigeria, which is a story for another write-up. Years later, I moved back to live in the UK, met my life partner who turned out to have a similar background as mine, and we started a family. Just over 14 years ago, I moved to America with my family via an opportunity with corporate America, to start a new life, and proudly became an American citizen. Basically, I have ties to three nationalities, British, Nigerian, American. Isn’t that fantastic? Or not?
I should be over the moon that I can lay claim to three continents…hurray! But I find myself belonging everywhere but nowhere; feeling surrounded but alone; feeling like a redwood tree with no firm roots. Just a feeling of nothingness at times. Having no firm roots anywhere but claiming to be from everywhere.
I get asked the question more than often: ‘Where are you from?’. This question throws me all the time! They are not explicitly asking for my nationality, heritage, or race. Nor do they need a long story. They are simply asking, ‘where are you from’? In my little head, I am thinking. Are they asking about my heritage, my nationality, my origins or where I live? Hmm….
A regular everyday American will confidently and simply respond with a one-word answer, ‘Smithtown’, ‘Roslyn’, ‘Islip’, but for people like me, it becomes tricky. Do I say I am from Long Island, which has been my home for the past 15 years? Do I say I am from the UK, where I was born and which I consider home as I spent most of my growing up years out there? Or do I say Nigerian, which is more plausible but is also my weakest link? What do I say? Anglo-American? That will be a nationality response I guess but even so, I am black. A black Anglo American? Laughing at the thought! That’s a good one though. It will make a good conversation starter.
When I speak, people think I am from Guyana or Trinidad due to my mixed Nigerian and British accent sprinkled with an assortment of American talk. I tend to correct them saying I am Nigerian but then again, I don’t live in Nigeria or have such a connection. I feel sad for people like myself who do not have a solid foothold in any country. I belong to everywhere but nowhere. I envy some of my American friends whose families have lived in the same town for generations or have generational ownership to a piece of land or property. They have a strong foothold.
I am sure there are thousands of others like me that get thrown or sometimes are irritated, when asked the question. I have a friend who is American but born to a white American dad and South Korean mom. She has absolutely no ties to Korea except for her mom who made America her sole home many years ago. On one of our social outings, we got into a conversation with a seemingly well-mannered guy. All was going super well until he asked the dreaded question, ‘where are you from’? In complete innocence, my friend responded, ‘Queens’. He didn’t stop there. He asked, ‘Queens, where’? To which she replied, ‘Queens, NY’, and with a smile, added ‘just 30 mins drive from here’. He still didn’t stop. He retorted, ‘Oh, I don’t mean where you live, I mean where you are really from? China? Vietnam? Japan? I know you like to say you are from Queens, and believe me I always like to say I am from Scarsdale but I only went to school there …..so where are you really from’? My girlfriend calmly responded, ‘I am from Queens, New York’!
It’s a tough call for immigrants, especially immigrants who have an accent like me. For instance, I met a 50-something-year old lady on a recent trip to Madrid, Spain. We hung together for a couple of days. She had a strong Irish accent. When people asked where she was from, she went into a monologue of how she has been living in New York for 27 years, but she originally is from Dublin. However, she considers New York her home…. I kind of felt sorry for her as she had to say this repeatedly, especially to groups of Americans we met along the way. Poor woman! She was so much an American in body, soul and spirit but there was no way she could totally and proudly say she is American. She always got taken back to her origins.
I have come to realize that my response can be different depending on who I am speaking with and where. If I start a chat with someone I run into at my local library and we are discussing the insurmountable number of road works going on, and I am asked where I am from? I wouldn’t say Nigeria or the UK, I would proudly Medford (Long Island). If I am on a foreign trip and I get asked this same question, I would say American. If I am in a diversity conference and the question comes up, I would say, Nigerian. However, if I am interviewing for a much desired job and I surprisingly get asked this question by some smart interviewer who has not read the HR rule book, then I see myself doing exactly what my Irish-American friend did….going into this long tale of where I was born, and how I get to claim I am American. How absurd!
I have been searching for the one-word term to describe myself which will sort of throw the other person off balance and spike their curiosity. I have heard of multi-ethnic or bi-national, in my case tri-national. I also coined the term, BriNiAm, British-Nigerian-American, although it may sound nonsensical to most.
All said and done, I choose to be Planet-neutral. I choose to be world-friendly, a hybrid of different nations bundled into one beautiful body. A global ambassador of the multicultural human. I am still searching for the most apt terminology, so open to suggestions. Until, I find the right terminology to describe my planet neutrality posture, whenever I get the same old question of ‘where are you from’? With a big whimsical smile on my face, I will confidently respond, I am from Medford, New York. And where are you from?
Trish Odusami is an executive coach and transformational leader specializing in guiding career women in becoming highly successful in their careers; becoming visible leaders, and achieving their full potential. With a background in technology project management and relationship management she’s delivered multimillion dollar projects for Fortune 500 companies and now also leverages her experience to mentor project and program managers today.