Portrait of Oluoch Ogunde

“On holidays I feel pulled by both sides, both cultures.”

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I left Nairobi, Kenya, in 1996 to come to the U.S. to go to college to further myself and help my family. I went to West Chester University. My family was lower middle class, with eight children. We couldn’t afford college. My coming here was a community effort with fundraising to help with tickets and tuition. For a visa requirement, you have to show that you have funding, and that you have a place to stay. The visa process is rigorous.

I studied accounting. I thought I might be a doctor but decided to study business accounting. I met my wife in college. We got married and had a child; we live in Media. While I finished college, I worked in retail and odd jobs. Now we have three children.

My wife is from New Jersey, I have American children. I’ve been here a long time, lost my network at home, started my family here. Staying here, I could help my family here and also help my family back home. There are lots of college graduates in Nairobi who don’t have jobs.

My father is a retired college principal and a church leader. I have four brothers and three sisters. One is an engineer, one a lawyer, one a teacher, one works for the government, another a civil servant. They went to more technical schools. There are lots of educated people who can’t find jobs—unemployment is twenty percent. I help out my family as much as I can.

I have gone back to Kenya to visit four times. Three years ago, I took my wife and three children. On holidays I feel pulled by both sides, both cultures. We celebrate differently. Christmas is more of a religious holiday there. Religion in my family is very important. I try to pass that on to my children.

The night before I left everybody came to a prayer meeting to commit god to my trip. Forty people came, all the people who had contributed to my trip, they prayed and wished me well. We had a dinner of chicken and rice. There’s an Indian influence in our food. We had chapatti and soft drinks. It was prayerful and festive. My dad rented a van to go to the airport so that many people could come to see me off. It was my first time on a plane. I didn’t know where I was going.

My first impression of the US: it was overwhelming. Everything was huge and extreme. Not used to so much variety and so many choices. The roads were so big.

It’s been good.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

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