African Studies Quarterly

Invisible Sojourners: African Immigrant Diaspora in the United States. John A. Arthur. Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger. 2000. 200 Pp.


Diaspora studies is inspiring very exciting research on peoples of African decent in the Atlantic World. In this study of the African immigrant diaspora in the United States, John Arthur provides insight into the evolution and development of the African Diaspora. While people have migrated for centuries for obvious economic and ideological reasons, this book explains the economic and political roots of African migration in the 20th century. The book provides demographic and statistical evidence that Africans are the most important visible immigrant group in America in the last three decades. The book also exposes the geographical and intellectual components of the new immigrants. The phenomenal increase in the rate of immigration since the 1970s is attributed to a variety of reasons including geo-political and economic factors.

The main thesis of the book is that the dynamics and social constitution of African immigrants’ identity are inexplicably linked with macro-historical forces that transcend the shared experiences of the African Diaspora. The book probes into the immigrants’ experiences, the continuity of their African background in their new homes. It also explores the continuity of their African identity and kin-ship link with African relatives. The diverse and heterogeneous nature of their African ethnicity and culture remains a trait that marks the African Diaspora in the United States. Chapter 2 addresses the causes of African migration to the United State. Arthur identifies the complex and varied nature of this process and the distinction between African, Asian, and Latin America immigrants. The author shows that the dynamics of African immigrants are processes that can be traced within Africa itself. The author links the rate of migration in Africa to the deteriorating economic condition in Africa especially the effects of structural adjustment programs on African economies since the 1980s. But unlike Asian and Latin American immigrants, the process is very complicated for African immigrants who must deal with unfavorable Western immigration and procedures.

Chapter three traces the impact of political independence, the cold war and the disillusionment that emerged in the post-independence era. These factors, the author argues, have figured prominently in the decision of many African professionals to migrate. Drawing on INS data, this chapter presents a comparative statistics of African immigrants to the United States as well as their demographic characteristics. The empirical data is particularly useful in identifying country of origin, occupational category and level of educational attainment. Chapter four is a case study of African refugees from the Horn of Africa. Arthur focuses on the cultural, psychological and economic problems faced by African refugee immigrants. The experiences of war, poverty, and low educational attainment and linguistic barriers make adjustments in the United State particularly problematic. Race and social relations are central to the next few chapters. In chapter 5 in particular, he traces the racial prejudice that African immigrants face. Racial profiling by the police and the negotiation of the contours of race and ethnicity are issues which African migrants deal with. Arthur also shows that family structure, educational attainment, entrepreneurial undertakings and African kinship ideology shape the relationships between immigrants and the host society. Drawing on empirical data, Arthur shows that “strong kinship bonds sustained by and anchored in traditional African values have been pivotal in the immigrants’ adjustment to life in America.” The author also introduces a gender analysis to the African immigrant experience in chapter seven and concludes that African women have undergone cultural transformations. These transformations have challenged traditional African gender ideologies as a result of their presence in the United States. Chapter eight discusses the path to naturalization and repatriation and the future goals of African immigration in the United States. Despite the naturalization of African immigrants, they have maintained the link with their homeland and continue to act as role models for the African youth.

In the concluding chapter, the author maintains that Africans who come to America are resourceful, assiduous, and industrious. However, the continued preservation of their African identity has limited their assimilation into their home. The panacea to stem continued African immigration, the author argues, rests on improving the economic and political situation in Africa. Overall, this is a good overview of the African immigrant experience, how they construct membership in the American society and the future of African immigration. The focus on the unique nature of contemporary African immigration is a plus, however, the book took on a lot of issues that could not be given detailed analysis in a short book as this.

Chima  Korieh
Central Michigan University