If Victor Olowo wakes up tomorrow and wants to teach literature, he has that opportunity. He has that choice – as an American citizen.
It’s a freedom others across the world, including in his native country of Nigeria, can’t embrace as Americans do.
“The freedom to choose what one wants to do is something that’s pretty much practiced here,” he said. “It’s not easily attainable in most other places in the world.”
That is what his new, long-sought American citizenship means – as of last week, after almost 20 years living in the United States of America, Olowo has chosen to be an American, giving up his Nigerian citizenship to do so.
“That’s what it means to me,” said the Kilgore College graduate, registered nurse and personal trainer. Here, “People can choose where they want to work. They can wake up and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and they can do something else. A lot of people don’t understand the impact of that.
“My uncle impressed it on me the first time I came here: you can choose whatever you want to be. You can start to be a doctor, and then you can change your mind. You can start to go into finance, and then you can choose something different. That freedom of choice is so important to me.”
Femi Ibitayo still lives in Longview. He invited his nephews to join him there in 2001.
“He wanted us to come because he wanted to give us an opportunity we didn’t have back in Nigeria.”
Raised in a former British colony, English – “proper English,” Olowo jokes – was part of his upbringing, and he acclimated quickly to East Texas.
“One of the first things that took me aback – ‘y’all’ and ‘howdy’ and all that, East Texas slang,” he said. “I’m still learning a lot of East Texas slang. After being here for so long, it’s amazing what you learn every day.”
After his basics at Kilgore College, Olowo completed KC’s nursing program and went to work in Tyler. He got additional training as a personal trainer through the Cooper Institute in Dallas and has steadily added to his certifications. By 2013, he was doing personal training full-time and today works with a variety of groups, like the Rangerettes, to individual clients.
At 38, he’s spent half his life in America. He met his wife, Vanessa, here – she’d earned a Bachelor’s degree in economics in her native Colombia and was studying business administration at Wiley College when life brought the couple together in 2012. America is where they started a family: Victoria celebrates her fifth birthday in August, and the twins, Valerie and Valentina, are still running their parents ragged at 2 years-old.
Not so much, though, that Olowo lost his focus on attaining his citizenship.
From 2001 through 2013, he lived here on a work permit then with a green card from 2013-2018. After the requisite wait period, he applied to become a citizen in Spring 2018. As of June 25, in Irving, it’s official.
“There were 111 people from 33 different countries,” he said, a diverse mix who had a lot in common – in particular, they’d all taken the myriad of steps to reach the ceremony, including studying 100 questions on American history and government, answering at least six out of 10 correctly on their exams.
“I love reading, so it was a lot easier to remember,” Olowo said. He’s just finished “Leadership” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and that boost of history helped on his citizenship test: “The context of dates and events was so fresh in my mind.
Likewise, “The interview process was good. It was smooth.”
Parks Fitness Center is where Olowo both works and re-fuels, finding real fellowship with the facility’s patrons and with his coworkers. He works with clients in a range of ages, from young children to 80-year-olds.
“It has the equipment for all of them. It also lends itself to community,” he said, chuckling to think of the early birds who get their workouts in as soon as the doors open at 5 a.m. and of the “quiet crowds” who squeeze in their fitness hours in the afternoons. “The best part: it closes at 9 a.m. so you actually have a shut-off period.
“As a student, I worked out here. Working here, it’s more like a friendly environment. The people that I work with are not just clients, they’re family also. I know about their lives, they know about mine. I know their families, they know mine.”