My humanities moment is a novel that changed my life and informed my path as an educator and researcher. But before I expound upon it, I need to tell you my story. I was born in Brazil as the only child of my Nigerian mother, who migrated to complete her undergraduate studies. Because of that, I constantly felt like I was living in-between, bridging the gap between Brazil and Nigeria. As I grew up, I struggled to find a sense of belonging, trying to conflate the Brazilian culture I learned at school with my Nigerian upbringing at home and fully identifying with neither. I was the other, a native foreigner.

To appease my ever-growing alienation, I plunged into literature, film, and music, anything that I could hold onto to calm my disquietude. Yet, I did not know at the time that I yearned to better understand who I was by seeing myself through the worlds of others. This unconscious search led me to study English and Portuguese language and literature at the Federal University of Bahia. However, as an undergrad, I did not search for myself as much. I still maintained this unbreakable connection between my subjectivity and literature, but, at the same time, I read more as an observer than a participant. Throughout most of my formal education, white authors, both from Brazil and Europe, represented the standard in literary studies, while Black authors, albeit abundant, were rarely mentioned.

Things changed when in 2016 I decided to read the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I had already watched her famous Ted Talks “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All Be Feminists”, and I got curious to read her work. This was the moment. Ifemelu’s journey as a Black Nigerian immigrant in the United States enthralled, moved, and inspired me. Adichie’s intricate and poignant representation of Black people in the U.S., the U.K., and Nigeria veered from the stereotypically negative and dehumanizing portrayals of Black people I was used to seeing in the media. In the novel, Adichie explores several facets of Black experiences, and I still remember that reading it felt like finally arriving home after spending your entire life squinting at the horizon, wondering if you would ever reach your destination. After years searching, I saw myself through the writing of someone who looked like me.

Nonetheless, I was not satisfied. I started reading Chinua Achebe, Sefi Atta, Wole Soyinka, and decided to translate this hunger for self-representation into a research project for graduate school. In 2018, I started following Ifemelu’s path as an immigrant in the U.S. to continue this intellectual and subjective query about the diversity of Black experiences across the world. I had found my home in African literatures and decided to never leave. I wanted to get closer to a mirror that had always been turned the other way, a lack of seeing that confined me to the role of the other. I wanted to stay, to sink “roots in without the constant urge to tug them out and shake off the soil” (Adichie 7).

Eventually, my research and teaching started to overlap. Curiosity prompted me to seek literature and film in which students who were also considered the other could see themselves represented as well. For students who were used to seeing themselves represented in all spheres of life, I also introduced them to works from diverse authors in order for them to move the mirror, look around, and get in contact with different realities and worldviews. These carefully devised choices of the texts I teach have turned my classrooms into safe spaces where diversity is the norm, and all students are heard and included.

Therefore, teaching African narratives about Black immigrants irreversibly converged my teaching philosophy and research. People still ask me nowadays which culture I identify with the most or even suggest that one day I will finally decide which country I consider to be my home. I never know how to answer this question because it is hard to convey what growing up in the diaspora is like. At least for now, I can say that every time I read Americanah again it takes me back to when this journey started, and I am excited to see where it will lead me.

– Cristovao Nwachukwu (Graduate Teaching Assistant)