Meet ib, writer and student at Purchase College, who opens up about her identity and her journey of embracing her Nigerian culture.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I struggle to tell people who I am, to find the right language that can get my meanings known across in a way that honors me, mostly because there are so many identifiers attached to my being: queer, femme, Muslim, D.A.C.A student, immigrant, Nigerian. I sway between feeling strangled by these labels and being anchored to my communities, myself and my purpose through them. I’m currently pursuing my B.A. at Purchase College and whenever I think about everything I’ve been through to be here the tiny brain inside my actual brain explodes. So much of who I am today is due to the rough and tender working of the communities that I’m part of. Because of my tribe called community I’ve been giving the opportunities that allow me to describe myself as a full-time revolution and part time connoisseur of loose-leaf teas who mostly writes about dissonance in identity, palm oil and how womxn discovers her body. This past summer I worked as an intern with @mamacaxx and got an Editorial Fellowship with The Seventh Wave magazine, both remarkably different in how they demanded me to show up but so similar in what they’ve taught me about what it really means to be about what you shout. My hobbies include writing love letters to strangers, painting in lipstick, reading too many books at one time and talking to herself in an intentional move to know myself better than any BuzzFeed quiz ever will. I am hungry for words that have yet to be written and worry people are saying her name wrong, mostly because I say my name wrong.
2. What aspect of your culture are you most proud of and why?
As much as I struggle to feel at home in my own name I love how names within my culture tell so much about a person; what tribe they belong to -some names are Yoruba, some names are Igbo, some are Ibani and so on and so forth. Our names tell the story of our history, family, faith, etc. Ibiene means “the beautiful day” and while I don’t believe that a name maketh a person, my name has always the frame through which I have sketched myself into being. One of my Uncles makes a joke that in Bonny, where we’re from in Nigeria, the people lack imagination because the same names have been in circulation for generations. My nickname is ib (eye-bee) and there about like 30 other women in my family with that nickname; our first names aren’t the same but the nickname derived from them is the same and it tends to cause a lot of confusion at gatherings. So much so that we’ve had to start differentiating which ib is which, I’m Baby ib, there’s London ib, Canada ib, etc. But even with that, and even with not feeling at home in my own name, I love knowing that my name calls more than just me into a space. It calls my mother into the space because I was named for her, it calls all the women in our family who have worn that name or wear it now. It brings an army with me wherever I go, I am never alone because the women in my family who built our name to the grace it holds are always with me.
3. How do you embrace, celebrate, and reclaim it?
I’ve had to learn to stop being so critical of my own people, I couldn’t embrace, celebrate or reclaim anything for a while because I was judging them through the lens of my American upbringing. I was an immigrant disconnected from herself and therefore unable to make any connections with the root of herself: her culture. It wasn’t until I learned to just let my dad’s accent be, to let my aunt’s misnomers go and the fact that I said my own name wrong sometimes go that I was fully able to be proud of my culture. It was easy to embrace when I realized that my culture is a culture of storytelling, and that is so deeply evident in our names, in our languages, in everything. So much of what I want to do with my work and my life is rooted in paying homage to my culture, to our stories, to our names. I reclaim it in my writing, all my stories come from my culture; my voice was stitched out of the thread work of my culture. Our names bind us to each other even when we are displaced, even when we do not know who we are; our names speak.
4. When did you learn to value this part of culture and why?
-So this actually happened very recently; I was recording a bit for a friends documentary and one of the questions I was responding to was about insecurities. As I read the question and began to answer it without much forethought I realized that I felt insecure about my culture, about the intimacy and knowledge I shared of it. While I am a born and bred Nigerian, I immigrated at the tender age of eight and so much of who I am today is due to an American upbringing. But as American as I am, I still have my name. I still have the people it ties me to, the family it’s given me, the stories, the truth. The culture. So many people don’t have anything to go on about from which people or from where they come from and my name gives me that anchor, it gives me that privilege and I am so grateful to have that. Names in my culture are like the 3rd world, bootleg version of ancestry.com and 23&me, they tell the story of a lineage, a lineage I represent in these modern times and while it can sometimes be a lot of pressure, I also see it as a remarkably beautiful thing.