Rich in Faith: My Nigerian Heritage

By Brianna-Paige Alegbeleye

As of June 2018, Nigeria has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty compared to any other country. An estimated 87 million Nigerians, or roughly half of the country’s population, are thought to be living on less than $1.90 a day. This figure is projected to increase in the coming years.

These steep percentages are similarly attached to several countries across the entire continent of Africa. Despite this suffering, however, Africans possess an intense faith in God, and it is clear that the future of the Catholic Church is centered there.

My parents were born and raised in Nigeria. Their own upbringings,  though on different sides of the country, were rooted in faith, and that is something they made to repeat as they raised me and my siblings.

To explain how my parents raised me and my siblings to understand and appreciate our Nigerian heritage and our faith, some background information is necessary. My parents are both Nigerian immigrants who came to the United States when they were just about my age. My dad is Yoruba, which is the main ethnic group in the southwestern region of Nigeria. He grew up poor and had many responsibilities as the oldest in his family. My mom is Igbo, the main ethnic group in the southeastern region of Nigeria. Although my mom is also the oldest in her family, she grew up much more well-off than my dad. She still had responsibilities to her family, but they were not as intensive as my dad’s. Despite their differences in wealth, both of my parents had similar feelings about the importance of faith. Christianity, namely Catholicism, is the main religion of the Yoruba and Igbo people, and my parents were raised as Catholics.

Through their journey to the United States, my parents kept their faith and allegiance to Nigeria strong, and both only increased with the births of my siblings and me. Because my siblings and I were not raised in Nigeria, all connections we have to the country come from our parents, who did everything they could to emphasize the “Nigerian” part of our Nigerian American identities. They exposed us to traditional Nigerian foods, events, clothing, and music to strengthen our connections to a country we could only visit a few times. Because my parents speak different native languages, they, unfortunately, could not raise us to be bilingual; however, they did speak the same language of faith, so they took steps to make faith the center of our family. Each of my siblings and I have attended various Catholic schools for different lengths of time. From the moment we were old enough, each of us has altar served, sung in choirs, and participated in other activities through our parish.

I have seen my parents struggle a great deal. Raising seven children is challenging and expensive. In the past three years, my family has experienced a large amount of loss because of the deaths of extended family members. But what’s remarkable is that their faith hasn’t wavered. In times of struggle, rather than turning from God, they turn to Him and ask for guidance. And I think that is a uniquely Nigerian quality. Despite the corruption and extreme poverty present in the country, Nigerians are some of the most faithful and spiritual people in the world, and that is something my parents have worked to pass down to me and my siblings.