Book Reviews

Book Review: Tears of My Mother: The Legacy of My Nigerian Upbringing by Dr. Wendy Osefo

Note: I received this from a Goodreads giveaway. This is my unbiased review.

When I was perusing the titles on Goodreads for the giveaways, I can’t explain what about this book intrigued me. I had no clue who Dr. Wendy Osefo was. I’ve never watched an episode of any Real Housewives show, and have never seen her political commentary either. What intrigued me, I think, is the relationship between mothers and daughters. After reading this, I know we have a lot in common in that area.

Dr. Wendy Osefo is a first-generation Nigerian immigrant. She was born in Nigeria. When she was three years old, her mother left her father in Nigeria and took her two daughters to the United States. Wendy’s older sister Yvonne had been born in the United States, but they had followed their father back to Nigeria before Wendy was born. She takes a lot of time explaining the cultural differences between Nigeria and the United States. In the hierarchy of the family, the father is supposed to rule. When her mother, Susan, took her two daughters and left him, that was going against the cultural norms. Susan did that a number of times in her life and in how she raised her children. However, there are other cultural norms that Yvonne and Wendy were subjected to. I thought she did a great job explaining how her mother bucked the system at times, while at others seeming to embrace them.

The main objective of the lives of both Wendy and Yvonne seemed to be to achieve. Nigerians judge each other by how much their children achieve in life. For them, the only options growing up were to be a doctor, a lawyer, or (maybe) an engineer. They had to marry well and the spouse had to be Nigerian as well. There were no other options for them. This was drilled into them over and over again.

As Wendy grew up and had her own family, she works through how her mother raised her and her sister, versus how she is raising her children. She doesn’t negate her upbringing or lash out at her mother, she’s trying to reconcile everything in her life and gives her mother plenty of credit. At the same time, there were mistakes. One thing we have in common were mothers who would never apologize or admit they were wrong. It’s hard to form an adult relationship with someone like that, and I saw a lot of myself in her struggles over this.

Wendy didn’t exactly follow the path her mother wanted her to, but she did make something of herself. She has four degrees, including a PhD in public affairs and community development from Rutgers. She has worked for the Obama Administration and as a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She also took a risk and put herself out there as a political commentator on Fox News. She writes that she felt it was important to have a black face responding to a lot of what was being said.

She married a Nigerian, as was expected, but his parents were against the marriage and chose to be out of their lives. I admire her husband for doing that as he was bucking cultural traditions as well. They have three children. Just as the pandemic began, she was offered the opportunity to be on Real Housewives of the Potomac. As much as she seems to enjoy the attention, she wanted to do it to show people what a first-generation immigrant’s life was like. She wanted to break the stereotypical way both immigrants and African-Americans were viewed.

I really enjoyed reading Tears Of My Mother. Despite our many differences, I could relate very well to Wendy as she tried to figure out how to relate to her mother as an adult. Her details about her life – the life of a first-generation immigrant – really gave me a deeper understanding of the culture. There were a few things that bothered me, such as when she talks about the flak people gave her for how many times she mentions she had four degrees on the television show. Since I’ve never watched it, I have no idea if it’s something she’s always shoving in people’s faces, but from the way she answers those detractors here, they might have a point. Also, she feels the need to mention the plastic surgery she’s had. From the pictures, she was always beautiful and I don’t know why she felt the need to have that after being on the show. Maybe that’s something else I’d have to watch the show to understand.

I can recommend this book to anyone willing to learn more not just about the immigrant experience in this country, as well as what it’s like to be an African-American in our society. For me, though, the most relatable part was trying to give credit to her mother while also feeling the need to get acknowledgment of some of the things that could have been better. As I’ve said elsewhere, mothers and daughters can be complicated.

Leave a Reply