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In Search Of Cultural Identity, Young Nigerians Unite In Central Valley

Aug 25, 2015

The Central Valley is home to diverse communities, some who’ve migrated from all over the world for decades. But for one group, it’s the beginning of the first generation of people born in the Valley. As FM89’s Diana Aguilera reports, with this comes the struggle of preserving a cultural identity while embracing growing up in the states.

At Danielle Uwaoma’s house in Clovis her living room is covered with traditional African drums and exotic masks.

“These are the two masks that we have. I don’t really know more about them but I know that each mask is significant to a specific spirit,” Uwaoma says.

She doesn’t know much about them because she grew up in America. The masks belong to her parents who were born and raised in Nigeria. They’re part of the Igbo community mostly from the southern part of the country.

Uwaoma came to the states when she was four-months-old. And as a teenager she wanted to fit in more with the American culture. But now things have changed.

“I wish I had grown up there so that I would learn more about my culture but I only know a little bit here and there about it.”

Out of fear of losing her connection to her family’s homeland Uwaoma and a dozen others created a group just for young Nigerian Igbos.

“On behalf of the Igbo youth association of Central California I welcome all of you to our first and historic event Igbo youth day,” Uwoama says.

Wearing a long black, red and yellow dress made out of Ankara, a popular African fabric she says a few words to the crowd. It’s the first event held by young Igbo teens living in the Central Valley.

"Our children are the only one that can truly carry on our heritage, our culture, our history." -Henry Oputa

“We just made it a point to make this youth event and group so we don’t lose that culture,” says David Amadi, one of the youth members. “We want to keep the culture and the identity that our parents had when they came to America.”

The group of 12 all wore colorful outfits made out of the African fabric. Standing in front of their peers and parents they performed a danced called Igbo Amaka which means Igbo is beautiful.

Danielle Uwaoma, 21, shows her family's mask bought in Nigeria. She says each mask represents different spirits.
Credit Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio

It’s estimated that around 300 Igbo families live in the Central Valley. Most of the parents that migrated to this area came within the last 15 to 40 years to pursue a higher education or for work.

Henry Oputa is one of them.

"I think it's particularly interesting that this is happening among a group of African descendant's young people because particularly in California, we don't often think about the immigrant story as being from the continent of Africa."

“Many of us have been in the central valley sharing our culture and heritage individually and collectively but this is the first time our children are expressing the same interest.”

He says it’s now up to the younger generation to continue their presence in the Valley.

“Our children are the only one that can truly carry on our heritage, our culture, our history,” he says.

The Igbo people are one of the largest single ethnic groups in Africa. And they’re one of the three major Nigerian tribes. Many of the older generation that settled in America lived through the Nigerian Civil War as children back in the late 1960s.

Shana Redmond, a USC ethnicity professor, says the idea of creating a youth group among Igbo teens helps expand the immigrant narrative.

“I think it’s particularly interesting that this is happening among a group of African descendant young people because particularly in California we don’t often think about the immigrant story as being from the continent of Africa.”

Danielle Uwaoma, 21, says during her high school years most people labeled her a certain way.

“Just by plain sight they’re just like ok you’re black,” she says. “They don’t really bother to be like “You’re Nigerian, that’s really cool. Can you tell me more about Nigeria and your culture?”

And that’s one of the reasons why she joined the youth group- so she could share stories with other young Nigerian Igbos. It’s a place where they can openly talk about their experiences as second generation immigrants. Including challenges some may face.

“Basically because were like second generation our parents are pushing us more for education and making sure you go all the way in whatever degree your pursuing,” Uwaoma says. “And then from there that’s when you can decide to have kids, get married, things of that nature.”

It’s been three months since they created the young Igbo group. They hope to host more events throughout the Central Valley and encourage more teens to join.