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Boundaries to Belonging

I’ve never felt like I have ever had a place I truly call home. When people ask me "where are you from?", I get somewhat uncomfortable and answer "do you want the long story or short story?". Yes, my apartment or my mothers house are places I do call ‘home’, but that feeling of belonging to a part of a nation or wider community was never felt. Even when I have travelled abroad, people would say that they felt home sick and I could never relate.

I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and my family migrated to Ireland when I was 4, to which I grew up in town called Enniscorthy in Co. Wexford. Enniscorthy was a town where you would blink and it would pass you by, and in the early 2000's, a town that did not see many migrant families, nor did it have many opportunities for migrants to truly integrate. And so I remained in wondering what it would be like to be in a place where I was seen as just another girl, and not the "poor immigrant".

Photo: Mamobo Ogoro

As a teenager, like many others, I tried to fit in. With a deep longing to want to belong, I went through different phases to try to be like everyone else. Guiltily, I went through my attitude punk phase, my sports phase and Nicki Minaj makeup obsession phase (shoutout to the Barbz) and nothing quite fit (the torment from other kids did not help). The fact that I stood out as the ‘African’ girl was in my head, my "boundary to belonging". And so I accepted that I would truly belong only in a place where I looked like everyone else, in this case, my country of origin, Nigeria.

At 23, I got to go back to Nigeria for the first time as an adult, and I was ecstatic. Finally, I was back to the motherland, in the place there I ‘belonged’, and while it felt amazing to blend into a crowd, due to my accent, lack of language and street smarts, I still received the infamous question, "but where are you really from?"

As children of migrants, we tend to live in a bicultural abyss where you are from both and neither of your heritage and national country, which can be quite frustrating in discovering who you are. And for many young people of migrant backgrounds this can lead to identity stress which have different mental health outcomes, which I certainly had. What had helped me to cope is the work I do today and my research in culture, to which I am doing a PhD that partly looks into cultural identity of second generation migrants.

I now live in a place where I have fostered a community, where I feel a little closer to belonging and that is Limerick city. Though some people may describe Limerick as small, behind and lack lustre, it has been probably the only place in Ireland (and Nigeria) where I have felt the closest to belonging. And though I don’t know if it will be my forever home, it has shown me a community of people who are willing and open to hearing and understand my story and has allowed me to be my authentic self.

Though I am still working on it, belonging, to me now is tied to spaces where I feel like my most open and honest self, and not a particular nation. Brene Browne says that "True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness." And now I feel like I can belong anywhere as I long as I am me.

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