Immigrant Heritage Month: Erika Onyeise

Erika Onyeise will graduate in December with a degree in psychology and minor in public health. She is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.

Erika Onyeise will graduate in December with a degree in psychology and minor in public health. She is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.

During Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University will be telling stories of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives to share. In addition, we will be highlighting our research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and the contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of SJSU’s campus community and society at large.

Erika Onyeise was born in 1997, the year after her mother moved to American from Nigeria. Her father first arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s, following a sister to Chicago. He attended college and completed a degree in finance with a minor in business. Around 1995-96, he returned to Nigeria, married Onyeise’s mother and they returned together to the United States. During her childhood in San Diego, her parents worked hard to maintain a connection to their culture in Africa, through get togethers hosted by Nigerian community groups and clubs.

“Growing up, I met a lot of other people and kids who are now like my cousins,” said Onyeise, who is the incoming president of the Nigerian Student Association this fall. “I’ve noticed since my freshman year, there seems to be a bigger population of Black students and Nigerian students. I hope to encourage more people to come and learn more about Nigerian heritage.”

A psychology major who is minoring in public health, Onyeise will be completing her degrees in December. She was first drawn to psychology after taking an advanced placement class in high school at that time in 2015 with several gun violence incidents prominently featured in the news she also wanted to better understand people’s behavior and actions.

“One of my favorite parts of begin an SJSU student is meeting new people from different backgrounds,” she said. “I’m not from the Bay Area and I grew up around a lot of diversity in terms of race, but here there is more diversity, such as sexual orientation and religion.”

She said it is interesting as well to hear the different experiences of African American students, those whose families more recently moved to the U.S. and those from other places such as the Caribbean. One easier identifier is the types of food each group enjoys.

Onyeise has her own favorite foods her mother made while she was growing up, and though she has attempted to make some of the, she said they never quite come out the same as her mother.

“I love eating jollof rice,” she said, of a traditional rice that is turned orange by the tomato paste used to cook it. “It’s served with chicken or meat or fish.”

Another favorite is fried plantains, though Onyeise said the fruit has to be just right – not too soft or too hard – for her liking. When she visited over winter break, her mother showed her how to make a favorite stew dish called egusi. Soups are often accompanied by fufu, a dough-like food traditionally made from cassava flour that Onyeise’s mother has adapted to use Quaker oats.

Being the daughter of immigrants has taught her to persevere, said Onyeise. Her mother taught her to never say she can’t do something.

“‘You don’t say can’t.’ It’s something I will use on my kids someday,” she said. “It helped me. Things happen, but you can always overcome that.”

Spartans, reach out to us at communications@sjsu.edu if you would like to share your immigrant heritage stories.