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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.

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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

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If you ever find yourself conversing in Yoruba and don’t understand something the other person says, you can always answer with “amin” because it will probably make sense at least 50 percent of the time. Amin means amen in Yoruba. Nigerians are very religious people for the most part and you can be sure that in any conversation you have in Yoruba, one person will say a prayer. For example, I have been talking about my upcoming exams with my Yoruba friends lately. Whenever I mention studying for an exam, everyone says “e máa se aseyori / you will pass,” and the response to that is “amen / amin”. Or if I tell someone I am returning to the U.S. at the end of May, they say “aá de layò / you will arrive in happiness,” or “Olorun yóo sin e lo / God will be with you on your journey”. Once again, the only response to this is “amin or ashé / amen.”

Nigeria is an extremely religious country. Massive billboards that just say “JESUS” in bold letters span over highways. You pass a church or a mosque every few kilometers. Every party, meeting and event almost always starts and ends with prayers. Inserting “Olorun / God” into any sentence automatically makes that point important. For example, if you say “Mo fi Olorun be / I am using God to beg you” you will certainly get that thing you want. When my mom landed at the airport in Lagos, I used phrases like “E joo, fun mi laye lati wole nitori Olorun / Please let me in because of God” and the security man escorted me through the door that is usually off limits to people receiving travelers. “Lagbara Olorun / By the grace-power of God,” is another ubiquitous phrase. People say things like “I will be in my office to attend to you tomorrow at 3 lagbara Olorun.

The 180 million people who make up Nigeria are either Christian or Muslim. Most Christians are either Baptist, Catholic or Anglican. Churches are some of the richest establishments here because they do not have to pay taxes, one of the reasons there are more churches here than schools. You see pastors riding around in the nicest cars and wearing the finest cloth. Religion is overwhelmingly divided on geographical lines. Most of the north is Muslim and the south is Christian. Politics must take this dichotomy to heart by ensuring that any president/vice-president ticket is Christian/Muslim. A Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket will never pass. I have had so many experiences with administrators or business people here saying “Lagbara Olorun a máa pari ise yen lola / By the grace of God we will have that work finished by tomorrow,” and I am thinking You either do it and finish it by tomorrow or you don’t, God is unnecessary in this circumstance.

Nigerians also love asking me about religion. Any time I am out of my house on a Sunday, people always ask me if I went to church and or which church I go to. Questions like this, which we consider private matters and off limits for casual conversation in the U.S., are questions people ask without even knowing you here. Politics is a more sensitive subject here than religion.

I am an open minded person; I accept believers of any religion and all peaceful displays of religion. Religion is a strong part about who Nigerians are and a part of identity. I think some people are too religious in Nigeria and leave things up to God to a debilitating extent. People also use the veil of religion to validate their criminal actions, like thieves or money launderers praying that their crimes go well. The way some people practice religion here undermines critical thinking and self-empowerment. Praying can only take you so far and after a while a person needs to take matters into his or her own hands. Many Nigerians are religious but not Godly and use “lagbara Olorun” as an excuse for actually doing work. I hope extreme believers can use their minds more and not leave as much for God to work out. When this happens everyone will benefit, even God.

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An assortment of party favors you can expect to get at any big celebration 'ìnàwó" in Nigeria.

In the U.S. you go to your friends house for a dinner party, you bring a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine to show your appreciation. In Nigeria it is the opposite- the guests are the honorees. After a dinner party here, guests are the ones who walk away with bottles of wine. But a “dinner party” is not a realistic example for Nigeria because it is rare families have their friends over for a intimate three course meal. Fill a large room with plastic tables and chairs, hang some colorful decorations from the ceiling, hire a company to hand out glass bottles of Coke and Fanta and dole out heaping plates of jollof rice and amala and bam, you have yourself a true Nigerian party. At a true Nigerian party you will also always see the guests leaving with some type of personalized, pragmatic gift for domestic chores or living. What use is a t-shirt printed with the newlyweds’ picture when you could have a bucket with their picture printed on it to do all sorts of things? When I attended my first wedding here, I found it odd to be walking away from the chapel hall with a ceramic bowl, especially since the bowl had a sticker with the bride and grooms faces, date of marriage and a mention of who paid for the gift. After more and more parties, I am used to receiving a cup, a food cooler and a notebook all covered in stickers commemorating the celebrants and inside a personalized cloth bag.

Why do Nigerians do this? Kíló dé? What is the impetus for the brides parents to spend thousands of Naira making personalized clock radios, and the groom’s parents printing stickers to put on plastic fans all to give hundreds of guests at the wedding? Some people say Nigerians just love spending money. One of the names for celebrations like weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies is “ìnàwó” which literally means “money spending” in Yoruba. Others say everyone does it because everyone else does it, nítorí náà ó tí di baraku fun gbogbo omo Naijiriya lati na owó katikati fun àwon ebùn yìí. Maybe it’s because Nigerians go to so many parties in their life times that they need something useful, something they can use everyday for fetching water or writing notes to remind them of that wonderful “ìnàwó” they attended years back. If you are lucky enough to be be among the guests at a party where the celebrants are very wealthy, to lowó bajebaje, you might even get a Blackberry complete with the a picture of the newly wed’s faces on the back.

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We made it!

After two long flights and an exciting bus ride down the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway we have arrived at the University of Ibadan, our home for the next 9 months. Exhausted and overwhelmed by speaking only Yoruba and adjusting to the time change (it’s 6 hours ahead of Central Standard time zone), we are busy meeting tons of new people and adjusting to the pace of life here, what we call African time. People usually don’t arrive on time and we sit around for a while trying to figure out what’s going on before we make any moves. We greet all the new people we meet with a typical Yoruba greeting– ‘good afternoon’, ‘good evening’, ‘greetings for sitting down’, ‘greetings for the home’, — and they are shocked and stunned to hear us speak Yoruba. They laugh at the fact we speak their language for a while, then when they see we can say more than just ‘how are you?’ they really freak out and say ‘dat’s good.’ We were all expecting this, but the feeling I get when I hear Yoruba people react is hard to explain.

We only have a few minutes to ‘browse’ as our teacher calls it, before we go to a barbecue at the Vice Chancellor’s house. We just came from a woman’s 40th birthday party. It was a big deal and we were among many honored guests. We eached introduced ourselves with our Yoruba names and the guests exploded with laughter after each name.

Our first full day in Ibadan has been full of surprises. When I get my bearings here and move in with my host family I will have more organized posts, I promise.

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