AS AN AFRICAN, my experience of living in Ireland has been very positive. Over 15 years ago, I chose to move to Ireland from my home country, Nigeria. It was a big step, one which came with expectation and hope for the future. Since then, a lot of changes have taken place.
When I arrived in Dublin, there was a wonderful welcoming attitude, but one of slight trepidation and a sense of division that distinguished those who were migrants from those who weren’t. However, over the years, this division has diminished more and more, and people from immigrant communities in Ireland are more integrated; we are partners, friends, work colleagues, and fellow commuters on the early morning bus to work.
One people united in pursuit of happiness
The longer one stays in Ireland and gets to know Irish people, the nuances and craic and communities, the more those communities get to know those of us who have chosen Ireland as their new home. I know some day I will not be asked time and time again where I am from originally – because we will be one people united in pursuit of happiness here on the island.
I have four children, all of which were born here in Ireland. My eldest son, now aged 12, has, since the age of five, been involved in many local activities including the local football club, St Kevin’s Boys Football Club. He is now currently signed with Arsenal Football Academy, something which makes me very proud. My other three children have also had excellent experiences here in Ireland. When we go away as a family, they always ask “When will we be going home?” It is a great feeling knowing that your children can call Ireland home, while also knowing that they have a strong connection to Nigeria.
I continue to celebrate my culture and heritage
Regardless of where I live, I will always remain African. I am extremely proud of where I come from and I continue to celebrate my culture and heritage personally, with my family, and in my community. One way I celebrate my culture is through my African dress. I regularly wear it, as it is a symbol of my heritage. My wife and I have also chosen African names for our four children and, ensure they know its meaning, all of which were born here in Ireland, so as to not lose track of where we come from. As a family, it is also important to eat traditional African delicacies, which I am happy to say my children love.
Professionally, I am a co-ordinator for the New Communities Partnership; an organisation which co-ordinates over 175 migrant groups nationwide, from over 75 countries. On a broader level, in 2005, I was one of the founding members of the first Nigerian Association of Ireland; an organisation which worked to keep what was Nigerian, and try to integrate this into the community. In 2011, I continued to promote Nigerian culture by founding the Nollywood Film Festival. This event provided the opportunity for people to see what it really is to be African. The festival grew and grew, so much so, that it is now called the Dublin African Film Festival, celebrating films from all over Africa.
Looking to the future, Ireland has a very good opportunity now. With so many different nationalities in Ireland at present, it is a time to develop a policy on integration and acknowledge that migration is here to stay. Africa Day is a great example of how we can celebrate all the positive elements that come with diversification. Since 2008, I have taken part in Africa Day, either personally as an MC or with the New Communities Partnership. It is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the African community in Ireland, as well as encouraging participation and supporting integration among others. I am looking forward to the 2014 Dublin Flagship event on May 25th, and many more to come.
Reginald Oko-Flex Inya is Director of Services at New Communities Partnership.
Africa Day celebrations, supported by Irish Aid, have been taking place nationwide over the past week. Today the national Africa Day flagship family festival takes place in Farmleigh Estate, Phoenix Park, Dublin 15, on Sunday 25 May from 11am to 6pm and is free of charge. Follow Africa Day on Facebook and Twitter @AfricaDay #AfricaDay. For more information visit www.africaday.ie.