Abraham and Tomori on how their Nigerian heritage helped shape them into the men they are today
To celebrate Black History Month, we sat down with Three Lions internationals Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori to discuss how their Nigerian heritage helped shape them into the men they are today and why growing up in England helped provide ‘the best of both worlds’.
For Tomori, he was born in Calgary, Canada, but moved to Kent as a toddler, whilst for Abraham, he was raised in Camberwell, south London.
But both men have very similar backgrounds, with their African heritage integral to their upbringing.
From abbreviated first names derived from their full African names, growing up in households with Nigerian parents, to joining Chelsea at a young age and impressing in the Blues’ first team and then with England, before culminating in big-money moves to two of the best sides in Italy: Abraham and Tomori have similar stories to tell.
With October being Black History Month, it provides the opportunity to share, celebrate and understand the impact of black heritage and culture in the United Kingdom.
Abraham (Kevin Oghenetega Tamaraebi Bakumo-Abraham) and Tomori (Oluwafikayomi Oluwadamilola Tomori) are just two of several players in the England squad who enjoy mixed heritage, so we sat down with them both for a discussion on their Nigerian upbringing and why they are so proud of it.
Tammy: “I grew up in a very multicultural area, with different ethnicities, from different countries and with different types of people. I think it helped me really embrace my African heritage. My family originally came from Nigeria and in my area we had the African restaurants, the shops which sold African food like plantain, and that is where I dipped into my culture a bit more. I had friends who had similar backgrounds and being at Chelsea, we had quite a few players who had the same backgrounds as us and it was always nice to interact with that side of our family.”
Fikayo: “Yeah, it was a similar thing with me. We were fortunate that we could be around people who had similar backgrounds so it wasn’t a strange thing to talk about. For me as well, being from where I come from and going to parties or weddings, you interact with so many other people from Nigeria and our culture was definitely a big part of what made me who I am today and a big part of me growing up.
“I was lucky to grow up in England where it is very multicultural and there are lots of different cultures. It wasn’t strange to see Black or Asian people or people of other backgrounds. They would be on TV, in movies, at sports events and other things like that. So I was fortunate to have experienced that and grown up where racism is not as big a thing, where it’s not really high-end. It’s a very multicultural community, so I was very fortunate.”
Tammy: “For me, my favourite part of the Nigerian heritage was the music. Even now, I still play the music. It brings you joy and a smile to your face. To see everyone feeling the same way you feel when you play the songs, it’s a nice feeling.”
Fikayo: “Yeah it was the music for me too and now you can go to places like the O2 and see artists from Nigeria or if you go to Paris or wherever you can see them performing all over the world. Food was a big thing as well. I grew up eating Nigerian food at home and there are loads of other aspects of my life, even to this day, that I don’t realise have helped make me who I am. Growing up in a Nigerian household, it was always loud, there were always people around, there was always banter flying around and it was always fun.”
Tomori & Abraham | First Impressions
Look back to Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham's 2019 interview following their first England call-ups
When the topic of their favourite food was raised, before the question was even finished, Tammy jumped in: “Jollof rice. Different African cultures try to claim it but with us being Nigerian, we are claiming it ourselves!”
Fikayo: “There are loads and loads of different foods and all around Africa there are different names for different dishes but for me, yeah it would be jollof rice and I like pounded yam – that is more deep culture and hard food – but that’s what I grew up eating.
“You would have your uncles, aunties and cousins around all of the time. Every summer, you’d have so many people staying at your house and you’d go to other people’s houses.
“At Christmas, everyone would come together and Nigerians like to be showy – everything is a show, everyone likes to have fun and that was how it was growing up.”
Tammy: “Yeah same. Luckily for me, my family all lived in the same area. So all my cousins were within walking distance and so were my grandma and grandpa as well. We had a big family and we were always together.”
Fikayo: “My African heritage shaped me a lot. When you grow up like that and grow up with people who had the same heritage, you would share jokes and almost compare notes on how you grew up and how your parents are and how it was going to Nigeria or when someone from Nigeria would come to visit.
“A lot of the jokes that people like me and Tammy would tell, maybe other people wouldn’t understand because we are from Nigeria so we have experienced those kinds of things and you make fun of the things which have happened and things you might see on social media from comedy sketches and things like that. It is definitely a funny dynamic between people.”
Tammy: “Yeah exactly what he said. A place like Nigeria is so global and it has grown even more. Things like music are going around the world and you can see different cultures enjoying it and that is one of the things we love about Nigeria, it is very diverse and it makes you happy.”
Fikayo: “We, 100 per cent, are able to celebrate both sides of our heritage because it is our make-up and where we are from. We couldn’t not claim it or be it because that is what we are.
“We’re lucky enough that we can have the best of both worlds. We’re obviously English but also Nigerian so we can do things like make fun of Nigerians and make fun of things which happen in England, so we have the best of both worlds growing up.”
Tammy: “It’s a bit like ‘so far but so close’. We’re living in England but we still feel partly Nigerian too. Fikayo and I have been there growing up and it’s nice to have both sides. There are two completely different cultures and two completely different types of people but like Fik said, we have the best of both worlds.”
When asked if they had any advice for young kids, when it comes to Black History Month, Tammy said: “People should look at it in a positive way. The world is changing and it is getting better. Of course, we still have a way to go but we have to look at the positive aspects. Our ancestors have sacrificed a lot for us to live the lives we do today and we have to look at things positively, learn about the history and always try to make a change for the better.”
Fikayo added: “Just be yourself and don’t be afraid of what you could achieve or think that you might not achieve it. Especially growing up in England, we have so many opportunities and there’s not as much discrimination in jobs so you can make it in whatever field you want to make it in. So just be yourself and don’t be afraid of going for what you want to achieve in life.”
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