How Are The Children
By Kemi Seriki
How are the children- awọn ọmọ n’ko is a customary greeting among Yoruba. With such greeting, it shows that children’s wellbeing is highly acknowledged within the society. Such well-being is not only limited to physical health but comprises of many aspect of human health such as social connection with others and psychological welfare.
Even though Nigeria is culturally diverse with people of different ethnic groups who speak different languages, we still share some similarities in food, in beliefs and value system. In Nigeria, it takes a whole community of family, neighbors, friends, and educators to raise children. There is limited need to solicit for help when a family is facing crisis. Someone usually steps in, whether from immediate family or other members of the community. The thinking behind this indicates that children are the product of the community and everyone is connected.
The same collective voices that physically help raise the children also step in when there is need for emotional support and empowerment of the youth to reach their full potentials. No wonder Nigerian immigrant strife for high level of education attainment hoping to achieve that American dream. Even with challenges of institutional racism, discrimination, the challenges of navigating new world and the negative stigma of Africa continent, many African immigrants continue to move ahead in spite of these challenges.
Whatever strength we possessed through our upbringings that foster our determination to achieve American dream may not transpire to the first generation born in America. We may ask why it is difficult to provide the rich nurturing we received at our earlier stage of development to the first generation born in America. The answer is obvious to some of us as we know that America is a unique society with unique needs and unique challenges.
As immigrants in America, we may try to pass down the same value that is familiar to us thinking and hoping that our children would turn out to be as perfect as predicted. We want children be studious and follow the path of successful career such as doctor, lawyer, and engineer which is the most popular career we may believe leads to prosperous life. We make our dream, their dream without exploring their unique talent or giving them the liberty to find themselves. We are afraid of the values outside the norm or unfamiliar territory. We expect the children to achieve these expectations without taking into the consideration some of the challenges our children may be facing in the new adopted home.
Many times, the challenges our children may be facing may not be obvious to us because we may not see it as an issue worth addressing. When our children complain about their difficulties, we may say to them, “you don’t know what hardship is”. Then we start professing our past experience. “when I was back home in Nigeria, I walked three miles to school daily, before going to school I have to go to the stream to fetch water for household use, I have to wash clothes with my hand, I have to clean dishes, cook for the family, care for my younger sibling, grind paper with mortar etc.” Yes, we may have done all these chores in a society that share common upbringings. Of cause, our children do not have to do all these chores because of accessibility of things in developed world.
African immigrant parent must realize that we have something back home when growing up that is not accessible to our children growing up in America. What was accessible to us growing up was the community of strong family bonding from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors. There was no scarcity of encouraging words whether through prayer or praises through songs and family poetry.
For the Yoruba people who may be reading this article, I want to touch on the word Oriki. And for those who do not understand the word and its purpose, “Oriki is a kind of Yoruba literary genre used to inspire people. It is usually in the form of poetry, consisting of songs of praise”. Oriki is past down from generation to generation and it is learn, memorize, and elders chant the Oriki of individuals and families. Growing up in Nigeria, many of us are endowed with the chant on regular basis. These chants not only remind us our heritage but lifted us spiritually and emotionally. Our children do not have such advantage. We live in secluded community in America where there is hardly anyone to provide such support. Even better, I am yet to come across a Yoruba parent in America who chants Oriki on their children. If there is such parent, do the children understand the meaning of the chant? Many of us are guilty of failure to speak and teach our children the native language. We perfected the children with European language then turn around and blame them for not embracing the culture.
For many African immigrant parents, we may believe that nurturing our children only includes providing financial support and emotional support we may fit worth addressing. We may not understand the social challenges and other emotional challenges our children may be facing. The trials and tribulations starting from elementary school to adulthood may not be visible to us. From being bullied at school to gang violence and peer pressure to racism and police brutality to institutional racism, we are not exempt from the same dilemma face by many other immigrants or minority communities in America. And even if we aware of these encounters, are we equipped with adequate knowledge and understanding to navigate through these challenges alone.
America is diverse in culture, religion and value system. Even though American society comprises of population of people from diverse background with different ethnic groups and different cultural values, American culture supersedes any other sub-culture. American culture in one way or the other alters traditional norms familiar to immigrant’s way of life. Your way of life is shift to adapt to the mainstream or dominant culture.
American culture may also link to the law of the nation which also supersedes individual beliefs system, cultural value or religious background and most importantly everyone must abide law of the land. For example in our homeland, physical disciple of children is part of norm but in American, it is against the law. When the children are not doing the right thing, we sometimes commented, “You want to be like your American friends” forgetting that these children are Americans living in America. In America, there is civil right for all individual to receive equal treatment no matter age, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, religion, or other characteristics.
The challenges faced by this focus group (parents and children) may be similar in many aspect but not always the same. Talking to some of our young adult in the past, they have expressed their interest in discussing many issues they face growing up in America as children of African immigrants and the challenges of being black in America. We need to bring this discussion to open forum in our community. We have to understand that everyone is struggling with something. Once one person acknowledges the struggle openly, it gives the other people safe space to acknowledge what they may be going through and understand that they are not alone in the struggle. That in itself is empowering. The time has come to reexamine our approach in child nurturing. As parents, sometimes we need to just sit down and listen to our children. Instead of lecturing our children as we regularly do, maybe we should just listen. We may learn something from them.
Below is a passage from Richard Weissbourd article on New Republic Magazine published on February 25th 2002 titled Why Do Immigrant Children Struggle More Than Their Parents Did?
“The more mature children are, the less likely they are to be negatively influenced by their peers. Mature children have a steady internal compass—a self that exists outside the particular impulses of their peers. And psychologists generally agree that the broad foundations of childrens’ maturity come from their parents. Children need caretakers who communicate hope about their future; transmit important social and moral expectations; regularly listen to and understand them; and reflect back their understanding. Just as important is being esteemed by a caretaker who a child, in turn, respects and esteems. The psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut argues that, in adolescence especially, children mature by receiving the ongoing attention of adults who are not only esteemed but idealized.”
Some of probable challenges facing our children