PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, Akuoma Omeoga was raised on Nigerian food, language and culture.
The 25-year-old will represent her parents’ homeland bogged down the bobsled track with her tresses green as a tribute to the country — flapping beneath her helmet just like a flag.
“One of the biggest things my parents did was talk the language in the home,” Omeoga recalled in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. “It is super comfortable to me, even though it’s not something which I speak fluently … I can also associate.”
Fellow and Omeoga brakeman Ngozi Owumere, along with driver Seun Adigun, are all Americans of Nigerian descent who’ll represent the nation. The nation is one of eight nations competing in South Korea as part of the contingent of African American athletes in a Winter Games.
For Adigun, her origins are as important as her birthplace, and that’s exactly what pushed her to create Nigeria’s team. For a first-generation Nigerian is to get the patriotism of your homeland “almost pounded into you” by parents who don’t need you to forget where you come from, clarifies Adigun, who competed as a track athlete to Nigeria from the 2012 London Games.
“Although we’re American, we are also Nigerian,” she said.” We Nigerian. That’s the one civilization that we know, that understand and we had been raised to respect. To show people that it is okay to be equally and it is fine to represent where you’re from is a powerful message which, hopefully, we’ve managed to translate.”
Owumere stated her African culture’s preservation was particularly important being raised in America. The team journey has only strengthened the importance of leaving a heritage in the title of Nigeria, she stated, and of that heritage.
“After our parents are gone, who is going to be there?” She explained. “The weight rests on us. We are the newest generation of Nigerians.”
It is a stage that took on added meaning after President Donald Trump’s reported remarks earlier this year referencing some African countries as “shithole countries.” Omeoga said she hopes the team’s presence in South Korea this month offers a new picture of who and what African American immigrants can be and contribute.
The girls are unapologetically Nigerian on social networking, at public appearances and on the contest circuit, in which Nigerian songs burst before races. At the opening service of last week, they entered a Yoruba fabric, the Olympic Stadium sporting white and green aso-oke.
The team has also been excited to contact fellow African American athletes from states as Eritrea and Madagascar — this season , making its debut — and is close to Ghanaian warrior athlete Akwasi Frimpong.
It’s an important statement for the continent Adigun explained.
“Just because you do not understand what it means to view snow or to know temperatures that are equivalent to icehockey, which doesn’t mean that you need to shy away from it,” she explained. “That’s what Africa is representing — which we can take those risks and continue to have the ability to compete with the very best in the world.”
Not that it’s not cold, Onwumere concedes, laughing. The Texan in her is shivering, but the Olympian is ready.
“Honey, it’s super cold!” She said. “But we are here for the Winter Olympics. That is what we expected. It is welcomed by us. We need it to be a little warmer, but we are fine with how it is.”
Omeoga’s attitude for those who would suggest that Nigeria does not belong is, “Why not?”
“There’s nobody on this Earth which may tell you that you simply do not belong someplace that you are,” she explained. “That’s the biggest thing which we bring to this Games. You should not be asking why (we’re here); you should be asking how.”