#winning: What US Citizenship Meant for Omo Ojeomogha in 2020
Elections present the opportunity for us to influence the direction of our country’s governance. Last year, /dev/color A* member Omo Ojeomogha participated in his first United States election after over 10 years of U.S. residency.
Looking for inspiration? Look no further than the leaders, achievers, and go-getters that make up the /dev/color community. In the face of this past year’s hardship, our members have persevered and thrived. To kick off the new year we spoke with SF-based engineering manager, Omo Ojeomogha (and his new baby, Olanna!), on obtaining U.S. citizenship, among many other accomplishments, in 2020.
“Twelve Years an Immigrant”
Omo grew up in Nigeria where he attended college and graduated early at 19 years old. In 2008, he moved to the United States on a student visa, settling first in Los Angeles, CA. His journey from a student visa, to work visa, to permanent resident, to naturalization, and, finally, to citizenship took a total of twelve years. “People say ‘You were twelve years an immigrant,’” he laughs.
During these twelve years, Omo was limited by his lack of U.S. citizenship, in aspects of life which those provided citizenship at birth often take for granted. “There’s a certain privilege people don’t know or understand with being a citizen, and I’ve lived a life of [a] non-citizen to understand how impactful that is.” He elaborates by speaking specifically of work and travel.
“Companies Know They Have Power Over You”
In 2010, Omo got his first job out of grad school. Initially finding jobs on a work visa, he says he felt “handcuffed by the companies. I couldn’t just go out on my own. The companies know they have some power over you.” He tells us that in order to leave an organization and work somewhere else, Omo needed to file a visa transfer, which took at least three weeks to process in addition to the average new job orientation timeline. And when companies have to make cuts, if a newly hired non-U.S. citizen gets laid off, they have 30 days to leave the country. “That’s the rule,” Omo says.
For these reasons, Omo felt relieved to become a permanent resident while living in New York. “It was more empowering. It allowed me to start thinking beyond the safety of big companies.”
“The US Passport is Powerful”
The privilege of U.S. citizenship was made emphatically clear to Omo when traveling for work and with his family. “My wife is a citizen,” Omo tells us, “And it’s amazing — the difference in interactions we have when we travel. We land in France, it’s like, ‘Oh bonjour, welcome to Paris,’ she goes on her way. I’m right behind her with my Nigerian passport, it’s like, ‘Where are you goin’? Can I see a ticket to your hotel? Where you stayin’? When are you leaving the country? How much do you have in cash? What’s in the bag?’”
Omo’s family has grown accustomed to the extra holds and delays they endure during frequent travel. He’s come to expect airport confrontations and xenophobia as a near-constant experience. “You just go in and expect a very adversarial interaction like, ‘Leave my country, you’re not welcome.’”
If there’s anything Omo’s learned throughout his travel to over thirty countries in recent years, it’s that, “The U.S. passport is a powerful passport.”
“Citizen on Friday, Voted on Tuesday”
On October 30th, 2020, Omo attended his official ceremony for United States citizenship. Incidentally, U.S. Election Day was just a few days later. Neither of these feats — establishing U.S. citizenship and voting in one’s first U.S. election — is insignificant on their own, not to mention the weight and consequence of civic engagement in 2020.
“The ammunition to make change is the vote. At the end of the day, the vote is what will put the right people in power. And I just couldn’t do any of that.”
Living in the U.S. as a non-U.S. citizen often comes with the experience of witnessing the need for change around you without having the power to influence any such change through the electoral process. “When I first came to the country I almost felt happy I couldn’t vote, but the more I stayed and started understanding how much influence you have on your local members of congress and how much you can impact your neighborhood and community, I felt handicapped.”
“The ammunition to make a change is the vote,” Omo says. “At the end of the day, the vote is what will put the right people in power. And I just couldn’t do any of that.”
“/dev/color Helped My Career”
Throughout his career trajectory, Omo credits /dev/color for having his back. He tells us that /dev/color has “been a good resource, and it’s helped me in my career in a lot of ways.”
Once he discovered his passion for payments, he looked to the /dev/color family for connections in the field. “I just went to the /dev/color directory and was like ‘Who do I know at /dev/color who works at Square? Who do I know who works at Airbnb? Who do I know who works at Credit Karma?’”
Omo now manages a team of 14 people at Stripe, the Bay Area-based financial services company. He came to Stripe from BlackRock, where he worked as an engineering manager, managing 16 people across three different continents.
Heading into his fifth year in /dev/color, Omo continues to appreciate the support and experience he receives from the A* program. “Every single year I always seem to get a different thing from it that just keeps me coming back.”