Touching On: Being A 2nd Generation Immigrant.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted my contribution to the UK's Black History Month to be about. I considered talking about black women in architecture but given my current situation, the thought of constantly having to think about anything remotely architecture related feels a little draining so I'm actively trying to avoid it. I also considered maybe putting together a post on some brilliant black UK based content creators as it sometimes feels as if we don't exist, but Kristabel did an extraordinary job of doing so (complete with blurbs so do check it out!). So I ended up coming back to gather some loose paragraphs I have had floating around in old notebooks, in the drafts section of this blog and indeed memories from conversations I've had with friends who are, for the most part, second-generation immigrants. 


My parents came to The UK as young adults from Nigeria. Fresh-faced youths who left the fragrant warmth and the hustle and bustle of Lagos to study and pursue a better life. They studied, earned their respective degrees, found jobs, got married, moved houses, had me, moved houses again, had my sister and moved houses again to where we currently reside, a quiet leafy neighborhood in Zone 6 filled with a mixture of young professionals and retirees. My story begins in Cricklewood though, about 30 minutes drive from where we currently reside. I was born and raised in North West London to a Mr. and Mrs. Akinsanya, where I grew up, and went to school. At around eleven years old (i think), my Parents did the one thing most overseas based Nigerian parents do... They sent me to Lagos to continue my primary and secondary school education, living with my extended family in a bid for me to understand my culture better and to get a solid understanding of the two very different worlds in which I straddled as a British Born Nigerian. I enjoyed those three years, running around my grandmothers compound chasing agama lizards with an 'igbalé' and fighting with my cousins as to who got the sweetest plumpest mangoes from my grandmother's trees, but it wasn't all perfect. For one my eleven-year-old brain struggled to compartmentalize the other varied and rich languages that Nigeria holds, I never did end up understanding a single word of Igbo or Hausa and even pidgin took me a while to get a good grounding on. The gatemen would laugh at my accent calling me oyinbo pepper, to which I'd stick out my bottom lip and go hmmph! vowing to get my "I wan go" and "in say dat" 's perfect. I also struggled a lot academically because the education systems were very different and it was very clear that I was falling behind my peers drastically. After absolutely bombing a set of  JS2 exams and crying to my parents that I wanted out, I was on a plane back to the UK. When I came back I was obsessed with assimilating smoothly back into British Culture. I picked up in London at year 8. I was an awkward gangly teenager, my chest as flat as a pancake, legs, and arms like broken twigs and to make things worse for me, I now had a strange accent not quite 'fresh', but audibly seasoned with the new words and pronunciations I learned in Lagos. I might as well have had a target on my head that said "BULLY ME PLEASE", and indeed I did become a target, strangely enough for the British Born Nigerians and the Caribbeans at my school. They laughed at how long my skirt was, my newfound accent, how uncool I was, how ironing board my chest and butt were and how very... African I seemed. I ended up falling into place with the misfits: the art and drama students and they warmly took me in, but it did strike a chord with me how very separate African blackness was in the UK for me as a teenager. There was a hard line drawn between 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, and if you didn't assimilate and lose that accent you faced unjust prejudice and sometimes became the butt of some very inappropriate jokes...


In July of this year, I went to my local print shop to get some previous professional projects printed and bound for a job interview I'd be having the next day. The owner of the shop, a kindly faced Igbo man I know from our local church. As he's printing my work, he looks at me, smiles and says "Ah! You children! None of you want to go back home and make it a better place, why is that?", I laugh and reply "Uncle, but I was born here, what will I go and do back home when I'm so used to being here?", he nods solemnly and says, "I understand, that's the problem with raising you children here, you never want to go back home afterward". I gather my things, pull out my wallet and attempt to pay for my goods, but he swats me away telling me that me getting a job is all the payment he would want (reader I did not get the job, but I digress...). I thank him, curtsey, and leave with the thoughts of 'back home' swirling around my head. On the chilly walk home I sip my coffee, lick the foam from my dry lips and exhale with a mixture of confusion, indignation and what if's. "Maybe I should move to Nigeria," I think two weeks later when a flurry of job rejections come through, "Maybe it'll be easier".

Where is home for me? I'm still not quite sure. As someone who is black, British born and with Nigerian heritage, I have always felt in-between, and as I've grown older I've become more perceptive of the -ism's that quietly follow me like an insidious shadow between both worlds. Racism and Sexism, one seen in the smooth curve of my hips and the other in the honeyed brown of my skin. From recruiters quietly asking me if I have an English name to use on my applications rather than the mouthful of Yoruba syllables forming Fo-lá-śa-dé that is simply too African for the corporate world,  to being told by my Nigerian brethren that I won't be a good wife because I act too British, refuse to be 'submissive' (rolls eyes till kingdom come) and I don't like being in the kitchen. ADAPTABILITY. It's something 1st, 1.5 and 2nd gen's have all learned quickly. The ability to almost flick between characters. "You sound so different on the phone to your parents" a friend mentioned once, and I noted the accent and intonation differences, my sentences pricked with a faint sing-song Yoruba - British mix as I bid my parents good night.

I talk with my cousin Emmy on an almost daily basis. We send each other meme's, talk about guys and lately... We ponder our futures. Like myself, she is also a second gen immigrant. A Chicago based force of Leo warmth, sarcasm and intense road rage wrapped up in a tall slender woman with skin the shade of black coffee. Like myself, she laments the difficulties she's also facing in regards to careers, dating and being in between in the US. She unlike myself has dipped her toes in Lagos' shores a lot more than I have, she has plans of going back to the motherland. To see what life may hold there, to see the differences between being a child there and being a professional adult there. This is something that I'm too scared to do. I dislike big changes and I know moving to Nigeria would be monumental. It would be entirely life-changing. Something I'm not sure I want..... Yet? 


And now we come to the future. This is something I think about on a daily basis, I wonder what I'm supposed to be doing. I wonder when adulthood will come to me the way it has graced my friends with careers, husbands, wives, children, mortgages... a future. For me, the future doesn't exist yet, and even when it does, what will I do? Where will I be in a few years? In The UK or Nigeria? If I ever meet a lifelong partner, where will we settle, here or there? What if my partner isn't Nigerian? What then? How will we raise our future children? I want them to understand, embrace and love my Yoruba culture but how can I do that when I can barely speak the language myself? How do I hold onto these traditions whilst morphing myself into someone else to fit into spaces that for the most part reject me? The constant tugging and letting go become maddening and some days everything feels alien.

This is where I'm supposed to conclude, but I realize I've only really scratched the surface with this one, and in my opinion, there are so many more interwoven issues surrounding being a first or second generation immigrant. I want to touch on the pressures in regards to education and careers, feeling like you have to 'make it', particularly in the corporate, STEM or medical fields, and the struggles of wanting to breakthrough in creative careers much to the dismay of immigrant parents wanting their children to be the first engineer or doctor in the family. There are so many feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The guilt you feel when you're not doing as well as your peers and the constant thoughts of how much your mama or papa has sacrificed for you to be here.

As second gen's our identity is complex as we grapple with various cultures and methods of assimilation. If like me you are the child of immigrants or you're an immigrant yourself do you often feel in between? Let's get a conversation going.



  1. Anonymous10/30/2017

    this is so insightful to read! I'm Nigerian but also British by birth, my parents have a similar story to yours only difference is that we moved back after they had my sister but we still always juggled between london and Nigeria , we all mostly grew up in Nigeria and moved to England at 16 for a levels/ uni etc....I always refer to Nigeria as home tbh because I can never see my self remaining in the Uk permanently , as much as it is an easier life/ more convenient etc .....I'm studying medicine atm and if not that the health industry and training program for DRS in Nigeria is not that great compared to the Uk I would have moved back maybe in my thirties ...but then the future is still unknown at the point which is okay tbh ...this is partly why I want to end up with a Nigerian even more so a Nigerian that grew up there or can see themselves moving back....I know it seems very restrictive but I don't want to end up being "stuck" here and I don't mean it in a bad way

  2. What a refreshing post to read. As a 2nd generation immigrant, I decide where you are coming from in all directions. It's so nice to come to your blog and have someone that I can relate to and see my struggle spoken about.

    Zeynab xx
    The Beauty Load

  3. Sade! This was such a wonderful piece to read - interesting, articulate and so insightful. I found your experiences growing up as a second generation immigrant, really fascinating to hear about. Thank you for sharing. Alex xx

  4. What an incredibly interesting and thoughtful piece this was, Sade! You have a very compelling story to tell. It's a shame to hear about the hard times you have had and are having, but it is all part of your journey which I am sure will bring you to exactly where you are meant to be.

  5. What a beautiful piece. I love the way you describe yourself and your family's experiences! I lived in England for a while, and as an immigrant into that country I understand your struggle with fitting in completely. It is a difficult social system to get a grasp on. I hope you end up finding the answers you're looking for, wherever you end up in the world. Sidenote: your blog is stunning!


  6. I just read this and was nodding along with SO much. Ah, Sade, I could talk to you for hours about this post and the subjects you raise! I'm second generation too with both my parents and some of the things you wrote about your identity and feeling in between feel so familiar to me. I don't have any connection to Nigeria or yoruba culture, and obviously I'm not black, so reading about that part of your identity was really illuminating, and like I say the parts about feeling in between, I'm right there with you. Thank you for writing this beautiful post. x

  7. I can relate to this so much as a first-generation British-born Chinese. I feel dismayed to this day about the internalised racism I've experienced and endured: being made to feel 'not British enough' or 'not Chinese enough' was probably one of the most defining experiences of my adolescence and I've spent much of my time pondering where on the scale I belong and fit in. Truthfully? I've never felt like I fit in and I suppose that's the beauty of everybody experiencing life a little differently, we can only hope to teach one another about how it may play out. Even today, dating my boyfriend who is white, I am judged by my peers - including somebody I once counted as a best friend - and often wonder what it'll be like raising our children(!!) I really enjoyed reading about your experience in Nigeria - I had no idea you'd done that! I can't wait to read more of these sorts of posts Sade, so beautifully articulated x

  8. This is a very thoughtful read, your experiences as a second generation immigrant is quite insightful. Thanks for sharing...xxx

    YouTube|| Exploring Ogbunike cave

  9. This post resonates so much with me it's scary. Such a thoughtful, inspiring and relatable read. Thanks for sharing!

    Hannah / Wild At Heart


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