by Chisimdi, Nigeria/NC, Age 17
It was a Monday morning, the start of a new school year and students were settling into their classrooms, faces eager to learn or just to converse with all their classmates, some old, some new. In their minds, this was the day where they could make the friendships and bonds that would last them a lifetime or maybe just for the rest of the school year because, no one wants to spend the rest of the year as a loner.
Class had already begun and the teacher at the moment was calling roll, making sure that everyone was at school, in the right class, sitting in the right seat. It was the first day for me at this school. I looked around the classroom, starting from back, all the way to the front where my teacher stood. Everything about the classroom screamed, “small town.” Most students had been in the same grades together so everyone knew each other. Others, from what I could tell by the lack of people sitting around them, stood out as being the new students, including me. The teacher and all of the original students didn’t wear the latest fashions, but the type of clothes that suited them—pleated skirts, small sweaters, and well pressed khakis. This was where I coined the term, “suburbia wear”. Most students were white with Southern accents and wore hairstyles that were recognized by the town. Everyone sounded like they were from the Deep South. I thought Raleigh, North Carolina was the deepest that one could get but I was proved wrong. Monroe, North Carolina surpassed Raleigh. Noticing all of this in only 30 minutes surprised me and made me feel uneasy. I could tell that my year was off to a bad start.
The teacher was still calling roll and I knew that she was getting closer… closer to my name and I was dreading it.
Then the teacher stopped talking. There was a moment of silence. I knew, and I think everyone knew that it was my name that would be called next since I stood out as one of the new students. This was the moment that everyone had been waiting for and I could sense it. I really hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t happen this way but I knew it was inevitable. My name and looks gave everything away. Just by one glance, anyone could tell that I did not have a common name, and that I was not common. But the thing that everyone didn’t know was that my name was not one of those generic names that usually people of my color had. It was unique, different, and beautiful. I just hoped that everyone could see that in my name. The teacher began to speak.
“Okay, now this is not a name that I usually come in contact with so I’m sorry to the student who has to hear me butcher it up.”
In my head, I thought, “This is a new reaction. I’ve never heard my name referenced to meat before…”
“Okay, so is it, Chrriiisssseemmmeeedee Onwaaateeekitaaahh??”
I raised my hand, as soon as I heard “my name.” I was mortified and I felt red all over, even though my skin color never gave my feelings away.
“No, Ms. Leslie, that’s not how you pronounce it,” I said quietly.
“Oh, this is your name?”
“Yes, it is. My first name is pronounced Chisimdee like Chi-Cindy with an ‘m’ instead of an ‘n’. My last name is pronounced Onwootee-kaa. But most of the time, I go by nickname, Simdi.”
“Wow! That is a mouthful! You’re going to help me with that throughout the year, okay? Can I ask, what’s the origin of your name? Does it mean anything?”
I gulped, taking in a deep breath.
“My parents are Nigerian and my father thought of it even though my mother wanted to name me Amanda. My name in our language means, God wants you to live.”
My teacher laughed and then smiled, exposing her bright, white teeth.
“Well, Simdi, I’m sorry to say this but the funny thing is, that I don’t see you as an ‘Amanda’. I think your dad was right in naming you Chisimdi. Your name suits you because I can tell already; you’re going to be great addition to the class."
Right at that moment, I felt my heart flutter a little from relief. Not only was my name being accepted, but also my culture and my personality too. Just then, I thought to myself, “Maybe, this year wasn’t going to be as terrible as I thought…”
Chisimdi on Life Between Cultures:
Being raised by my parents under Nigerian beliefs and traditions has had ups and downs but I honestly love the richness of my culture and I’m proud of it, whether or not others agree with every aspect of it. Most of the time, I consider myself more Nigerian, even though I was born in Santa Cruz, California. Just by being around family, especially my cousins, I connect and laugh with them over the typical life of an “African” family. Things like getting tired of eating the same food (gari/fufu with soup) or talking about how crazy African parents can get over the littlest details has allowed my family to relate with one another and also bond over the common traits that we have. And because of my experiences, my culture has become the most important thing to me and I don’t want to ever lose it. My background has inspired me to learn about others with various ethnic backgrounds and has also exposed me to new, exciting perspectives. Some people find it difficult to understand another person’s culture, but if they took the time to look past the differences, they would find that every single person in the world, possesses the same, universal feeling of love.
Photo courtesy of KorePhotos via Creative Commons