The largest number of immigrants from Africa hail from Nigeria now, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census. As interesting as the lives of immigrants are (see my “Hotel Africa” in the 2006 summer issueÂ of The Wilson Quarterly for more), their children — raised in America — are even more interesting. And most interesting, at least as the temperature rises in this seasons National Football League competition, is the performance of some players of Nigerian origin (or ancestry). The NFL has been benefiting from Nigerian talent for some time, but this year’s newest defensive star, Osi Umenyiora is creating the biggest star yet. Born in London of Nigerian parents and raised in the U.S., Umenyiora set a record earlier this season for quarterback sacks. The defensive end is lighting quick. In a recent game, he stripped a running back of the ball, collected the ball on a bounce and raced more than 70 yards for a touchdown. That single play was perhaps the most breathtaking by a defensive linemen in many years.
Today Umenyiora got to play a football in his hometown of London, where the Giants played the Miami Dolphins (as a gambit to stimulate European interest in American football). Mainly because of the rain andÂ jet-lag, the game wasÂ sluggish, but the occasion gave an opportunity for UmenyioraÂ and his colleagues to reflect on is hybridized identity.
Read this revealing excerpt from the New York Times on the player:
“Osi told me the other day he was from London,” [star receiver] Plaxico Burress said. “I said, ‘I thought you was fromÂ Africa.’
“Burress was right, sort of. Umenyiora’s parents are Nigerian and he was reared in a household that embraced Nigeiran customs. Last off-season, he was made a chief in the Nigerian village of Okbunike.
“But Umenyiora … was born in Golders Green, a suburb of London. He has a British passport and once spoke with a cockney accent.
“I feel Nigerian,” said Umenyiora, who sounds more like he could have been born in Anywhere U.S.A. “But in actuality I’m British.”
What strikes me as both revealing and amusing is Umenyiora’s ease with which he embraces so many different identities — and the confidence with which he labels himself a Nigerian. For as a professional athlete living in America — and a man schooled in the grammar of British race relations — Umenyiora is a very unusual Nigerian indeed.
Or is he? In a book of mine called The Diversity Advantage, I predict that hybridized identities are the wave of the future. These new transnational forms of identity are an animating force that are reshaping Nigerian society (both home and away). And ultimately all African identities will become hybridized under the force of mass migration and the pressure of the sub-national affiliation on the failed “national project” of many “zombie” (aka “failed”) African nation-states.