I Know Who I Am, but Where Am I “Really” From?

by Mazzie Lafa

My name is Mazzie. I was born in Nigeria, to a Nigerian mother and a Ghanaian father. I grew up in England, living there between the ages of four and twenty. For the last five years, I have called Spain home- and wish to do so for now. Whilst I could claim British, Nigerian and Ghanaian nationalities, l do not feel particularly connected to just one. Culturally, I guess I am more “European” than “African”, just in the way I ‘think’ and ‘behave’- well so I have been told by my cousins who live in Nigeria, as well as relatives who have grown up in other Western countries.

When people ask me where I am from, I say London. When I am asked of my family background, I say I am Nigerian and Ghanaian. Whilst I am proud of my West African identity, I still feel a sense of detachment towards both cultures. Having lived away from Nigeria for twenty-one years, there is a lot that I have missed in my home state of Osun- governmental, educational and other various social changes. As an adult, I have not visited Nigeria, but my cousins keep me up to date on what is going on, such as the recent Nigerian political elections. I know little about my Ghanaian side since my Dad is the only living member of his small family and, as far as I am aware, I do not have any other relatives residing in Ghana. Having said all this, I am not completely disconnected from West African culture. My familiarity with my Nigerian side comes from growing up with my mother. It was important for her that my siblings and I not only knew the language, but that we were also familiar with traditional cuisine.  Living in Spain, whenever I hear (the very) occasional Yoruba being spoken, my ears perk up. When I go to my favourite West African restaurant in Lavapies, Madrid, my taste buds are just as alert.

“I accept and embrace my multiple cultural identities as something that will always be part of me, and I view this as my special quality.”

Whenever I would go back to England to visit family, I would feel little connection to the country, besides completing my formal education there and meeting some of my closest friends. Since living outside the UK, for almost six years, I have gone back twice in an attempt to settle permanently. Both times only lasted two months. Even though I would earn more money working in the UK, that was not enough to keep me there. I had friends, but they still could not keep me there. I do not know why I have such a disconnection to British culture. I guess it was the country I had to grow up in as a child. As I became older- and more responsible- I realised I could now choose where to live.  During my teenage years, I would regularly think about what it would be like to live outside the UK, in places such as America, Australia or Canada. At the time I did not know what my future would look like, but when I started teaching myself Spanish, I started leaning towards South or Central America. As it turns out, I have found myself in Spain.

Madrid is my home and I have adopted Spain as the country I see myself living in for the rest of my life. I am currently in the process of looking for a house. I have settled into my job as a quality controller. Ironically, I work in a predominantly English speaking environment, but this is not to say that I do not have opportunities to speak Spanish. Outside of work, I converse with friends and roommates in Spanish. I also live in an area with very few English speakers, thus forcing me to practise my Spanish with locals at almost all times.

Whenever I travel, the feeling of not belonging anywhere rings in my mind. I am familiar yet unfamiliar with Nigerian and Ghanaian cultures. I have largely grown up in a British environment, yet have always felt- and still feel- estranged from the British way of life.  I understand Spanish culture in the five years I have been here, but I still feel I have a lot more to learn.

Sometimes I think that my identity would have been much easier to grasp had I been born and raised in one place and that be it. However, I accept and embrace my multiple cultural identities as something that will always be part of me, and I view this as my special quality.