Americanah discusses many issues, but they are all centered around how race and ethnicity impact how we act, identify ourselves, and are percieved by others. Ifemelu is deeply rooted in her Nigerian traditions, but as she spends time in America these connections she holds begin fading away. This is part of the melting pot idea about America, which is that it is a huge melting pot of cultures, causing people to lose important cultural traditions they once held onto. This also becomes evident in the characters Ifemelu acquaints with in America.
Ifemelu came to America with high hopes and aspirations. Upon arrival and reuniting with her past friends and family, she directly sees the impact American society has had on them, changing important characteristics that connected them to their home country or built part of their character and individuality. The two characters this has been most evident in are Aunty Uju and Ginika. Assimilating to the Western ways has caused them to lose touch with who they are and where they came from. While this is sad, it is necessary to become successful in American society, which is what these characters are trying to accomplish.
Aunty Uju is the person Ifemelu lives with when first arriving in America. She gives Ifemelu the first glance at life and society in America and how that can impact people. In Aunty Uju’s case that doesn’t necessarily mean for the better. Right away Ifemelu notices changes in the way Aunty talks, her appearance, and even her identity as she now calls herself “you-joo” instead of “oo-joo” (128). When Ifemelu speaks Igbo to Dike, Aunty tells her to stop and says “This is America. It’s different” (134). She has made these changes in her life in a hopeful attempt at succeeding in America, but it turns out to be a lot harder than she thought. She has done her best to conform to American society in order to succeed, but it doesn’t seem to be working out very well for her. This reflects through her happiness and health, which aren’t very good as she is constantly stressed and tired trying to support herself and Dike.
The other character that shows Ifemelu the ways in which America changes people is Ginika. Ginika used to be Ifemelu’s best friend in Nigeria, but she left to live in America the previous year. When the two reunite in Philadelphia, Ifemelu already sees the differences in Ginika’s appearance and speech. She tells Ifemelu about the many differences in America compared to Nigeria, showing she is still aware of the old ways in which she lived in Nigeria, but they are fading away as she adopts the American way of life. Ginika has lost a significant amount of her individuality in America as she is now hard to tell apart from her roomates and other college students. However, unlike Aunty Uju, Ginika seems to be well adjusted and successful in the American lifestyle, showing these changes may actually be good for her.