From Nigeria with Love: An Intimate Interview with Amarachi Chukwu
With the world being such a myriad of different individuals coming together and cohabitating, one question seems more and more prominent: If a person's roots are in another place from where they are now, how do they make new ones? How do they remain true to themselves and their heritage while learning and accepting new ways of life, customs, and social traditions?
As a child of travel, Amarachi Chukwu--a Nigerian-born, Holland-educated Vancouverite--has experienced many different cultural habits and traditions over the years. She moved to Holland from her home in Nigeria when she was 11 and was faced with a culture-shock like none she had seen before.
Learning to understand the social differences between her first home and her new home helped shape the person she has become today. The memories she gained and the love of her family and the people she has met along the way are reflected in her outward appearance and style essence, staying true to her roots while blending in her love of unique style aesthetics.
Here, she shares with us her story and feelings on being a citizen of the world, and her insight on socio-cultural touchpoints.
What were the biggest cultural differences you faced when you first moved from Nigeria to Holland?
I honestly can’t pinpoint a particular thing that was the biggest difference, but the main thing was obviously the language difference and experiencing for the first time being in a place where blackness was other and learning about the stereotypes and misconceptions on how other people view African and black people.
Are there any cultural preconceptions you came across once you relocated? If so, what were they and how did you react to them?
There are so many preconceptions, but the first one I came across was being in a British/International school and being sent to an ESL class on my first day despite the fact that English was my first and only language (as a result of colonial heritage in Nigeria) and it took a few days for the teachers/administrators to actually figure out that being African or “foreign” wasn’t what they expected.
What is Nigeria to you?
Nigeria is always home to me. Regardless of how far from it I may go or how long it has been since I was physically there, Nigeria is my home. It is the birthplace of my family and ancestors and it is at the root of who I am.
What are your fondest memories of Nigeria? Of Holland?
There are too many amazing memories from all of the places that have helped shape me, but the fondest memories I have from each place will always be the people I have known and loved that I still call family today.
Did your childhood environment have any influence on your personal style and aesthetic?
I believe all of the diverse environments I have grown up in have an influence on my style and aesthetic to some extent. Growing up in Holland gave me an appreciation for minimalism and structured aesthetics and as much as I generally shy away from bright colors or loud prints in my everyday wardrobe, growing up in Nigeria I have always been surrounded by color and prints and it gave me an appreciation for mixing prints together to create something beautiful.
What are the biggest style differences you’ve observed between Nigeria, Holland, and Vancouver? Cultural differences?
I think the biggest difference in my opinion would be that in Nigeria vibrancy is central to style. Colour and prints play a huge role and everyday wear is customized and extravagant. On the other hand, I found in both Holland and Vancouver everything is more muted, minimalist and neutral. I think differences in culture help tp influence style immensely. For example, Nigeria, being more of a collective society, mean that a lot of community celebrations and gatherings are happening that are always a space to showcase personal style and character within a collective. Because of bigger corporations and retail brands in Holland and Vancouver (both relatively transient cities), there is ironically more uniformity in style and trend and less traditional wear.
Is staying true to your roots important to you in the North American landscape?
I think staying true to your roots is always important but I also believe that it looks different from person to person and for me, it means always being proud of my culture.
When people find out you’re originally from Nigeria, how do they react? Do they have certain assumptions about it?
Of course! there's a myriad of misconceptions that are connected with being Nigerian or even African that are always evident when meeting people who barely know anything about the country; from assumptions about class and social status to general intelligence. The majority of the time I find that the reactions are mostly ignorant or random (no I don’t know that one other African you met...)
What thoughts or emotions do you experience when you come in contact with or witness prejudice-cultural, racial, or otherwise?
Prejudice, discrimination, racism, sexism; whatever shape oppression takes is always infuriating and heartbreaking for me to witness and in the past lead to feelings of rage at the world and its broken systems that dehumanize bodies that look like mine. As I continue to grow there is still so much sadness, anger and pain felt when I experience cultural or racial prejudice but I know that means I have to play a role in changing the violent social landscape and systems that have caused generational trauma in collective black and African history.
You’re quite involved with feminism and cultural/gender equality. How did these issues become important to you?
Honestly, these issues have to be important to me. Being black and female in the world, whether it be in white supremacist or patriarchal societies, means that it is an identity that requires investment in social change and the pursuit of equality. I believe that the privilege of ignorance about the insidious violence of oppressions such as racism and sexism (to name a few) is a privilege that marginalized peoples are not afforded.
Any pieces of insight you can share with others who may have similar experiences to yours?
It's important to understand that everywhere you go, things will be different than they were before, but doesn't mean that you can't learn from your new surroundings, be aware of misconceptions and help to educate others on what it means to be who you are, wherever you come from. Knowledge is power; the more people know the better they can understand.
That goes for everything; both big and small. No matter where you are, be fully and unashamedly yourself and be open to new experiences that undoubtedly lead to growth. Although it's not your responsibility, bring awareness to the diversity of your culture and heritage when faced with preconceptions and continue to use knowledge to combat ignorance and bigotry. Whether its racism, sexism, ageism, or discrimination, or just general assumptions and ignorance, the best way to stay true to yourself is to be proud of who you are and where you came from and emulate that pride as you go through life, be it how you wish to dress or how you carry yourself and communicate with others.
All Editorial & Featured Images: Robin Nuber Photography
Styling & Creative Direction: Rose-Marie Huet, EXPEDITIONIST
Clothing & Hair: Amarachi Chukwu
Makeup Artist: Tatiana Ivens, Blanche Macdonald Centre
Copyright Rose-Marie Huet 2017