A few semesters ago, I took a class called “Mass Media and Minorities”. University of Wisconsin journalism professor, Hemant Shah took the class through the history of reporting on minorities in the U.S., the prevalence (or lack of) minorities in newsrooms and critiques of these areas. He presented a few different metaphors for race relations in the U.S. Of course we’ve all heard of the “melting pot” metaphor; the United States is a melting pot, a harmonious fusion of immigrants from all over the world. Professor Shah, like many other academics, is skeptical of this argument and presents an alternative view: a stew. The U.S. is more like a stew than a melting pot: while all the different ethnicities blend together in a cohesive way, you still have the independent chunks that stand alone and don’t blend in. On one level all the people who make up the U.S. intermingle and cohabit the country, but in many ways exist in segregated communities with little to no mixing.

Immigration is a popular issue these days. We see news reports about it all the time, particularly what 2012 presidential contenders think about the U.S. Mexican border. But what about the people who fly across the Atlantic from Africa? In my experience interacting with the Yoruba population in the U.S. I’ve noticed how they live in tight-knit communities, little microcosms of Lagos. It is staggering that 450,000 Yoruba people live in the Houston area alone. I’ve visited communities like this in Detroit, Maryland and New York.

In pursuit of continuing my journalism career post college graduation (the ceremony is just 18 days away!) I want to visit these communities and find out how they operate, how Yorubas integrate into U.S. culture and how they retain their own culture. Yorubas make up a huge part of the immigrant population in the U.S. and so few people know about it. So over the next month I will start a series of investigative reports about the Yorubas in the U.S., a large, vibrant chunk of thr country.

E kú ojó meta o! Se àlááfíà ni?

Since the last time I posted I have been traveling the country and most importantly moving into a new apartment in Madison, WI where I just embarked on the last semester of my undergraduate career. I am excited and bewildered to be back at University of Wisconsin-Madison after just being in a more laid back environment at University of Ibadan for a semester. One of my main worries this year was that my Yoruba would get bad. After being immersed in Ibadan for 9 months I was worried I would not find enough opportunities to speak. Luckily I am assistant teaching four Yoruba classes this semester. I greet the wide eyes freshman every morning with “E kàáró! Se àlááfìá ni?” It is amazing to see their progress in just one week. More posts about this later. I am approaching this semester as a new beginning in my career to figure out where I want to go from here and what I need to do to get there.

My new business card. I made it myself!

I am keeping very busy, whether with decorating my bedroom (I have a screen print Bruce Onabrakpea signed and gave to me on the wall) or managing a hectic travel schedule. I was in New York City in August for an interview with Sahara Reporters. This weekend, I am jetting off to the big apple yet again, but this time to attend the Egbe Omo Yoruba National Convention in Long Island. Kayode and I will be among the important guests at the weekend convention. Then later in September, I will go to Michigan for an event with the Yoruba American Community. Then in October I will go to London to co-host the Yoruba Heritage Awards.

Along the way I will be dedicated to posting stories, videos and blurbs about my experiences in all of these places. Looking forward to a great Fall.

Emi ni teyin,

Titilayo Oyinbo

I just returned from an incredible weekend in New York City seeing old friends, taking the never-ending subway and speaking Yorùbá with Nigerians! My purpose in the visit was first and foremost an interview with Sahara Reporters for their new TV channel that streams live from their Web site. Omoyele Sowore, the founder and editor-in-chief at the grass roots news organization invited me to New York along with Kevin ‘Kayode’, one of the other students on my program. Moses Mabayoje, the resident director for our program came too.
Here are three videos: the first is a little sketch we filmed at a Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn, called Buka.

The second is my interview with Adeola, the producer at Sahara Reporters; and the third is Kayode’s interview. Hopefully some of you saw it live, but if not you have a chance to watch it here. WARNING: The videos are entirely in Yoruba with no subtitles.

My interview: http://cdn.livestream.com/embed/saharareporters?layout=4&clip=pla_7006f6b4-ba56-45b9-92b2-182e1a2cff27&height=340&width=560&autoplay=false

Kayode’s interview: http://cdn.livestream.com/embed/saharareporters?layout=4&clip=pla_4dc91c50-9e69-49c5-8983-1cf0c5d21ae1&height=340&width=560&autoplay=false

Watch live streaming video from saharareporters at livestream.com

My Naija friend showed me this video. It is quite absurd, talking all about how Ghanaians are so happy they are not Nigerians. The song is by two guys who call themselves the FOKN Boys. They can’t even get their grammar correct.
The story behind the song goes back to soccer. A match between Ghana and Nigeria was scheduled to hold in London this week. The FOKN Boys released this song to spark the rivalry. The match was cancelled because of the riots plaguing London right now. I am trying to come up with a reaction song, “Thanks God I’m not a Ghanaians.” Any ideas? There will be a diplomatic brohaha about this matta.

These two videos about Lagos-the largest city in Africa behind Cairo-tell two very different stories. They are both completely true and paint Nigeria as having polar opposites. One night at a restaurant in Lagos I sat down and introduced myself to a table of three white women. I was so curious to see who they were and what their business was in the mega city. We were on Victoria Island at the time. When I mentioned how I had gone to visit a friend in Yaba the other day and was staying in Surulere, the women couldn’t believe it. “We aren’t allowed to leave the island,” one of them said, adding how her driver said the mainland was unsafe. If I can ride an okada in Ojota, I’m pretty sure this woman’s driver can take her across the Third Mainland Bridge.

These videos show two distinct yet inseparable ways of life in Lagos. It’s hard to see such extreme poverty next to lavishness. As Lagos keeps growing by the millions, where will people go? I think the city of Lagos itself needs its own “population commission” to answer these questions and plan sustainable solutions. I hope to be part of the planning to see Lagos grow in a smart way.

YouTube has been an important player in the success of my blog. If it weren’t for this monumental web site I would not be able to prove you all that I spoke Yoruba! You gotta hear it to believe it. Also, video does a lot more for the senses than a photograph. Getting the feel for Ibadan takes more than glancing at a picture.

Posting videos to YouTube has also been a fun way to communicate with people out there who have something to say or something to share with me. It’s not everyday I sit down and read YouTube comments, but I did today and here are some that really made me smile.

Thanks Titi,u make my day each time i view u on youtube.am proud to say am from the yoruba race.

470427 2 months ago

I’m in love with her and i dont even know her, great job on the yoruba, really amazing

younglevity 1 month ago

Titi, are you sure you dont have a black skin underneath there… somewhere??? extremely impressive!!!!

maaaaa09 1 week ago

Titi, awesome job. You just woke up a debate that Yoruba speaking people need to stare up a positive movement towards keeping their language. The really sad part of this whole thing is the end when the little girl said “never”

gbspecial 3 months ago

Titi You are awesome!! Thank you for sharin your talent. I wish I could understand und speak like you. I try since some days ago to learn pidgin but it´s hard “I no sabi wetin dey tok ” :)) I am in Love with naija many years ago.am ashame,I never put my head into the language. to bad I need it I play naija music everyday 🙂 and I got to teach my children.You show me that´s possible.Thank you very very much I really appricate your great work! Sorry my english is bad 😦 God bless you.

RegJahmel 2 months ago

If u have need a yoruba husband….i’m game.


architunde 4 months ago 7

I have another video coming up tomorrow!

Nigerian physicians from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic gathered in Chicago this weekend for the 17th annual Association of Nigerians Physicians in the Americas (ANPA) convention. Thanks to one of North of Lagos’s followers, I received a special invitation to write a story on this high-profile, yet greatly unknown event.

So excited to be surrounded by Nigerians again, I hastily put together a casual, Nigerian fabric influenced outfit and headed to the Swissotel in Chicago on Friday to talk to physicians and hear the speakers. I descended the escalator to see about 100 people dressed in business attire mingling around the coffee. The one or two men dressed in agbadas indicated that this indeed was the ANPA conference. Chris Eze, the physician who invited me, was there to welcome and introduce me to some of the most important players in the Association. Nigerians from every ethnic group are members of the association, so for me the convention was a good test of how well I can discern ethnic groups. It also made me realize I really should learn Igbo.

In the next week I will post stories about the interviews I had and issues that came up. Today, I want to post pictures of the party that ended the weekend–the ANPA gala. I was delighted to attend the party on Saturday night and see how Nigerians in the Americas are still so fashionable in the finest lace. Just because they live in America does not mean they have lost that Naija swagger, especially on the dance floor.

Chris Eze, one of my blog followers and a member of the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas, invited me to their 17th annual convention in Chicago.

Walking around to take pictures of the event, these ladies stopped me because they heard I spoke Yoruba.

My table mates and their friend. She must be important because her gele is the tallest and shiniest I've ever seen.

The packed dance floor at ANPA's 17th annual convention at the Swissotel in Chicago.

Me with the younger crowd, a couple of medical students in the Distinguished Nigerian Physicians of Tomorrow.

These Yoruba ladies were so nice. They beckoned me over to their table and before it we were all dancing together on the dance floor.

Lace iro and bubas with stiff, shiny head wrappers. Gorgeous!

Oji and I, the president of the Distinguished Nigerian Physicians of Tomorrow.

Aso ebi. Everyone was dressed in their fanciest lace that night.

Nigerian artist, Nnamdi Okonkwo and I in front of his award winning sculpture at the Chicago Botanic Gardens art show.

It was a Sunday morning. The alarming chime of the telephone rudely woke me up. It was my step-dad telling me to get out of bed and come to the Botanic Gardens near my house. “I am with a Nigerian guy and he has seen your videos! He wants to meet you,” he told me excitedly. Of course I scurried out of the house, hopped on my bike to see the anonymous Nigerian who had befriended my parents. I made my way through the crowds of suburbanites enjoying a beautiful Sunday until I spotted them. With his staggering height and black skin he stood out pretty well in the homogenous crowd. He introduced himself as Nnamdi Okonkwo (like the famous character in Things Fall Apart) and told me he was so excited to meet me after reading an article about us in The Punch and reading my blog. He is Igbo and came to the U.S. in 1989. The Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe is the last place I would think to run into a Nigerian artist. This encounter just proves that there are no limits to the places a Nigerian might go. Such a genuine and talented artist, my parents loved his sculptures of plump women so much they bought one.

Nnamdi Okonkwo's booth at the art show.

Okonkwo's fat women statues. They look so peaceful.

Okonkwo chatting with some fair-goers interested in his art.

This sculpture, three women on a bench, won the award for the best piece at the entire art show.

A big event happened when I was in Nigeria– I became an aunt.

Me and my 6-month old nephew.

When I finally met the lil’ guy last week I was initially overcome with mixed feelings of love and disgust; that, after much thought, have transitioned into pure love. It was pretty much love at first sight when I saw my nephew. He is so well tempered and too cute for his own good, but he came with so much equipment! A play pen, fancy carrying devices, bags full of baby supplies, the list goes on. All of that stuff upset me and made me think about the difference between a baby’s life in Nigeria and America.

Walking into the parents’ house was like entering a friendly plastic jungle. Arranged on the floor of their Chicago condo was an array of bouncing contraptions, swinging devices, soft rugs below small canopies adorned with miniature, brightly colored toucans, snakes and butterflies. Everything is suckable, child-proof and might break into song if you touch it the right way.

The jungle gym living room, a baby's dream.

When I first got back, noticing the amount of unnecessary baby accessories in the United States made me uncomfortable.

A baby strapped to it's mother's back outside a church in Nigeria.

I compared the fancy strollers in America to the colorful cloths most African women use to carry their little ones on their backs and thought, why do we need all this stuff?

Babies in Nigeria and America play with many of the same little plastic toys, blocks, dolls, Barbies (a lot of Nigerian parents bring toys back from the UK). It’s not like Nigerian babies are living a deprived life with nothing but clay and sticks to play with. Babies, a documentary that follows the everyday life of four infants in four different countries,is a testament to the fact that babies will find anything to entertain themselves whether its a $100 contraption with sounds and twirly things or a spool of thread. In Nigeria,

Me and Mercy, my host-mom's friends gorgeous little girl.

I noticed babies have toy cars, rubber animals to suck on while they teethe, diapers and bottles, they just use fewer of them. So when I re-entered the U.S., it was a shock to me to see how many seemingly unnecessary items American parents surround their children with.

I pondered in the materialistic-ness of America’s babies for a while, then my good friend helped me realize something. The fact that some families spend lots of money on mother care and smother thier children with toys and things that will hopefully keep them from crying and stimulate their brain, doesn’t mean they are better or happier than the mother who ties the baby to her back and feeds the baby breast milk instead of organic creamed carrots. More stuff doesn’t make someone happier than another person, or one baby better than another. Both babies will probably not remember the toys they played with when they were 7 months old anyway…

There is no where a Nigerian mother cannot go with a baby strapped on her back. Some are even daring enough to ride 'okadas'.

I turned on to my street the other night and noticed something was different. Even after being away for 10 months, I could still detect it. The normal eerie orange glow from street lamps towering above my little street were out. A certain tasteful illumination of plants in the garden, tall trees and spots on my house was missing. I walked into the house, flipped up the light switch (not down like Nigeria) and sure enough, the power was out.

In Nigeria when we suddenly find ourselves in the pitch black, we say “they have taken light.” The “they” usually refers to NEPA, the Nigerian Electric Power Authority which is actually now called PHCN, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. Saying “they took the light” is an ambiguous statement because we don’t really know who “they” is. It could be one man that got paid a handsome sum to switch off power in one neighborhood and turn it on in another. Whenever I pondered this statement–that is so ubiquitous in Nigeria–I tried to visualize the mysterious identity of this “they” millions of Nigerians blame to every time the electricity goes out.

When I used this term this morning in my Chicago-area abode, my family questioned me, “They took the light? What does that mean?” Applying blame to “they,” doesn’t make sense in America. When the electricity does not work and the lights don’t turn on, we say, “the power is out.” We don’t assign the fact that the electricity doesn’t work to any person or group (“they”); the usual thing to blame when the power goes out in the U.S. is mother nature.

I can not help but think of how serendipitous it is that two days after I return to the U.S., the electricity goes out for two days (as of now, we have not had light for 40 hours). The culprit is a bad thunderstorm that ripped through the Chicago area, destroying trees, power lines and electricity for some 400,000 Chicago-land residents. It’s a meaningful coincidence that I experienced power outages so frequently in Nigeria and now I am in the U.S. to help lighten the mood of my frustrated family and friends. We experience black outs so infrequently in the U.S. that people don’t know how to handle them. They can be a novel experience; families light as many candles as possible, curl up together and tell stories. For those who live in such a mechanized world, they can be quite a nuisance. A family friend shared his woes with me, “This black out is terrible! I couldn’t sleep last night because I couldn’t get my electric curtains closed!”

Serves us right.

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