Going, Going, No Go

By Rita Offiaeli

Below is an excerpt from a University of Connecticut research dissertation on how Nigerian immigrants use HTA’s (HomeTown Associations) as a means to recreate their Nigerian villages, within their new communities in the United States. It explores how repatriating back to Nigeria is no longer a viable option for Nigerian-Americans, and focuses on how Nigerian immigrants learn to simultaneously assimilate into mainstream US culture while also sustaining their village identities: 

HTA member offered this view of the HTA: “ebe onye bu, bu ebe onye na awachi’ (where one lives is where one takes care of) and that the likelihood of us completing our mission here soonest and going back to Nigeria is improbable. So ... we need to make here our home and start to think seriously of how we can network with one another” [Male 11/16/12]. Another member who had been in the USA for about thirty years explained, his hometowners came together in the early 1980s in one of the cities in the North Eastern part of the United States and started a HTA with the primary aim of sending collective funds home for home development – mostly to build schools or medical facilities. In addition to home development, they also figured it would not hurt to have year-end parties to celebrate kinship with each other in their new environments. As he put it, most of his people then were very interested in home development because they had no plans to stay in the USA once they were done with their university education. He said, “all everybody talked about then was going home and going home so they wanted to send money home so that the home will be developed and things will be good when they go back. It was all about going, going home then”. As Victor Uchendu notes it has always been a thing of pride among the Igbo people for the ‘son abroad’ to help his town ‘get up’ or become more developed (1965). This informant then described how as they continued to send collective funds home to improve home communities and continued to socialize with each other because “after all, we have to enjoy ourselves as we send this money home also”, the HTAs transitioned to a phase where the HTA members became interested in helping new immigrants from their hometown adjust and settle down when they arrived in the USA. The HTA did this for a while and then transitioned to their current phase, which he described as follows: “after being here for so many years, we began to realize that ‘going, going, no-go’. We realized that going is not a good-go and we had to begin to think of how we will stay here and how we will live with our children in this country. What do we do with ourselves and our children” so the emphasis of the HTA transitioned to one of “trying to live like our people here in this country” [Male 10/14/12]. 

The studied associations were mostly in this phase where members acknowledge that going is not a good-go, and are taking steps to live like ‘their people here’ in this country; steps to embody and relocalize their ancestral hometowns in their new environments. This member explains that whereas hometown development may have been the aim of their HTA at its onset, their present focus is on how to live their socio-cultural lives ‘here’ since going is no longer a good-go. ‘Going is no longer a good-go’ is a way of saying that most hometowners may have come to the USA for university education as illustrated by the survey result that shows 78% (109 out of 140 respondents) attended college in the United States (see also Reynolds 2009). After completing their university education, most chose to stay on and carve out new lives for themselves for varying reasons primarily the economic downturn, high unemployment rates and the consequential higher crime rates resulting from the structural adjustment programs of the 1980’s in Nigeria (Reynolds 2009). 

Because the longer settled members strive, through their participation in the social arena of the HTA, to live like their village people here in the United States, newly arrived immigrants have access to an active obodo community upon arrival in the USA. The newly arrived immigrants may then be more inclined to join the HTA for the much needed kin network that helps immigrants handle the intricacies of life in an unfamiliar land while also lessening feelings of isolation that one may suffer in a new place. Though other institutions such as churches and non-governmental immigrant organizations may also offer programs or services that help immigrants settle in new places, the appeal of the HTA is not only that of the familiar but that it made of those considered as ancestral kin with whom newcomers share a common sense of belonging. The studied HTAs flourish as longer settled immigrants continue to use its socio- cultural space to achieve their aims of ‘living like their village people’ in diaspora while newly arrived immigrants contribute to membership growth as their obodo community helps to cushion the feeling of alienation in their new environments. Organizations such as the HTA provide fields of belonging where social capital is “developed and husbanded” to create community and maintain cultural heritage (Brettell 2005:875) 

Most HTA members echoed the sentiment that their current environments have become their homes where their offspring will continue to live for generations to come. Even when members seemed to think they may return to their sending communities after retirement, they also acknowledged that the prospect of doing so fully was most unlikely. A member explained this ‘not here nor there’ phenomena most adequately: 

Our biggest focus within us, as you know charity begins at home, and home is here as in New England, ehhhmm, ... I think the Igbo man, the Umuigbo man, has always said I’m going to be going home one day so I’m moving all my treasures back to Umuigbo land but now the focus is changing. We may end up retiring here. ...So, our focus is that we have to maintain our life here and also back home because there is a great chance that we are not retiring to Nigeria a hundred percent. You want to establish a home there but you probably end up going back and forth [12/7/12]. 

In the past, the ideal place to retire may have been the village as most Igbo people view the city or their land of sojourn as the place to earn money and save up for retirement and the village as the place to retire to with one’s earnings (Onwubu 1975; Uchendu 1965; Trager 1998). In present times, given that ‘going is no longer a good go’ and that most Igbo immigrants have family as well as social and economic ties to their new communities, the ideal of fully retiring to the village seems far-fetched. While, according to the survey, it is true that most imagine return migration as a definite (51% of respondents), an equally high number, (44% of respondents), view return migration as a ‘maybe’ with five percent answering they will never return to Nigeria (see fig. 10, Appendix B). As Reynolds (2009) notes, Igbo immigrants have increasingly come to the realization that ‘repatriation’ to Nigeria is no longer a viable option due to economic and political instability since the structural adjustment programs of the 1980s. Not hedging their bets, HTA members actively pursue re-localizing their obodo communities here in the United States through membership in HTAS. If as the above informant describes, they end up retiring neither here nor there, these retirees then constitute a continuous circular flow of peoples, ideas, and practices back and forth creating a transnational traffic that constantly breathes life into the socio-cultural space of the HTAs while also affecting life in the ancestral hometown in Nigeria. Sociocultural transnationalism which “is transnational practices that recreate a sense of community based on cultural understandings of belonging and mutual obligations” (Itzigsohn and Saucedo 2002:767) is integral to the lives of the studied immigrants and a by-product of membership in HTAS even though HTAs members may say they are focused on living their lives here and now. Coming together as an obodo community to practice their ancestral identity and traditions as they settle down in their new environments, lends a transnational theme to their lives. They are an appendage or extension of the ancestral village even though their focus is not on developing the village in Nigeria but on building up their obodo community here in the USA. How do these immigrants strive to embody their ancestral locality as they relocalize their lives here and now? How do they strive to inscribe ancestral locality unto their children as they strive to live like their village people or an obodo community here in the USA? 

The above excerpt was taken from:
Offiaeli, Rita, "When the Kola Nut (Cola Acuminata) Meets the Electric Slide: Constructing Transnationalisms" (2015). Doctoral Dissertations, . 724.

Chelsea Offiaeli