Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Enitan "Enni" Aigbomian, March 25, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:29 - Childhood in Nigeria

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Partial Transcript: Okay. Hello, uh, my name is Brady Day.

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian talks about her early childhood living in Lagos, Nigeria. She reflects on her time living in a dictatorship nation at such a young age and not even realizing it. She reflects on not being able to go out at night and being in a constant state of fear and not knowing why. She also has fond memories of climbing guava trees. Aigbomian shares that her parents were separated and that she lived with her mom, but once her mom moved to America in 1999, she lived with her aunt for a year and then moved in with her father in 2000. Her mother was a pharmacist in Nigeria and her father was in the Nigerian Air Force. Her father also worked a lot with education and opened up a school for kids dealing with poverty.

Keywords: Divorce; Ibadan; Kaduna; Lagos, Nigeria; Nigerian National Air Force; Poverty

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria); Occupations

GPS: Capital building in Lagos, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 6.563831, 3.367119
00:05:21 - Childhood surrounded by poverty

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Partial Transcript: So how do you think, um, going school with those kids of different backgrounds, how has that kind of affected your childhood and maybe today or just like your overall development?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian explains how going to school with kids in poverty affects who she is today. Aigbomian has always been surrounded with kids of different backgrounds because of her constant moving around Nigeria. Aigbomian explains her father’s difficult childhood as one of nine children and how that inspired him to open up a school for poverty stricken children. Aigbomian then talks about how her father’s work inspired her to help people in need.

Keywords: "Street kids"; Creole; Edo State; Military; Nigeria; Pidgin English; Poverty; Proper English

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria); Occupations; Poverty

00:07:14 - Family traditions in Nigeria and lack of traditions in America

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Partial Transcript: So what family traditions did you have back in Nigeria?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian explains how different the traditions are in Nigeria compared to traditions in America. Aigbomian describes the importance of Christmas and Easter in Nigeria, celebrations which include parades and weddings. She recalls Nigerian weddings as very fun and celebratory and even the funerals are a celebration of the person’s life. Aigbomian also talks about how as she got older and started living in America, she started to feel more autonomy and she did not want to deal with every Nigerian tradition because of how many Nigerian traditions there are.

Keywords: Celebratory; Christmas; Diaspora; Easter; Funerals; Nigerian weddings; Spray dance; Spraying money

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria)

00:11:22 - Description of her family / Motivation to immigrate

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Partial Transcript: Um, do you have any family in Nigeria or America or are they all here or are they all in Nigeria?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian has three siblings. She and her two sisters live in the United States with her mother, while her brother lives in Nigeria with her father. Aigbomian keeps in touch with her brother, father, and all her cousins in Nigeria. Aigbomian also describes the deciding factor that led she and her sisters to America. Aigbomian's mother’s siblings already lived in the United States, so she moved in 1999 to make a new start, with Aigbomian joining her in 2002. Aigbomian remembers being very excited about going to America to reunite with her mother. She thought of America as a magical place where there were no hardships or problems. Aigbomian was so excited that she left all her Naira (currency) in Nigeria because she did not care about it anymore.

Keywords: Chain migration; Divorce; Hardships; London (England); London, England; Naira; Nigeria; Nigerian Air Force

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria)

00:15:08 - Initial hopes about America / Leaving behind family and friends / Preparation for moving

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Partial Transcript: So what were your initial hopes when coming to America?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian was very excited about seeing her mother in America, who she had been apart from for three years; all she wanted to do was see and talk to her in person. She also looked forward to seeing snow. Aigbomian does not really remember what she left behind, as she was only eight years old, although she left behind her dad's side of the family. Aigbomian also does not really remember packing and getting ready for America. She remembers packing the scary Baby Alive doll that she loved so much.

Keywords: Baby Alive dolls; Esmerelda doll; Impressions of America; Snow

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria)

00:18:23 - Memories from her first day in America

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Partial Transcript: So you talked about coming in 1999, do you remember like, either like--

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian arrived in July, 2002 at the John F. Kennedy Airport. She explains how awesome it was to see her mother in America after 3 years of not seeing her. They drove to Jamaica, Queens, where her mother was already living. She felt excited to see the environment, and specifically remembers seeing a KFC restaurant. Aigbomian talks about how every single thing that she saw stood out to her because of the big difference between New York City and Lagos, Nigeria. Aigbomian was surprised by the cable television running at all times and different types of food, like broccoli, that she did not initially like, and the large variety of cereals. The only thing that did not meet her expectations was the place where her mom and family were going to live, which was not the house with the white picket fence like she imagined from the "Home Alone" movie.

Keywords: Broccoli; Expectations; Home Alone (Motion picture); Jamaica, Queens (N.Y.); John F. Kennedy Airport; Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria); New York (N.Y.)

GPS: John F. Kennedy Airport
Map Coordinates: 40.641287, -73.778171
00:21:42 - Perception of America / Transforming from British to American English

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Partial Transcript: So how was like your perspective of America shaped when you were in Nigeria?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian's perceptions of America were shaped by movies and soap operas, including "Home Alone." She envisioned a big house, big white fence, big yard, and big kitchen in her new home in America. Instead, her mom was living in the basement of her friend’s house and she was a little disappointed, but it did not matter because they had cable. Aigbomian and her family moved to Philadelphia in November or December of 2002. New York was Aigbomian's first introduction to America and it scared her at first. The school she went to was big, dark, and very structured. Because children start school earlier in Nigeria, the school made her repeat fourth grade, as she was younger than her classmates. Aigbomian spoke Pidgin English as well as British English from growing up in Nigeria, but had no introduction to American English. She views her British English as a “curse” as she had to re-learn American ways of saying and spelling things.

Keywords: "Street English"; American culture; American movies; American soap operas; American system of education; Americanization; British colony; Creole; Education systems; Friends; Haiti; Home Alone (Motion picture); Language acquisition; New York; Philadelphia (Pa.); Pidgin English; Proper English; Vernacular English

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria); New York (N.Y.)

00:28:02 - Reason for moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / Time in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania

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Partial Transcript: What made you, uh, come to Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian recalls that her mother wanted to relocate to Pennsylvania because she was a single mom raising 3 kids in New York, and heard it would be safer and less expensive in Pennsylvania. Aigbomian did not have a good start in Cheltenham when on the first day of school she had to take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), a standardized test. After doing very poorly on the exams, Aigbomian had to take all remedial courses. This confused her and made the transition to American culture more difficult.

Keywords: Abington Township (Pa.); Abington Township, Pennsylvania; CVS Pharmacy; Cheltenham Township (Pa.); Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania; New York City (N.Y.); New York City, New York; Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA); Rite Aid Pharmacy

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; New York (N.Y.)

GPS: Cheltenham Elementary School
Map Coordinates: 40.059912, -75.107753
00:31:02 - Education in Nigeria, Queens, and suburban Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: So yeah, um, (??) how would you compare kind of your schooling in Nigeria to your schooling in America?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian explains how she was a really great student when she was younger in Nigeria, but after moving to America she struggled a lot. Aigbomian says she was always confused but did not know she was confused at the time and just felt she should have known everything. Aigbomian describes schooling in Jamaica, Queens as not very diverse and not making many friends. It was in Cheltenham where Aigbomian made more friends but also learned about the concept of being Black, which was not a concept in Nigeria, as identity was based on tribe. Because she was Black and knew how to speak English, everything was introduced forcefully and understood immediately.

Keywords: Black Americans; Cheltenham Township (Pa.); Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania; Education; Esan Tribe; Jamaica, Queens (N.Y.); Nigeria; Race; Suburbs

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Lagos (Nigeria); New York (N.Y.)

GPS: Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 40.082251, -75.127780
00:34:01 - Learning racial pressure / Assimilating into American culture / What is wrong with Philadelphia / Life in Abington

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Partial Transcript: So you kind of talked about, um, that racial pressure put on you when you first came to America, um, and not knowing about it even in Nigeria.

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian describes the first time when she was exposed to the American racial pressure, when another girl told her she was “Black” and Aigbomian understood that was a negative connotation. Aigbomian was slowly assimilated to Black American culture when she was told that she could not have a crush on a boy because he was White. Aigbomian tried hard to try to get rid of her Nigerian accent and sound more American. She did not like living in the suburbs of Cheltenham or Abington (where she moved in 2005) as much as being in a city.

Keywords: Abington Township (Pa.); Abington Township, Pennsylvania; Americanization; Black Americans; Cheltenham Township (Pa.); Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania; Diversity; New York (N.Y.); Old York Road

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Race relations; Racism

00:38:12 - "Home Alone" style of house / Middle & high school in America / American and Nigerian identities as a child

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Partial Transcript: Um, in Abington did you--because you talked about that "American Dream" kind of--

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian was initially very excited to live in a house in Abington because her mother bought a house and the children had their own rooms. Aigbomian started to perform better academically in sixth grade, but was confused in seventh grade when they were split into different schools based on neighborhoods. She also struggled to figure out what it meant to be Black in America in addition to having a more protective immigrant mother. Aigbomian did not like explaining her Nigerian heritage to her new friends. As Aigbomian got through middle and high school, she defiantly thought of herself as more American rather than Nigerian so that she could try to fit in with her friends.

Keywords: "African Booty Scratcher"; Abington High School; Abington Township (Pa.); Abington Township, Pennsylvania; American culture; American dream; Americanization; Assimilation; Black Americans; Home Alone (Motion picture); Immigrant mothers

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Race relations; Racism

GPS: Abington High School
Map Coordinates: 40.112147, -75.131455
00:41:59 - Higher education at George Washington University and Temple University and work in Latin America

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Partial Transcript: So, you said you went to graduate school at Temple, right?

Segment Synopsis: After graduating from Abington High School, Aigbomian attended George Washington University and she really enjoyed making new Nigerian friends in Washington, D.C. Aigbomian started to fully identify as a Nigerian rather than American and she was proud of her heritage. She studied economics and journalism then moved to Latin America to work with a nonprofit studying journalism in Bolivia. She began to understand the kind of international development work her father did for U.S.A.I.D., which she did not understand as a child. She wanted to work in Colombia since there were Black people there who looked Nigerian to her. After Bolivia, she began to study at Temple University in a graduate program where she studied developmental social change.

Keywords: Americanization; Bolivia; Colombia; Economics; George Washington University; International Development; Journalism; Latin America; Minister of Culture; Nigerian; Syrian; Temple University; Thailand; United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.); Washington, D.C.

Subjects: College environment; College students--Social conditions; Education; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Universities and colleges.; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Map Coordinates: 38.899773, -77.048470
00:47:21 - Communication and social change work in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: So, like, for research I was given some information about you...

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian currently works in communications work for social change. Aigbomian has worked with indigenous communities and Afro communities in Latin America. Aigbomian is currently working with Philadelphia's literacy campaign, “Read by 4th” to help grade school kids reach the 4th grade reading level by 4th grade. She reflects on the success of the literacy program, but cannot currently predict its impact, although she views education as empowering.

Keywords: Afro communities; Communications; Free Library of Philadelphia; Indigenous communities; Latin America; Literacy; Philly's Literacy Campaign; Social change; “Read By 4th” (Philadelphia’s literacy campaign)

Subjects: Childhood; Community; Education; Immigrants

00:50:19 - Hobbies / Reflections on her Nigerian and American identities

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Partial Transcript: So with all the work you're doing, do you have any other like hobbies or activities that you, uh, do now?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian enjoys writing, traveling, being in the city, dancing, and hanging out with friends. She now has a difficult time identifying as fully Nigerian or fully American. She recalls recently visiting Nigeria with her mother, and quickly switching into Pidgin English to communicate, yet there she felt very American. While in Philadelphia she sometimes feels more Nigerian, and now chooses Nigerian ways of interacting with people rather than the “rude” way that Americans interact. Being a woman in America is very empowering and she can see herself thrusting herself in the front seat when it comes to social issues.

Keywords: Americanization; Assimilation; Code switching; Dancing; Empowerment; Nigeria; Pidgin English; Traveling; Writing

Subjects: Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:54:40 - Life in Cedar Park, West Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, so, um, where do you live now?

Segment Synopsis: Aigbomian currently lives in the Cedar Park neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Aigbomian really likes West Philadelphia because of the community and how friendly everyone is. Although she did not like suburban Philadelphia as a child, she now loves living in Philadelphia as an adult and appreciates its diversity and community feel and affordability. She likes the flexibility of Philadelphia and feels like people can make their own community there. In Cedar Park, gentrification has forced some Black residents further west.

Keywords: American culture; Cedar Park (Philadelphia neighborhood); Collectiveness; Gentrification; Latin American culture; Liberians; Nigerian culture; Upper Darby (Pa.); Upper Darby, Pennsylvania; West Philadelphia (Pa.)

Subjects: Childhood; Community; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Race relations

GPS: Cedar Park, Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.949491, -75.218987
00:59:56 - Looking ahead 10 years

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Partial Transcript: So, where do you want to be in 10 years?

Segment Synopsis: In 10 years, when Aigbomian is 35, she hopes to have kids and be married. She hopes to be living outside of the United States to give her kids a global experience. She would like to work in Nigeria or in Latin America. She reflects on the diversity among humans and hopes that her children can appreciate that one day.

Keywords: Children; Diversity; Future; Global citizens; Nigeria; Philadelphia (Pa.)

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants