Every day I take note of the way I interact with world. I attend a private college in the American south just two hundred miles from where I grew up. I grew up in a suburban town outside Metro Atlanta. My family was one of the few black families in our neighborhood. My parents are Nigerian immigrants, which presented cultural differences between what I learned at home and what I learned by interacting with my classmates.
At a young age, I noticed little things like school lunches versus home-cooked meals. I did not eat Jollof rice at school – I ate green beans and pizza (school lunch was quite peculiar…). I went to an Igbo-speaking church in Atlanta. My siblings and I participated in Igbo cultural programs during the weekends – dance performances and celebrations. I was indeed convinced that everyone spoke Igbo on the weekends and helped their mother tie her ichafu [a head scarf typically worn with traditional West African garments].
At school, winning ‘Super Reader of the Week’ was an earnest goal of mine – and I succeeded week after week. Reading was my favorite pastime, I glided through book series about Junie B. Jones, a sassy kindergarten heroine, and Nancy Drew, a teenage heroine with keen detective skills. I touted myself as an Igbo-speaking detective, comedian and book maven.
I distinctly remember coming across the Royal Diaries series – a historical fiction series of diaries written from the point of view of real princesses from around the world. Nzingha became my favorite warrior-princess. In her life, she ruled as the Queen of Angola well-educated in diplomacy, trade, archery and Portuguese in the 15th century.
I wanted to embody Nzingha – and I still do.
I am still defining myself while noticing intersectional experiences as a woman, Nigerian-American and Black-American further complicated by nuances of culture. Books are still a part of my life – though perhaps now more challenging than Junie B. Jones.
I realize cultural differences spin beautiful, painful, funny or traumatic experiences – much like novels. Reading tests our imagination. And what we read helps us present ourselves in life from the way we treat others to how we challenge social norms.
Through a curated list of adult and children’s literature, I am sharing works that tell multi-faceted stories of Middle Eastern and North African characters. They are not simply representatives of war, conflict and terrorism – as such narrative in the Western hemisphere is not short in supply. They are canvases of life painted by strokes of humor, romance, mystery, fantasy and drama.
This is part one of a three-part series, stay tuned…
Nneka Mogbo is a first-generation Nigerian-American who grew up in Georgia.
She is an Intercultural Studies major with a business, Arabic and Francophone studies minor. Between classes, Nneka volunteers at a non-profit legal corporation that provides free legal assistance to low-income families in a wide variety of civil matters.
In 2019, Nneka will be studying French and Arabic in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
As a lover of dance, language, Afrobeat music and Sims 4 – she plans on creating an international entertainment platform and building a non-profit organization in Nigeria.