I finished Americanah yesterday, and I'm very interested in Ifemelu's migrant identity and her journey to and from America. She and Obinze share some idealized vision of the country before leaving, but when they do, they are disappointed by their experiences in America and England. In America, Ifemelu becomes depressed as she adjusts to life where she faces dramatic exclusion. She cannot get a job because of her immigrant status and her race, she has to cope with the stress of being racialized as "black for the first time," and the politics of being non-American and black in the United States. The journey changes Ifemelu profoundly, she is marked by her time spent abroad, and she is called an "Americanah" when she returns to Nigeria. She joins a group of fellow Nigerians who have come back to Nigeria from abroad, the Nigerpolitan club, full of people who are sentimental for American life. She finds comfort in this club, but also feels uneasy to be among a group of people who are so critical of Nigeria. She starts a new blog called The Small Redemptions of Lagos to talk about Nigeria without the "arrogance of Nigerian returnees."
At the same time, I'm reading Unbound Feet but Judy Yung, which recovers some of the history of Chinese American women living in San Francisco. One of the main themes in the book is the liberation second generation women found in American society, which compelled them to "challenge traditional gender roles at home racial discrimination in the larger society" as well as forge a "bicultural identity" to respond to the limitations they still faced.
There's also a Said quote from Exile and Other Essays that I've been thinking about that goes like:
“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement.”
The books I've picked up recently have really made me want to think about the fluidity of identity across borders, nostalgia of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants (thinking about the ways Ifemelu misses Nigeria when she's in America, and the ways Dike feels somewhat rooted in Nigeria even though he was born in America), and balancing the foreign values with native values. I'd like to dig into Ifemelu's feelings of (be)longing in Nigeria, America, and again in Nigeria when she returns. I see Ifemelu constructing something that might be called a cosmpolitan identity, as a citizen belonging to the world more than any particular locality, and having to grapple with the loneliness that comes along with it. I'll probably post more in the comments as I continue reading and doing some preliminary writing for my final.