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While scholars have identified a variety of push and pull factors that stimulate or generate migration and immigration, African Immigration to the United States is ignored in immigration studies literature. A variety of economic, political, and social factors are identified as responsible for immigration (Horowitz, 1992; Watkins-Owens, 1996; Fuchs, 1992; Weiner, 1992; Logan, 1992). These factors also generate the movement of African immigrants to the United States. Like other immigrants, they need to gain access to better economic opportunities, to escape from political turmoil, and to seek refuge from all manner of persecution . When African immigrants establish footholds in the informal economy, they are playing out a very old story that has been seen ever since immigrants started coming to the United States from other lands. When they flee repressive governments, hunger, natural disasters, and want, they also replay a very old story. Yet, this tells us nothing about what both separates and encompasses African immigration to the United States from other peoples' immigration.

By Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome

The Problem

Most casual observers only notice the most visible among the increasing number of African immigrants in the United States. Hair braiding and street vending by African immigrant micro enterpreneurs has become almost ubiquitous in many urban areas. However, such business people represent only one facet of the multidimensional varieties of African immigration to the United States. African immigrants include academics and intellectuals, professionals including lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, nurses, students, teachers. Some have done the traditional things that immigrants to the United States do to survive - taxi-driving, domestic service, factory work, gas-pumping, security guarding, home-health aiding, and innumerable other menial service sector jobs in homes, the hotels, restaurants, and hospitals. Often, these jobs are combined with schooling at night, or multiple jobs are taken to make ends meet. They have children, a huge extended family that depends on them for assistance or sustenance. Whatever housing the migrant or immigrant has is often shared with prodigious numbers of visitors, and house guests.

Over time, the nature, form and process of African immigration to the United States have changed remarkably. Beginning with early African migration, which intensified in the period after the second world war, and during the period of the nationalist anti-colonial struggle for independence, until today, when many United States consulates in African countries are swamped with Africans seeking rapid and immediate exit from their respective countries, there are identifiable economic, political, and social push and pull factors that move people to the United States from Africa. Most significant among these is the phenomenon of globalization, encapsulated by the process of creating a New World Order. The United States is central to the process of constructing and perpetuating this new world order. It is the primary architect and main beneficiary from the gains of globalization. The effects of globalization are manifested on the African continent in the Structural Adjustment Programs and democratization projects that have generated both negative and positive forces that drive the unflagging desire of Africans to migrate, immigrate, and seek political asylum in the United States.

While scholars have identified a variety of push and pull factors that stimulate or generate migration and immigration, African Immigration to the United States is ignored in immigration studies literature. A variety of economic, political, and social factors are identified as responsible for immigration (Horowitz, 1992; Watkins-Owens, 1996; Fuchs, 1992; Weiner, 1992; Logan, 1992). These factors also generate the movement of African immigrants to the United States. Like other immigrants, they need to gain access to better economic opportunities, to escape from political turmoil, and to seek refuge from all manner of persecution . When African immigrants establish footholds in the informal economy, they are playing out a very old story that has been seen ever since immigrants started coming to the United States from other lands. When they flee repressive governments, hunger, natural disasters, and want, they also replay a very old story. Yet, this tells us nothing about what both separates and encompasses African immigration to the United States from other peoples' immigration.

This study will focus on the period between 1970 and 1999. It will identify globalization as the causal factor that drives immigration. If globalization is taken as the independent variable, it becomes clear that African migration and immigration to the United States can be constituted in one sense as the human response to globalization over time. These responses in turn set in motion the processes that define the nature of the world at given times and places, the thoughts and machinations of the powers-that-be both on the African continent and in the West, and the responses of the governed, which set in motion, other changes, and counter pressures.

Globalization, briefly defined, is the increasingly coordinated management of the world's political economy. It involves the internationalization of finance, capital, the state, and human populations. This study is aimed at identifying some of the specificities of globalization. It will sort out Western individual, state, and other collective intentions, and indicate how these intentions are deployed on the African continent. The study will also identify, decode, and examine African intentions as subjects of history. These latter intentions will be juxtaposed against those of Westerners to show that a causal analysis that is based on European action and African reaction is limited in both explanatory power and theoretical relevance. The intended and unintended consequences of these dialectical deployments of intentions and consequent actions and reactions will be presented to explain the nature, form, and types of African migration and immigration to the United States and the consequences therefrom for Africa and the United States.

We need to understand why Africans make the decision to leave their home countries and come to the United States. It is also important to understand how they cope with the demands of settling in a new country. Questions such as: Why do people decide to settle where they do? How do they find jobs? What support systems do they develop? What institutions do they establish? What are their needs? will aid in determining the extent to which African immigration replicates or differs from the experience of other immigrant groups. Also, what are the consequences of African immigration on the United States? What is the relevance of gender to the phenomenon of immigration? How does the gender of the immigrant affect their experiences in a new country? How might the linkages between African businesses and their American counterparts on one hand enhance the empowerment of immigrants here, and on the other, redound to the life and times of the inhabitants of their original homelands? Are African immigrants, or a part thereof, the ideal immigrants? Is their presence a boon or bane to the United States economy? Many scholars have considered these last two questions with regard to immigrants from other parts of the world.

There is evidence that immigrants from the Sahel region of West Africa have established a bustling economy in Harlem, New York City. For some, this niche economy contributes to supporting the economy and values of the United States. Also, the remittances sent home by the Sahelians, who are mostly vendors, traders and merchants, is so substantial as to be responsible for generating economic renewal back home. It is also argued that the work ethic, the religious ethos, the characteristic virtues of this population make them especially suited for characterization as the ideal immigrants who relive yet again, the Horatio Alger myth of fulfilling the American dream by creating something out of nothing (Millman, 1997). This study will identify the skills that enable African immigrants to succeed or fail in their communities of settlement. It will evaluate the extent to which African immigrants are building bridges between American businesses and African ones.


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