If your upbringing was anything like mine, you may not have had much interaction with people from other African countries. Going through school in the 1980s and 90s, you learned about the struggle for independence across the continent led by the likes of Kwame Nkurumah and Jomo Kenyatta. Beyond that, most of what we grew up knowing about other African countries was based on unfailing news of war, famine, and disease. Fast forward 20 years later; having moved to the West as adults, it is no wonder we as African immigrants have a very limited appreciation of each other’s cultures.
For neo-African diasporans like myself, we immigrated knowing that adapting to the Western way of life was going to be a learning curve. But what came as a surprise to me as I settled in the US was the ubiquity of immigrants from so many parts of the world. Faced by the daunting reality of learning and adapting not just to the American culture but also to a diversity of foreign cultures, I found myself vacillating within two social spheres. One made up of people from my own country where I had no trouble fitting in; and the other consisting of the general American public where my accent, mannerisms, and even my name made me stick out.
As I widened my social circles, I found myself gravitating towards other African immigrants who I met at work and at school. While we connected organically as Africans, our relationships were limited by little appreciation of each other’s countries. On the surface, we have a lot in common but as you dig deeper, you discover our backgrounds can be quite different depending on what part of the continent you were raised in. Twenty years later, I am still on a journey to learn more about my African brothers and sisters in America. I am pretty sure my situation is not unique, most African immigrants tend to stick to their kin and it is rare to find close friendships between immigrants from different countries.
We are determined not to be another forum that claims to represent Africans but only features people from one country..Neo African Diaspora
Children of Another
In starting the Neo African Diaspora forum, a key goal is to bring African immigrants together. We are determined not to be another forum that claims to represent Africans but only features people from one country. While it is easier to connect with our fellow countrymen and women, we are passionate about connecting with other Africans. For me, my interest stems from my job which entails working across different African countries. I have had the privilege of traveling to different parts of the continent which has helped open my eyes to the richness and beauty of our people. Despite this, I still have a limited circle of African friends. Yet, I happen to live in an area that has a diverse group of immigrants from the continent. So why is it so difficult for African immigrants from different countries to build relationships and solidarity across lines of national origins?
To answer this question, it is important to recognize the ways we are similar and the ways in which we are different. As African immigrants, we may be from different countries but we have a lot in common. This includes the values we apply in raising our kids; our love for the “village community” as enshrined in the spirit of Ubuntu; inclinations towards religiosity; our connections with the motherland; and our status as racial and ethnic minorities in our beloved adopted land. But we also have significant differences in the languages we speak, our accents, traditional and cultural practices, and religion. Even the educational system we grew up in which is often a product of a colonial legacy sets us apart.
Despite these differences, there is tremendous value in strengthening our relationships as immigrants from Africa. Living in the Western world can be lonely, there is a lot we can gain from getting together with other Africans. Question is, to what degree do we see ourselves as brothers and sisters?
In public schools and colleges, I have noticed that our kids seem to connect based on the commonality of African immigrant heritage. We may also connect through churches and mosques, African-themed nightclubs and restaurants, and sometimes through cultural festivals. These interactions are often superficial, we rarely build deeper connections and stronger social cohesion. Some have done this through intermarriage, though it is not as common. Other opportunities include working together as business partners and through affinity groups at our places of work, though this is not as common.
A Starting Point
Against this backdrop, there are many benefits in working together as Africans. Here are a few opportunities I see:
- No one should understand the concept of “it takes a village” more than Africans. We need to work together in raising our kids. Get a point to know the parents of your kids’ friends who are from Africa and hang out with them more. Make sure your kids see that you value connecting with other Africans.
- We could work together in advocating for our children at school. Our kids share commonalities in the home environment and a relationship with their parents, which may require a unique approach to address student’s needs.
- By highlighting the contributions of African immigrants to host country society and advocating for immigration policies that are not hostile towards Africans.
- Leverage the progress and paths already cleared by those ahead. Not all African immigrants are equal. Some immigrants groups are more established. A friend of mine says if you want to know what opportunities we should be pursuing as African immigrants, look at what the Nigerians and Ghanaians are doing. Surely, there is a lot we can learn from each other if we are open to it.
- In interfacing with institutions that are targeting African immigrants and diaspora. This includes development entities such as the African Union, the World Bank, and United Nations agencies. It could also include better coordination in civic engagement to advocate for minority rights.
- Better access to information on forums that bring African immigrants together. Start local and ensure that national groups are linked to grassroots organizations. Better linkages among groups targeting African diaspora.
- Have more cultural festivals to appreciate African immigrants.
- Create affinity groups at work, professionals networks, and business partnerships.
- Be proud to be African and go out of your way to connect and support an African brother or sister regardless of which country they are from.
Your Experience, Our Story
These are just a few of the opportunities that I think we as African immigrants have to do life together. As usual, we share our experience to spur dialogue, and here’s what we would like to know:
- What are the different ways in which you connect with other African immigrants where you live?
- What have you seen as the challenges of African immigrants coming together?
- What are examples of successes of African immigrants coming together?
- What are the realized and perceived benefits of African immigrants doing life together?
We look forward to hearing from you and we gather ideas on how African immigrants can strengthen social cohesion and leverage their common heritage to influence the greater good.
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