What a Nigerian-American's struggle at the lunch table tells us about diversity.

​​This story was originally published on The Mash-Up Americans.

“When you are in this house, you are in Nigeria; when you are outside of these doors, you are in the USA.”

This was a common refrain from my dad. He and my mom immigrated to the U.S. from Lagos in the '80s to finish university. I was the first in my family to be born in the U.S. — but I lived in an alternate Nigerian-American reality. As a child of Nigerian immigrants growing up in Chicago, code-switching was an art form.


It was particularly tough when it came to school. In a Nigerian household, education is everything. Religion and education are the panacea for all problems. There was no challenge that a Holy book, or a math book, couldn’t solve. School in Nigeria isn’t about making friends or varsity sports or prom queens. It is about putting your head down and studying. The overarching theme is: Work now, play later. By labor comes wealth.

Boyede Sobitan in his happy place. Image via The Mash-Up Americans.

In American schools, fitting in and making friends is of utmost importance. As an African kid in the Midwest with foreign parents — suffice to say that Hollywood did not help me meet those goals.

I love Eddie Murphy, but the movie “Coming to America,” was the worst thing that could have happened to many African immigrants in the '80s and '90s. The accents. The outfits. Everything was terrible, and everybody I met at school thought that’s what my family was like too. Did we have animals walking around our house? The never-ending jokes about what things were like in “Zamunda!” Then there were those awful Christian Children’s Fund ads with the starving African children and constant images of Africa as a place of strife and famine.

Being African was not cool.

Image via iStock.

Food was always a solace, at least at home. But not at school. Try explaining an African meal to an American child in the '80s.

While other kids were eating bologna sandwiches, Fruit Roll-Ups, and Capri Sun, I was eating white rice, egusi stew, and stewed goat meat, my favorite.

To me, it was food. Not only was it food, it was great food. I never noticed the difference in smell between my meals and the other kids’ meals. I thought African food was downright fragrant. In Nigeria, food from home is always the best. But to my American counterparts, it was pungent and offensive, which led to a lot of isolation.

“That’s monkey food, “ or “Is that was what they eat in Africa?” were common retorts. The immense level of shame I felt didn’t go unnoticed at home — where, of course, we were Nigerian through and through.

“Why are you not eating?” my mom would often ask.

“I want some pizza, Ma.”

My mother’s response? To look at me incredulously and snap: “Pizza ko, lasagna ni!” In other words, “You don’t want pizza. You want lasagna!” followed by a hiss. This is a common comeback for many Yoruba people. My mom’s stance was: “If you don’t eat this rice, you won’t eat.” Meals quickly transformed from my favorite time of day to a nightmare.

After a few years, though, the ice began to thaw between me and my classmates — or the jollof began to bridge the gap, as the case may be.

Image via iStock.

Thanksgiving played a huge part in this. It celebrates common values that both Americans and Africans hold dear — faith, family, and food. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. We’ve adopted the traditional turkey. But we have included sides like Nigerian salad, moi-moi, jollof rice, fried rice (not the Asian form), and dodo, or fried plantain.

Finally, my two cultures began to merge.

I loved when my “American” friends came over, and I could articulate what we were eating and its significance to my culture. At home, I was in a safe place. My friends were on my territory. I didn’t have to go to the corner to enjoy my food. I could eat my fried goat meat with stuffing or jollof rice with a turkey drumstick. It was, truly, my American dream.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

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Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

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Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

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Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

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Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

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L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

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Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

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Of the millions of Americans breathing a sigh of relief with the ushering in of a new president, one man has a particularly personal and professional reason to exhale.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent a good portion of his long, respected career preparing for a pandemic, and unfortunately, the worst one in 100 years hit under the worst possible administration. As part of Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Fauci did what he could to advise the president and share information with the public, but it's been clear for months that the job was made infinitely more difficult than it should have been by anti-science forces within the administration.

To his credit, Dr. Fauci remained politically neutral through it all this past year, totally in keeping with his consistently non-partisan, apolitical approach to his job. Even when the president badmouthed him, blocked him from testifying before the House, and kept him away from press briefings, Fauci took the high road, always keeping his commentary focused on the virus and refusing to step into the political fray.

But that doesn't mean working under those conditions wasn't occasionally insulting, frequently embarrassing, and endlessly frustrating.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.