Christy Obilor

Transcript of Christy Obilor
Interviewee: Christy Obilor
Interviewer: Mark Lecker
Date: March 15, 2014
Place: Edgewater Library, 6000 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 28:20 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: This is Mark Lecker. I am interviewing Christy Obilor, from Nigeria. It is March 15th, umm…the time is 11:45, and we are at the Edgewater Public Library.

CO: Right.

ML: So you’re from Nigeria. Did you grow up in a small town, a village, a big city…?

CO: I grew up in a big city.

ML: Ok. What was the name of the city?

CO: Lagos.

ML: Lagos, ok. And, uh, what was it like growing up there?

CO: It was…ok. It was fun to me then. But right now I look at it like…you know, most of the things at that time wasn’t fun. But I find it funny because that’s where I grew and that’s where I was brought up. So I don’t have any complaints at all.

ML: So you’re comparing how you’re living now to how you were growing up?

CO: Yeah, how I’m living now is not too much from where…when I was living over there.

ML: Ok.

CO: Because over there I was living comfortably. I was living in a…. I’m from a large family. So we don’t share things, we do things together. But over here makes me, you know, like I’m alone. You know?


ML: I understand.

CO: I’m alone. It makes me look like this is another…another world.

ML: Hmm.

CO: You know, yeah.

ML: You say you were from a big family…did you play a lot with your siblings?

CO: Oh yes. We do. We eat together, or play together. We wore the same clothes. I mean, when somebody like “Oh, I like this,” you know, because we having fun. We’re having fun. We don’t complain, you know, it’s a nice environment to me. I miss them though.

ML: You were telling me earlier that you were born and raised in Nigeria. What age were you when you left?

CO: Oh…coming to America, when I left, I was like about, uh thirty years.

ML: Ok.

CO: So I’m a grown woman.

ML: Ok.

CO: Mmhmm.

ML: What brought you to, uh, America, in general?

CO: My family here. My mom here, so my family.


ML: Did you all leave at the same time, or did you leave kind of one at a time?

CO: No, no. My mom was here before.

ML: Ok.

CO: Then, she brought us here.

ML: Ok. Was Chicago the first place you moved to?

CO: Oh yeah. And the first place I lived was on Kenmore.

ML: Oh, so right around the corner.

CO: Well, not right around the corner [laughs].

ML: [Laughing] Sort of.

CO: Kind of, you know. So…it’s a nice, a nice trip and I think I’m ok with it.

ML: What brought your mom to America?

CO: That’s one I don’t know, because she, you know, we would love traveling. Nigerians love traveling. We love traveling, going to places.

ML: What’s your favorite city that you’ve been to so far? To travel to, to visit?

CO: Well, I’ve been to France. When I was over here I went to France. I been to, Asia countries, like [unintelligible], stuff like that. I mean, America is ok. It’s a nice place to be. It’s a nice place to be. It’s a place where you don’t have no problem or doing what you wanna do, even you want an opportunity. You want to go to school? Fine. Where I come from, you…your parents gotta get money before you go to school, or you gotta work and take care of yourself. It wasn’t easy. A lot of people did not go to school because their parents could not afford it.


ML: So was that one of the major differences that you’ve found between Nigeria and America?

CO: Yeah, a lot. I found a lot. America is more safe. You know. And there’s a lot of opportunities over here. Not that there is no opportunities over there, there is, but a lot of people down there…America is a place that…it’s for everybody. If you want it. It’s a place you choose the life you want to live. But over there, it’s a place sometimes you be confused you don’t know what to do because the government we have and all that things, you know. So I found America is a safe place and a better place to live.

ML: Hmm. You were telling me before that you’re an American citizen now.

CO: Oh yes.

ML: Do you identify as being Nigerian who’s an American citizen now? Do you identify as an American…?

CO: I identify myself as an American.

ML: Ok.

CO: Because I only go there to visit, and come back. So this is where I live.

ML: Would you call America home?

CO: Right. My kids here. I have a business here. So this is my home.

ML: Ok.

CO: Yeah.

ML: Would you ever consider going back to Nigeria?

CO: I can go over there to do some business, but not like I’m going to live there for all my life. It’s just like visiting, because I’m telling if you go there, if you stay here for so long, you go back there, you look like a visitor, you know. Things won’t be the same anymore. The life you live, the environment. Over here, it’s ok. In America, [unintelligible] more light. But where I came from, you can stay like five minutes the light would be off. The water would shut off. But in America, unless you don’t pay your bills [laughing], but they cut it off anyone when you don’t pay your bills. But over there whether you pay your bills, you don’t pay your bills, you can stay in darkness like a week, unless you have a generator, you put it on, it makes a lot of noise and stuff like that. No one want to be…but some the time you’re not safe. People come… You can be walking down the street and someone kidnap you. And they demand for money. But you don’t have no money. But in America it’s not like that. The only thing you get scared of is… You gotta be at the right place at the right time. That’s it.


ML: Did you find when you moved here, that there was a difference in values in culture between Nigeria and America?

CO: A lot.

ML: Like what?

CO: Like…when I came over here, I had my daughter. The last one I had down here. And she started going to kindergarten on Northern or something like that. She did something, they like, “You don’t scream at children.” That culture, makes us feel like the kids don’t listen anymore. They do whatever they wanna do. But in my…in Nigeria, kids would listen to our parents. When your parents say, “Don’t do this” you won’t do it. Even if you want to do it, you going to let them know. “Ok, can you people change your mind?’ This is what I want to be.” A lot of cultures, [unintelligible], “This is where I belong.” So I follow the culture. But when it comes to culture, Nigeria has the best culture. I mean the best. A lot of people work, they go to school, they strong. They go to school, they work, they make their living. Over here, if you don’t want to work, you don’t wanna work, the government gonna feed you anyway. So it makes a lot of people lazy. Some people don’t care, they like, “I’m gonna eat, the government gonna give me food stamp and stuff like that.” But over there we don’t have no food stamp. We don’t have no Medicaid. Before you go to the hospital, you got to pay. But over here you go to the hospital, the government will take care of you. I love it.

But the culture that I don’t love is behavior of… [clears throat] teenagers. And you know when they growing up you don’t spank, you don’t scream, you don’t…so…that one, uh huh. But in my country, if I have a child, and my child do something bad, where you are, you gonna take care of it. Without even telling me. And the child will be begging you, “Oh please don’t let my mom know.” Because he knows, the child knows he gonna be in big, big problem. But other than that everything is fine.


ML: Have your found yourself trying to bring a sense of the culture from Nigeria and incorporating it into the way you live here?

CO: Yes, I do. Because sometimes when some kids come to my business, I maybe do it they dress, or the way they talk, I go straight to them, I’m like, “You don’t talk like this. You don’t dress like this.” They will be like, “Where you from?” I’m like, “It don’t matter, I’m an American. But I was born and raised up in Nigeria. This is where you dressed like this people look at you like, you know…you’re not responsible. But when you dress like this, people look at you like you’re responsible. They will be like, “Ok Miss Christy, we heard you.” I’m trying, I do try a lot. Even when I see them standing around my business, I will be like, “Oh, no…you don’t stand. Go to school. Do something with your life.” They all know me anyway. So I’m trying. But it’s difficult when you get to the culture where they government, everybody is…in that culture, you can’t change it alone. But other than that everything is fine.


ML: One of the things that we talk about is the sense, and almost philosophy, of “the stranger.” And that all-encompassing of being an outsider, trying to join a group. Did you ever feel like a stranger when you were going through the process of getting citizenship here?

CO: Right. When I first came. It wasn’t easy; because when I speak English they would be like, “Do you speak English?” I be like, “This is English.” But it was very difficult for me then because I was at Truman College. They made fun of me. When I talk they be like, “Where you from?” But I wasn’t scared, because I know I’m gonna be better one day. Yeah. I was.


ML: When did you end up coming to the Edgewater area?

CO: I been around Edgewater for years. I live around Edgewater since I been in America. Like I told you, when I came in, the first place I lived was at Kenmore, Edgewater. Then we moved to Claredon, then from Claredon I moved to Garrison, from Garrison and then I’m now at Devon. So, I’m around. And the first place I had my business was right here, by the [Elmdale] Library by 6016, that’s my salon. I been having a head shop there for years. I had it like ten, maybe ten years. So I been around Edgewater for some months. And then my restaurant is right there at Thorndale, so you know I been around Edgewater, and it’s a nice place to be. Quiet place.


ML: Did your mom move to Edgewater?

CO: My mom be living at Edgewater, since she been in the United States.

ML: Ok, so everybody kinda congregated.

CO: Everybody, my brothers, my sisters, yeah.

ML: Ok. You said it was quiet, and you like living here. What specifically keeps you here?

CO: The people around, they’re lovely. Everybody, you know, I love the people I see around.

ML: What about them, specifically?

CO: They’re accommodating. They don’t discriminate. You can go to anywhere you want to go around here, and you’re fine. In some places it’s not like that.

ML: Edgewater historically has a very diverse population. Rather than just along…racial lines or religious lines, it seems to have a large population of people from around the world.

CO: Well yes.

ML: Would you say that it helps build the community into a tighter knit community?

CO: Yeah.

ML: Because everybody comes from somewhere else?

CO: Yes, comes from somewhere else. Like there was…the other day I went to a meeting that the Alderman called at St. Ita’s School, way over there, then the group was…I mean, everybody cooperated. It’s like we want to do this. It’s not like, “I don’t want to be with this, or I don’t want to.” Oh no, no. It’s a nice community that you can live in, you can do business in. It’s a nice place to be.


ML: Would you say that they’re more understanding for people who weren’t born in the country?

CO: Yeah, yeah. Because we’re mixed. It’s people all over the world. Like if you live in an apartment, you will see, I mean, every part of the world. And “Hey, how are you? How you doing today?” Nobody be like…I told her it’s the best, it’s the best, I used to tell my girlfriend, she have a shop like Wilson, to there, I’m like, “I can’t see myself doing business over there.” She like, “Why”, I’m like, “Because that’s a lot of things going like I don’t understand.” A lot of things going, you close your shop, at least nine o’clock or eight o’clock. And this why Edgewater, you can be there at one am. Nobody there but you - you fine. You’re fine. It’s a nice place to be.


ML: Taking a step back a little bit, how would you rate the overall experience of immigrating into the U.S.?

CO: I mean, I wanna put it like…I don’t know more about that. But some people coming in every day. So I don’t think it’s ok. It’s fine. A place for them, giving visa to people to come in and see what they have, and see. Look at their culture and see at their culture, they’re number 1. I would say this 100%.


ML: When you immigrated here, did you already speak English, or did you have to learn before you came here?

CO: I speak English. My country speak English.

ML: Is it English speaking?

CO: Yeah it’s English speaking, because we don’t speak the same language. It’s a lot… Nigeria is a big continent. We don’t speak the same language. So the only way we communicate is English.

ML: Do you speak any other languages?

CO: Yeah, my language. Ibo.

ML: Ibo?

CO: Uh huh.

ML: Ok. Did you teach that to your children when they were young?

CO: My children speak Ibo. They speak English, they speak Ibo.

ML: Ok. Does that help when you meet other Nigerians or is it a shot in the dark as to which language they speak? You said that they speak a bunch of languages.

CO: Yeah, it’s a lot. When I went to my old organization, people from my tribe and were speaking Ibo, my kids understand. They don’t need to say, “Mom, what?” They speak Ibo, they hear it, they tell them what to do they do it. And I’m happy that they do.


ML: Does that help hold onto the culture that you left?

CO: Yes, yes. Because when I’m in the mix of people that don’t understand my language, and my kids do something they don’t supposed to do, I speak my language [laughs]. You see the difference? So I don’t need to speak English and everybody hear me, hell no. I speak my language and they be like “ok.”

ML: How often do you visit Nigeria?

CO: I’m from a large family, so from that I go every two years, you know. Go see them, be happy, that’s the family, they miss me, I miss them, so… But for about two years now I haven’t even been able to go, because I have a new business, and I want to break it up.


ML: Have you found that using things like Skype or video calling, just all sorts of technology that allows us to connect with people from around the world, do you see it helps maintain an identity with someplace in another area of the world?

CO: Yeah, it’s a good thing, and it’s a bad thing. It has disadvantage and advantage too.

ML: What are some of the disadvantages that you’ve found?

CO: The disadvantages is that it take longer to make kids so…open a lot of people don’t have no secret anymore. I mean when you use your credit card on the line, before you know it your money’s gone. And you gonna see most of the things you don’t supposed to see. Most little kids, you can be out, maybe doing your homework or doing something, they go into internet and put something over there, you know. That’s a lot of disadvantage of stuff like that, but other than that, it’s a good communication. You can use it to communicate with people you never see for so long. So long. People that you think, “I never heard about this person, maybe he’s dead.” One day, it be like ‘boom,’ on your website or something or Skype. And like, “Hey, hi!” You like, “Ok, what’s going on?” It connect a lot of people but the disadvantage is this: if people can use it the way that it’s supposed to be, not the way to do something unusual, that’s it. It’s ok.


ML: So I know that you said you visit every two years or so, you go back and visit your family. Does your family ever come here?

CO: Since I been here, no. No, not since been here.

ML: Do you try to get them to come visit here [laughs]?

CO: I try! But you know, I got to work through the process, which is not easy. But I wish I can bring the whole of my village in America, but I can’t do that. I can’t unless I win the lottery [laughs]. And you gotta go through process. America is a nice place to be. Everybody wants to be in America. But it’s stressful. Bills. My country, we don’t pay bills.

ML: What do you mean?

CO: What I mean is the house you live in, you pay like two years. That two years may cost you like $500. Three years, before you pay again. A lot of people have their own building. But over here, you pay every month. If you escape one month the landlord gonna take you to court. A lot of bills, you pay for water, you pay for light, you pay for gas, you pay for everything. Everything. But back home, Africa, we don’t have a lot of money, but we don’t pay…The money that you pay one month in America for like two bedrooms, three bedrooms; you can use it to pay the whole, like ten years. In Nigeria. [Unintelligible] you gotta walk, it’s stressful.


ML: I know you were talking about how raising your kids is very different, umm…have you found that focus on family, or values that are held by people are different between Nigeria and here?

CO: Well, I particularly faced my family. My children. And the other people around them, because I look around, I tell my kids “go out with this.” So whatever the plan, Nigeria I don’t live there anymore, I don’t care much, I care about what I’m seeing right now. The country I’m in. Where I live. Where I call my home, that’s where I focus.

ML: And that makes complete sense. Do you know if your kids identify with Nigeria?

CO: [Laughs] Yes, they do. No, no, no. No, no, no, they don’t, because when they go out and mix with other kids, you wouldn’t even know because they grow up here, they speak American English. If I speak and they speak, you notice they different. Over there because I wasn’t born here. So they, they look at them like Americans. And themselves. But I will be like, “You know I’m from Nigeria,” “Mommy, we know that.” But they look at themselves, they Americans. And I call them Americans, I don’t call them Nigerians because they weren’t born there. Even me, I was born there. I’m a citizen, so I’m an American. That’s the way I look at it.


ML: Have you met a lot of people from your particular city, or Nigeria overall in Edgewater?

CO: Yeah, a lot of people from the same…the same street with me.

ML: Really?

CO: Yeah, I have a lot of them.

ML: So a lot of people that you knew already…

CO: Oh, yes. From Nigeria. A lot of people.

ML: Do you find that people tend to re-congregate in the same areas? So if you knew each other in Nigeria you would move close to each other in Edgewater?

CO: Yes, we do that.


ML: Does that help incorporate yourself into the community?

CO: Oh yes, we do that all the time. Sometimes we have meeting. We sit down, we talk. “Oh, you know when you was growing up, blah blah blah” trying to bring back the tradition or something. Yes we do. And we go with our kids, too. Yeah we do, yeah.

ML: On the flip side, with somebody who may have lived in a different portion of the country, do you make an extra effort to bring them in, because they’re still from Nigeria, and incorporate them into the area?

CO: Yeah, sure. A lot of people, no matter… I mean when they were looking, I was like, “This place is safe, good,” “Oh, I don’t want to go to Kenmore or Winthrop.” Because I say, “That was then. Right now, this place is the best.” I don’t care what anybody say. A lot of people I recommend them to… When I was looking for a house I was looking around here. I don’t want to go to Devon. But I found a better apartment over there. But I’m still at Edgewater because my business, more or less I live over here because I come in the morning and leave at the night. So it’s a nice place. I do.


ML: Was it easy in the sense of being able to find a building to have your business in, the… Any sort of assistance that you may have needed to help do renovations, did you find the help you needed to start your business in Edgewater?

CO: No, I did not. Because when I move from right here, by the Library that they use now as a parking lot, I find the place on Thorndale. I was looking for place [unintelligible]. It wasn’t easy because everywhere was parked. But I find over there. But when I was in my business, I didn’t get no help. From Edgewater, from…..

I didn’t get any help. Was difficult for me. Because I wanted to use it as a head shop, like that’s my business. That’s what I went to school for, because I went to Truman College, but they… I mean they didn’t want a head shop over there, because of what is going on there. They want to build Edgewater. They want business that will bring them, money, and stuff like that. And let the bad boys go out of the street. So they didn’t let me do that. They said, “No,” I said, “Ok, I’m not going nowhere.” I love this place and I’m still going to be here. I change it to a restaurant. But it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy at all. It took me one year to finish renovation. And that one year, my landlord was taking money, I was paying. He didn’t give me no moment, to say “Ok, when you finish renovation, start paying me.” He was taking money, like crazy.


ML: If you had to give one piece of advice to anybody coming from your city in particular, Nigeria in general, or even just the area, Africa, moving to Edgewater, what would that piece of advice be?

CO: I would tell them to, first of all, Edgewater is a safe place. People around it, they are good people. They accommodate. They don’t care where you’re coming from. And it’s a good place to do business.

ML: Well thank you very much for sharing your story, it’s been very interesting. And maybe sometime we’ll hear more.

CO: Ok, thank you. Nice meeting you.