​​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.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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