Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Asimiyu "Sim" Oyetunji, July 14, 2017

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Early life and education

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Partial Transcript: I'm Jack Wilson, uh, interviewing Sim Oyetunji from Nigeria, uh, for the Africans in the Bluegrass Oral History Project at the University of Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Asimiyu "Sim" Akinade Oyetunji introduces himself. He was born in a small village outside the city of Ibadan, Nigeria and went to the first years of primary school there. He finished Standard 6 and secondary school in Ogun State. Like other students at that time, he could not start primary school until his right hand reached around his head to his left ear so he started school at 9 years old. He then went to a junior college in Ibadan. He got Grade 1 in West Africa Examination Council and six distinctions in October 1961 and instead of waiting nine months to start at university he got one of ten electrical engineering scholarships to a new technical college opened by USAID and began his two year program in January 1962.

Keywords: Fathers; Ibadan (Nigeria); Ogun State (Nigeria); Polygamy; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); West Africa Examination Council

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.

GPS: Ibadan, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 7.396389, 3.916667
GPS: Ogun State, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 7, 3.583333
00:07:32 - Undergraduate and graduate studies in the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: And then how did you happen to come to the United States for further training?

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji heard about a USAID scholarship program, ASPAU (African Scholarship Program for American Universities), and got that scholarship to come to the U.S. He took SAT and TOEFL tests. He came in August 1964 to the University of Maine, spending just three years because they took some of his coursework from Nigeria. He went to Iowa State in August 1967 to earn his MS (1967) and PhD in electrical engineering (1971). An Iowa State professor was doing a sabbatical at the University of Maine and asked him to come to Ames, Iowa. He had a graduate student assistantship. He explains his reasons for choosing to major in electrical engineering.

Keywords: Electrical engineering; Iowa State University; PhD; Scholarships; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); University of Maine

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Engineering--Study and teaching; Higher education; Immigrants

GPS: University of Maine
Map Coordinates: 44.8994, -68.6681
GPS: Iowa State University
Map Coordinates: 42.026111, -93.648333
00:14:07 - Career with Shell Oil Company

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Partial Transcript: Um, do you remember, was, was the United States what you expected it to be?

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji says that Maine was cold but he had a good experience. He was offered an opportunity to work for Shell in 1967 and renewed the offer when he finished his doctorate in 1971 when he then took the job in early 1972 with Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956, first crude oil in 1959, and in the early 1960s Shell was pumping out oil and looking for staff. He was with Shell for about 27-28 years. After his retirement in 1997 he still did consultant work through 1999. He worked in Port Harcourt and Warri. He was seconded to Brunei Shell for two years 1980-82. He then stayed in Lagos as senior electrical engineer.

Keywords: Brunei; Careers; Jobs; Lagos (Nigeria); Port Harcourt (Nigeria); Shell Petroleum Development Company; Warri (Nigeria); Work

Subjects: Employment; Nigeria.; Shell Company of Nigeria; Shell Oil Company.; Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria

GPS: Brunei
Map Coordinates: 4.5, 114.666667
GPS: Lagos, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 6.455027, 3.384082
GPS: Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 4.824167, 7.033611
GPS: Warri, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 5.516667, 5.75
00:23:03 - Coming to the United States

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Partial Transcript: Uh, but how did you, how did you eventually happen to come to the United States?

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji was married and had seven children. In 1995, Abacha closed all the universities for some months. Four of his children were in university so he began sending them to the United States in 1997 and soon they were all in the U.S. The first one who became a citizen filed for him to become a citizen of the U.S. By 2008 he was given a green card. He initially refused because of his involvement in community organizations, but finally agreed to come in 2011 at the insistence of his children. He came to Lexington because his youngest daughter and her husband were at the University of Kentucky. His wife came in late 2016.

Keywords: Children; Citizenship; Family; Green cards; Permanent residency

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Higher education; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
00:28:29 - Experiences in the U.S.--Maine and Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: In, in, in what ways do you think you have, uh, integrated or acculturated, uh, with the United States?

Segment Synopsis: In the 1960s, Oyetunji gave lectures explaining Nigeria, including the Biafran or civil war. He was invited by people to their celebrations, like Thanksgiving in 1964 in Portland. Another family asked him to come to Bangor for Christmas in 1964. Even when the parents passed away the children keep in touch and he will be staying with one of their daughters for his 50th reunion in 2017. Oyetunji says that Kentucky appears to be a relatively quiet and happy area with a nice society. He talks about his youngest son's education in the U.S., National Service in Nigeria, and return in 2017.

Keywords: American hospitality; Bangor (Me.); Biafran War; Children; Christmas; Friends; National Service; Portland (Me.); Thanksgiving

Subjects: Civil wars; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Bangor (Me.)
Map Coordinates: 44.803056, -68.7675
GPS: Portland (Me.)
Map Coordinates: 43.666667, -70.266667
GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
00:36:51 - Family

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I believe you said you still have a son living in the Lexington area?

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji talks about his youngest son who has just returned to the U.S. He describes Nigeria's National Service, which was started in 1974. Everyone who graduates from college under 30 has to serve to one of the 36 states. His oldest daughter is a computer specialist who lives in London. His other children's jobs include mechanical engineer, pharmacist, accountant, and chemical engineer manager at Procter and Gamble. He still visits his extended family in Nigeria annually.

Keywords: Children; Family; Jobs; Nigerian National Youth Service; Professions; Work

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Immigrants--Kentucky; Nigeria.

GPS: Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 8, 10
00:45:13 - Questions people ask / Working at Walmart / Rotary Club

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Partial Transcript: What kinds of, of questions do people ask you when they meet you about, uh, about your birth country or about yourself?

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji talks about his work as a cashier at Walmart. He is a professional engineer licensed in Kentucky. Walmart work helps him pay monthly bills because his pension is in Nigerian currency. He enjoys meeting people. He doesn't feel old, even though his boss is 24 but he is almost 80. Many people now have heard about Nigeria so they are familiar. They don't say "Where is it?" The world is now a small global village. He talks about his long connections with Rotary Club, beginning in 1966 when he was invited as a student. Rotary Club was started in Warri, Nigeria in 1977 and he was a charter member. He was an officer in Brunei and in Victoria Island in Nigeria. He is now a member of Lexington Rotary Club. There are about 100 Nigerians in Lexington, mostly students.

Keywords: Current work; Organizations; Registered Professional Engineer in Kentucky; Rotary clubs; Walmart

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment--Kentucky; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
GPS: Warri, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 5.516667, 5.75
GPS: Brunei
Map Coordinates: 4.5, 114.666667
GPS: Victoria Island, Nigeria
Map Coordinates: 6.431111, 3.415833
00:54:46 - Discrimination

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Partial Transcript: Uh, sometimes, uh, people, uh, who, who, who come, uh, from, uh, African countries, uh, uh, feel that, that they may have occasion to have been discriminated against in some way.

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji talks an experience in 1968 when the community of St. Joseph, Missouri asked students to spend Christmas with them and they were not served in a pub because they were Black. He reported back to the Christian leaders that everything was not as rosy.

Keywords: Iowa State University; Racism; St. Joseph (Mo.)

Subjects: Discrimination.; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky; Race discrimination; Race relations

GPS: Iowa State University
Map Coordinates: 42.026111, -93.648333
GPS: St. Joseph (Mo.)
Map Coordinates: 39.758056, -94.836667
00:58:23 - Contributions to Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you know, uh, there now are many, many more, uh, African immigrants in Kentucky than there were 15, even 20 years ago.

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji says that in the U.S., people can work part-time and be educated. That opportunity for education and to practice is good.

Keywords: Contributions; Education; Jobs; Work

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment--Kentucky; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 37.5, -85
01:01:15 - His electrical engineering profession in Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: What's the best part of living in Kentucky, to you?

Segment Synopsis: Oyetunji describes his professional meetings as an electrical engineer in Lexington. He has given lectures at the University of Kentucky and at Duke University to speak about engineering and its impact in Africa.

Keywords: Africa; Duke University; Institute of Electrical Engineering; Professional experiences; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Employment--Kentucky; Engineering; Engineering--Study and teaching; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
GPS: University of Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 38.033333, -84.5
GPS: Duke University
Map Coordinates: 36.001111, -78.938889