The Burden of Immigrant Nigerian Parents

Like most Nigerian parents who are immigrants, my parents are hard working and have worked too hard. I was talking to a Naija friend and she expressed my frustration best: “They are too old to be working this hard, and they have worked hard for long enough.”

While their oyinbo counterparts are thinking of retiring, or buying new cars or a cottage to go to on weekends, my parents are labouring hard, knowing that retirement will only happen when they are forced into it by the government (providing their health is good). They have only been home owners for nine years and with the average length of a mortgage being somewhere around 25 years, they have a fair way to go in paying it off.

What is it about Naija parents that makes them so tireless? When I’m ready to go to bed because I’m sleepy, my mother, who has also worked a full day, on her feet (while my full time job is a desk job), will still be up cleaning and cooking, anything to make sure there’s fresh obe for us for the next day. She really is the woman that the song Sweet Mother was written about:

Sweet mother

I no go forget you

For the suffer wey you suffer for me

And my father! Even though his youngest child is nearly 20, his desire for us all to be self sufficient and successful for ourselves is tireless. He tries to talk to us every week about what we’re doing in our various careers and educational stages, and offer advice and information that can help us. I worry about him because he’s obsessed with making sure we get all the advantages that come with being born and raised in North America, and that we make the best use of the resources that he was not able to. I feel bad that we just don’t appreciate how lucky we are to grow up here. Don’t get me wrong, we understand that we are blessed, but we don’t act like it. Because we’ve never had to worry about not having a roof over our heads, or an assortment of food to eat, or nice clothing to wear, we don’t have that same sense of urgency that drove my parents to seek a better life for themselves. It’s killing my parents that we’re unmotivated and not driven, not for their sake, but for our own. I think my father sees our present situation as a pale shade of what it could be, what it has the potential to be, if we would just stop being so damn apathetic about our lives. It sad to think that it’s their desire to make our lives so easy that has lead to the apathy.

What our parents did must have been difficult: leaving their family, their parents thousands of miles away. Coming to a new land. Dealing with the culture shock, dealing with the fact that even after over 20 years of living abroad, people will look down on you because you have an accent. Dealing with racism. Hearing news that people you grew up with, family members and friends, have passed away and being unable to afford a plane ticket to attend the funeral. Not being able to see their own parents grow old and not being there to take care of them physically. Working to save money to send home. Doing the best for your siblings who are back home and having them shun you, tell you that you aren’t doing enough and ask for more when you manage to visit. Doing without for your children who think you’re a terrible parent because you can’t keep them in name brand clothing. Giving, giving, but feeling like it’s never enough.

And in North America, that giving nature leads to you being walked over at work, being used by coworkers, being overlooked for promotions, even though you are the best choice. You get to deal with people who resent the fact that you’re hardworking because they are there to do the bare minimum and your hardworking nature makes them look lazy. Instead of working harder, these people work behind the scenes to discredit you to your superiors. And sadly, you learn that sometimes good guys don’t finish last, or if they do, you wonder where the finish line is, and if the race will ever end.

I often wonder what keeps my parents going. The answer is simple: us. Their children. Their desire to be a good example, to make sure we don’t have it that hard when we get to their age.

I can’t deny that I sometimes wonder if I’ll have that same strength of character, the same ability to put my all into providing the best for my children. I hope I do. And I know it will be easier for me because of the work that my parents have already done.

Written by
Jumoke Fasoyinu
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13 comments
  • great article indeed, u painted the picture very clear, living in South Africa, where even in African that has been hit before by foreign white apartheid, and Nigerian not given a slight opportunity to grow that left many them doing wrong things which i strongly believe they where push, when your counterpart both white and Black saw on work environment, they where hoping for you to vanish one day, as a diehard Nija man you only keep your head high for not to disappoint many people it hard there

  • Hhmmmn. Jummy,u ve said it all. What more is there to say? We can only but do our best and leave the rest. Sometime soon,we’ll all sing new songs. God help us all!!!

  • So true…I’m a Ghanaian Canadian who just finished my undergrad. I can totally relate to this article. My parents are working very hard at already difficult manual labour jobs, and it seems like the people they work with get their jollies from trying to make their lives miserable (they cannot win). Not only that, their employers also fail to see when they have a dedicated worker and allow the foolishness to go on. With all this going on, they have to deal with family members back home who think every landed immigrant is given a money tree to plant in their backyard. God grant me and my brothers the success to not only repay, but also reward them for their hard work.

  • Poigant….just simply poignant… and to believe that have to couple with the pressure of family member;s in nigeria that would constantly demand(not ask) for money is just simply ………. (my eyes are red..wanna cry)….

  • Excellent work both in content (factuality) and perspective. Your parents’ dreams don’t seem to have been lost after all. You’ve truly captured the plight of the immigrant Nigerian. I wonder sometimes, if the giving back home also castrates some of the beneficiaries as it does to some of the children back here. Could they have been more, worked harder or yearned more if they had to work for everything like the immigrants do?? If they did not have a ‘Relative Bank’ to turn to??

  • “Giving, giving, giving but feeling like it is never enough.” Can never get that “feeling” to go away. But, hey, we do our best, right?

  • You right about that, we need to take advantage of this system. We need to come together and help our country (Nigeria). So that we can be able to feel like oyinbo in North America about life. I witness alot of 50 something years old parents here still struggle to pay their bills and send money home. We can blame our system for that but we can make a different. I’m calling all Nigerian here in North America to come togther with one mind and help our beloved country. Thanks

  • That is the story of the Average Nigerian (Immigrant) in America that the outside world never sees. Thank you for the poignant write up.