In these interviews with OLADIMEJI RAMON, some Nigerians in the United States speak on why they picked aso ebi (celebration attire) for President Joe Biden’s inauguration, which took place on Wednesday, January 20, 2021
What is your name?
My name is Ope Oloyede.
What part of Nigeria are you from?
I am from Abeokuta, Ogun State.
How long have you been in the US?
I came to the US on December 15, 1998. I have been here for about 23 years now.
With your family?
Yes, I was one of the lucky recipients of visa lottery back then; so, I came with my family.
What part of America do you live?
I live in Houston, Texas.
Why are Nigerians so excited about the inauguration of President Joe Biden to the point that they even picked aso ebi?
It is so exciting. It is like the Independence Day in America. It’s like a day of freedom; a day that has been portrayed as one when people were let out of their hiding places. It is like people were feeling caged before, but now, it’s like they just grew new wings and they can now fly. That is the kind of excitement that people are feeling right now. It’s so wonderful.
You said foreigners were feeling caged before now. In what particular ways did the President Trump administration caged Nigerians?
It’s not just Nigerians, it is a general feeling. For the past four years, we’ve been in an atmosphere whereby people were living in fear. For example, my immediate younger brother lives in Dallas and he was telling me that in his area if you moved around and you saw a house with images of Trump and his deputy, Mike Pence, then know that you must be careful with whoever lived in that house. It was that serious. And you can see what happened two weeks ago, how his (Trump’s) supporters demonstrated at the Capitol. Even last summer, during the Black Lives Matter protest, there was violence but demostrators did not destroy a monument like the Capitol.
One of the things that President Trump did that made people feel that way was the travel ban he imposed on Muslim nations and some other immigration policies that he implemented. He made people to be scared. But he did it in a very intelligent way so that people would not accuse him of discrimination. But when you realise that somebody is saying something that relates to your situation, he doesn’t have to mention your name before you know that he is talking about you. So, because of his immigration policies, people became so scared, people became so caged to the extent that they had to be careful about whom they talked to and what they said in public. They also had to be careful about where they went to.
If you remember, when he assumed office, there were massive arrests; people were scared to go to the motor parks to take buses from state to state because people were being arrested by immigration officers. The immigration officers would just come on buses and start asking people for their papers. For example, I live in Houston Texas, and there was a time we were just getting alerted, people telling one another, ‘Guys, don’t go out today o, in a certain area people are being arrested’. So, it was that serious when Trump first came into office. And those were the things he did that made people to feel that way. And today (Wednesday), the new President, Joe Biden, is going to sign 17 Executive Orders and one of the Executive Orders is to lift the travel ban on the Muslim nations. So, you can imagine the kind of relief that people from those Muslim nations will feel. That is exactly how we feel now.
The arrests that you talked about, did it also affect people that are legally staying in the US?
That arrests were actually targeted at people that came illegally to the United States. But look, my brother, America is a land of opportunities for all. The people that can actually lay claim of ownership to America are the native Indians. Even President Trump was an immigrant, his wife was an immigrant as well. The new President Biden’s (maternal) forefathers were from Ireland. So, everybody who is an American today came from one place or the other.
Some people came into America illegally but they are already here. What the government needs to do is to give them papers to enable them to work and not become a nuisance. They should find a way to bring them into the system, so that they can contribute to the development of the nation. There is a reason why these people fled their countries in the first place; maybe because of one form of harassment or the other. Some are being threatened, but now they are here. If you arrest and send them back, of what benefit is it to America? As I am talking to you now, there a lot of apartments that are empty in America that still need people to fill them up. There are a lot of companies looking for people to hire. If these people are given the normal documentation they need and are brought into the system and are empowered to start working and pay their taxes, wouldn’t it be nice? And it is not that America cannot accommodate them, or that America is running out of resources. No, God has really blessed America and the country has more than enough resources (to take care of everyone). So, why are you sending these people away?
Who brought up the idea of the aso ebi?
I can’t really say who brought up the idea but it was trending on the social media. I’ve seen videos. Nigerians have their own version; I saw another video of a woman, I think she’s from Sierra Leone or Ivory Coast. They have their own version too. But the version I bought is the Nigerian version; I got it from Nigerian guys.
Did you buy for your family members too or just yourself?
I bought for my family and I know a lot of people that have also got theirs. There is going to be a party later today (Wednesday) in Houston and by His grace, I should be there too, because, like I said, it is like a public holiday. I wish you were here to really seen the ambience. It’s very wonderful and people are so happy; people are so relieved. I will not be surprised if I get on the street now and see people with hijab walking on the streets; people that have been feeling scared and hiding in their houses. Even today, there have been videos on the social media, warning people not to come out, especially coloured people, because they believe that Biden’s supporters are predominantly people of colour. So, they warned us that people should not come out today because there was an intelligence report about Trump supporters planning to attack people of colour. And this is not what America represents. America is a land of freedom and that is the reason why people come here. The real Americans don’t discriminate. America gives support to everyone, as long as you can go out there and work. Today is another historic day. We have our very first female Vice-President. So, anything is possible in this country.
How much does the aso ebi go for?
The one I bought, they sell six yards for $40.