At the turn of the century, a considerable number of Africans began migrating ‘willingly’ to Europe and the US. Their numbers began increasing rapidly in the US following the 1980 Refugee Act, which opened the American borders to people fleeing from conflict regions.
In recent times, a good number come in pursuit of higher education across American universities and colleges then end up getting jobs and/or families in the US. Hence start living and working in America.
America is a melting pot of different races and cultures. Given the minority status of African migrants, it is easy for them to get assimilated into the Western ways and abandon their ethnic culture. The attractions of the pop culture certainly make forgetting your African ways a whole lot easier.
It is interesting how African find means to reproduce and reinvent themselves in a society hell-bent in glorifying pop culture. A big force keeping Africa in Africans living in the US is the bonds they have among themselves based on shared ethnic and national affiliations.
For instance, you will find groupings such as the Sudanese Association, the Ghanaian group Fantse-Kuo, the Malawi Washington Association, and Le Petit Senegal (Little Senegal). These are groupings of Africans who either come from the same country back in Africa or share the same ethnic (tribal) grouping.
These groupings give the Africans a sense of home away from home, and with it, the desire to wear home clothes, eat home meals, enjoy home music and dance provide an economic opportunity. Where you find some African-born entrepreneurs providing products and services for the African immigrant communities in the US along the lines of the things they miss while away from home.
Let’s take the neighborhood of West Harlem in New York, for example. You find a relatively huge community of West African immigrants living in that area. One particular block – Le Petit Senegal – has so many Senegalese living close to each other that they made a little Senegal right into New York.
In this block, you get African fabric stores, grocery shops, hair braiding parlors, and restaurants serving traditional Senegalese cuisines sitting shoulder to shoulder along the block.
There is also the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, still within Harlem, with shops, restaurants, parlors stocked with foods and items from Africa. The tailor shops are buzzing with sewing machines making African wear like the boubou and agbada robes, sarongs of kitenge, and dashiki. Craftsmen making Maasai beads, leather products, traditional baskets, and other crafts.
While the adults who immigrated to America find ways to be completely African, as mentioned in the groupings above. Things are difficulties when it comes to African kids growing up in America.
Kids, regardless of their race, are impressionable and pay a lot of attention to their immediate environment. Thus get easily influenced by the American culture surrounding them, and are more likely to get drawn into it and lose their African identity.
African parents try to make the home environment as African as possible, with the hope their kids will form a strong bonding with their African identity. Though in reality, it becomes a tug of war with when the kids leave home for school, the mall, to hang out with friends from other races, and interact with the society outside the home environment.
While at home, parents do their best to preserve their ethnic identity through things like:
Speaking in their native tongue, especially if the dad and mom are from the same ethnic group back home hence can converse in the same dialect.
Cooking traditional dishes and wearing African attires, which can be sourced from outlets like the African-run shops mentioned above.
Watching shows and news bulletins on TV from back home if available to stream on the internet
Traveling to their home country during the long holidays.
Going for family outings in places where other Africans hangout like the African neighborhoods in Harlem mentioned above.
Attending churches, playgroups, self-help groups with predominantly members of the African community
The key to retaining the African identity in African kids raised in America is providing them an environment that reminds them of back home. However, it has been found that kids who came with their parents to America do well in maintaining their African identity compared to those born in the US.
The older the kid, when coming to America, the easier it becomes for them to retain their African identity. Although on the flip side, the harder it will become for them to assimilate into American society.
African Kids born in America tend to show little interest in learning about where they came from and the ways of their people back in Africa. Much of that can be attributed to how attractive the America pop culture seem to them. Admittedly, African parents will have an uphill task to instill African ways to their kids born in America, but with patience, understanding, and some openness, they can start appreciating their African heritage.