Mondays on Zelda & Scout are all about you! In a series we call “Just Folks,” we talk to Southerners who have found their way to New York about where they’re from, where they are now, and what home means to them. Tell us your story here!
This week we have Anita Badejo. A Nigerian-Hungarian writer who spent the bulk of her childhood in Texas and Arkansas and now calls New York home (or at least one of her homes), she has a love-hate-and love again relationship with the land south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Ack, this is tough for me! I was born in Debrecen, Hungary, but spent most of my adolescence growing up in Lubbock, Tex., and Mountain Home, Ark.
New York, N.Y.
Who are you and what do you do?
By day, I”m the Editorial Assistant to Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed, where I also fact check and contribute longform pieces. By night, I’m a connoisseur of reality television. I also languish in talking (OK, ranting) about social justice issues, reading and watching copious numbers of true crime stories, cooking/baking, and walking around everywhere and nowhere in NYC.
Time North of the Mason-Dixon line so far?
6 years! (4 of them in Rhode Island for college)
What brought you to New York?
I wrote/edited/interned for publications throughout college and always knew I wanted to be a journalist. So, after leaving Teach For America after a year (a story for another time), I knew I needed to apply for jobs in the City. I ended up getting a job as a Sales Assistant at W Magazine, my first — and probably last — experience on the business side of media.
What’s the most common reaction when people learn where you’re from? What’s something about life in the South that you have to explain to non-Southerners?
People are usually surprised! I don’t have even a hint of an accent (I never developed one since my parents are both immigrants and I was born abroad), and often I’m meeting them in the context of people who aren’t from the South (college friends, work friends, boyfriend’s friends).
One thing I find myself explaining to those who’ve spent their lives on the coasts is that the South is a complex place. People tend to view the South as, quite literally, black and white: full of white (often male) racists/sexists/bigots and the black people/women/minorities who’re constantly defending themselves. That’s a truth, but it’s not the whole truth. I ‘m biracial, got most of my education from arguably the most conservative public school system in the country, and went to high school in a town that is an hour away from the largest remaining KKK faction’s headquarters. At the same time, I largely enjoyed living where I grew up and interacting with many people who I knew had views I considered close-minded. We should never excuse ignorance, but I also think largely demonizing Southerners is unproductive, especially since some of those who chastise white Southerners for being ignorant are the same people who’d have a hard time hiding their discomfort in many of the South’s majority black regions.
Describe life in NYC as people at home picture it. Describe life in NYC as it actually is.
I think people from Arkansas fall into two camps when it comes to thinking about life in New York: 1). Young people, who think of NYC as a glittering city of lights, action, and adventure where you’re constantly chasing and landing new opportunities and everyone is beautiful and cool, and 2). Old people, who think of NYC as a hedonistic place overrun with danger and filth.
Honestly, it’s both. I’m a little over a year into living here, and — because I love my job, my friends, my boyfriend, my neighborhood, etc — I’m not ready to leave anytime soon. NYC is the place where I finally experienced happiness and success, and where I dug myself out a bit from the rabbit hole that is “finding yourself” post-college. However, that only came after spending six months in the City in a job that really (REALLY) wasn’t right for me. I was really lucky that things lined up for me so well and so quickly, and I know that’s not the case more often than not. Also, it’s filthy and the rent is too damn high. So, yeah. I’d say I’m still experiencing NYC through rose-colored lenses. But they’re grimy ones.
Where do you consider home? Why?
I have four homes: NYC, Mountain Home, Debrecen, and Lagos, Nigeria.
NYC, because it’s where I live and thrive now, and I have so much support, love, and friendship here.
Mountain Home, because it’s where my parents and my dog live.
Debrecen, because it’s where all my mom’s family lives, it’s where I was born, and it’s where I spent all my childhood summers.
Lagos, because it’s where all my dad’s family lives, and it represents half my heritage.
Do you miss where you’re from? Do you see yourself going back?
You know, weirdly, I do. I used to hate living in the South — HATE it — mainly because I held very critical views of the people and culture around me. Once I went to college, I was able to realize that while there is a conservatism in the South that’s not felt as much in the Northeast, there’s ignorance everywhere, and growing up there also made me who I am today. I’ve been very fortunate in the experiences and education I’ve had. I’m thankful for having had open space to run around as a kid, for being able to see the stars every night, for Tex Mex. I recently took a trip to Austin and couldn’t stop appreciating how friendly my server at a restaurant was. Plenty of people in New York are polite, but there’s something about being in a place where so many are downright cheerful. I miss the warmth.
Do you consider yourself a Southerner? Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? Why or why not?
I mostly consider myself a New Yorker, but I’ll always be a bit of a Southerner as well. I can’t shake my habit of smiling at every stranger I make eye contact with, nor do I want to.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines New York for you?
Book: “The Love Affairs of Nathanial P” by Adelle Waldman
It hits on so many themes that have defined my experience in New York: working in the publishing industry, living in Brooklyn, navigating relationships/ emotionally unavailable men.
Food: Lobster rolls
An answer more befitting of Maine than New York, but one of my summer traditions while interning in NYC and first discovering the city was getting a lobster roll from Luke’s Lobster in the East Village and sitting down to eat/people watch in Tompkin’s Square Park. It’s one of the ways I fell in love with the city.
Image: The skyline as seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park.
TV Show: “Girls”
Though I’ve identified with it less as it’s progressed, the first season aired while I was a senior in college and still saw New York as the be-all-end-all of where my life was heading. It captures the messiness and frivolity of a lot of the situations I’ve experienced here in a real and hilarious way.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines where you’re from?
Food: Tex Mex in Texas, dessert pizzas in Arkansas
I didn’t realize how much I’d missed/loved the endless supply of Tex Mex in Texas until I went to Austin last year and had tacos. NYC has some great Mexican food, no doubt, but there’s something about eating in a place so close to the border that’s special. As far as dessert pizzas: they are not unique to Arkansas and, to be honest, they are kind of gross, but my best friend and I would ritually split them during many of our countless times hanging out at my house, and they’re the first thing that sprang to mind. Half-Chocolate Chip. Half-Bavarian Cream. Wholly awesome.
Song: “Chicken Fried” by Zac Brown Band
I’ve never liked country music and still wince a bit at how much I’m exposed to it in the South, but this song captures so well the culture and spirit that a lot of the people I grew up around loved about it. It reminds me of football games, going to “the Square,” and running into everyone under the sun at Wal-Mart.
“Is this Love?” by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Living in the South requires a ton of driving. In high school, my boyfriend and best friend both lived two-and-half hours away from me, the nearest mall was two hours, and the nearest major airport was three. I listened to the same mix CD, made by my best friend, for many of the drives, and this song was on it. Anytime I hear it, I think of all those hours winding through hilly Ozark roads.
What is the best cure for homesickness?