From The Motherland: Celebrating The 4th Of July With These Four Americans Embracing Their Nigerian Heritage
Several notable Americans with Nigerian heritage have made significant contributions in various fields. Especially within the gigantic billion-dollar American entertainment industry, Nigerian-Americans have risen to global recognition. As America celebrates her independence this 4th of July, four popular American entertainers celebrate their Nigerian roots.
Jidenna Theodore Mobisson, known mononymously as Jidenna, is a singer, rapper, and songwriter. Best known for his hit songs Classic Man and Bambi, the hitmaker has incorporated his Nigerian heritage into his music and style countless times. Born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, to Tama Mobisson, an accountant, and Oliver Udemmadu Ogbonna Mobisson, a Nigerian Igbo academic, Jidenna grew up partially in Nigeria, where his father was working as a professor of computer science at Enugu State University. When he turned six, the family moved back to the United States due to a failed kidnapping attempt.
Reacting to the arrest of 77 Nigerians by the FBI, Jidenna said Nigerians were smarter than a lot of people, hence the reason they excel in sports and other spheres of life, including scamming. Speaking during an interview on the Breakfast Club, Jidenna said: “The reason Nigerians are known for scamming is not because we are bad people. It’s because we are smarter than a lot of people”.
In 2016, Jidenna took a trip to Nigeria, visiting Lagos and Enugu States, respectively. “That’s the town that I grew up in,” the Nigerian-American singer mentions in a video he posted. “I’m from a state called Imo State, but I actually grew up in Enugu… this is like that kind of hometown feeling when I go back.”
Uzoamaka Nwanneka Aduba, known as Uzo Aduba, is an Emmy Award-winning actress.
She gained widespread recognition for her portrayal of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in the television series Orange Is the New Black. Born in Boston and raised in Medfield, Massachusetts to Nigerian parents, the 42-year-old recalled that as a child, she was teased about her Nigerian name Uzoamaka (meaning “the road is good”), and therefore asked her mother to call her Zoe. Her mother’s response: “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky, then they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” As Uzo grew older, she learned to wear her name with pride.
Tyler the Creator
Two-time Grammy award winner, Tyler the Creator, is an American rapper, producer, visual artist and the founder of the streetwear brand, Golf Wang. Born Tyler Gregory Okonma in Hawthorne, California, to a Nigerian father he never met with Igbo ancestry, and an American mother of mixed African-American and white Canadian descent, the rapper talked about learning to appreciate his African last name, noting that the surname is “pretty cool.” “My full name, Tyler Okonma, in all caps, just looks really cool,” Tyler said in a video interview. “So you might see more of that, I don’t know.
I’m getting older, and I think when people get older, they start realizing stuff and liking things they didn’t like. You just start changing.” He added, “I didn’t know anyone else that had a name similar to it,” Tyler continued. “I always thought my last name was weird, but whatever. I started f—ing with it more around 2016, and then I started putting it on my album covers… I really f— with that name now.”
In his remembrance of the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh in 2021, Tyler credited the prolific designer for helping him embrace his last name in an Instagram post. “ABLOH. that strong African last name,” Tyler wrote. “Few years back I started using more of my African last name OKONMA because of how regal Virgils felt. Everything he did felt like he said ‘hey over here, coast is clear’ whenever I questioned things.”
Best known for her role as Molly Carter in the TV series, Insecure, Yvonne Orji is a comedian, actress and an Emmy award nominee.
Although born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, to Igbo parents, she grew up in Maryland, United States, completing her education up to earning her master’s at George Washington University. As is characteristic of Nigerian parents, Yvonne’s parents expected her to become a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, or engineer. However, she was inspired to do comedy as a graduate student when she performed standup in the talent portion of a beauty pageant.
Orji credits the time she took to explore Lagos on her own as big for her in becoming what she calls “fully Nigerian and also equal parts American.” That duality is a major theme in her HBO standup comedy special Momma, I made it! She made jokes about her real-life struggles trying to appease her Nigerian parents while also pursuing her dreams in American entertainment. “My mom, she uses every opportunity to remind me I wasn’t a doctor,” Yvonne jokes in the special.
Self-identifies as a middle child between millennials and the gen Z, began writing as a 14 year-old. Born and raised in Lagos where he would go on to obtain a degree in the University of Lagos, he mainly draws inspiration from societal issues and the ills within. His "live and let live" mantra shapes his thought process as he writes about lifestyle from a place of empathy and emotional intelligence. When he is not writing, he is very invested in football and sociopolitical commentary on social media.