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What it Feels Like to be an African Immigrant in America

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African immigrants share a lot of similarities with black Americans in terms of their lived experiences. They experience racial prejudice and discrimination, among other things, due to the color of their skin.  

Most often, African immigrants face the same risks of poverty, a lack of access to decent housing or quality healthcare, excessive policing, and increased incarceration as black Americans of African descent.

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More undocumented African immigrants are caught up in the prison-to-deportation pipeline than any other immigrant group.  Immigration officials deport disproportionately more people of color based on crimes. Compared to 45% of all immigrants, 76% of black immigrants are deported for criminal offences. 

They gradually lose their identities once they reach the United States. No longer are they identified as South African, Jamaican, Haitian, Ghanaian, or Nicaraguan. They are merely all black people 

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What Is the Meaning of African Immigrant?

An immigrant is someone born outside the country they currently call home. A person from Africa will always be a migrant from that continent, regardless of whether they have adopted American citizenship, served in the military, married a citizen, or have another status.

Thus, a person of African descent who chooses to relocate from their country of citizenship in Africa to another, whether temporarily or permanently, is an immigrant from Africa.

Where Do Most African Immigrants Come From? 

In recent years, the Black immigrant population in the United States has grown primarily due to African immigrants. From about 600,000 to 2.0 million between 2000 and 2019, the population of Black African immigrants increased by 246%. 

Consequently, the number of Black people born abroad has risen significantly from 23% to 42%.

In 2000 and 2019, 66% of Black people born abroad came from the top 10 countries of origin. These countries are all located in Africa or the Caribbean.

Although just under three-quarters of African immigrants are black, and just about one-fifth are white, nearly half of them have become naturalized citizens of the United States.  You can find most African immigrants in California, New York, Texas, Maryland, and Virginia. 

Over one-third of African immigrants work in professional positions, and two-fifths have at least a bachelor’s degree. 

Image source: Pew Research Center licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Why Did Africans Immigrate to the US?

In search of a better education and job opportunities, many Africans from countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa immigrated to the United States. 

Even though some arrived to stay, the vast majority didn’t. They created sizable communities in the urban metropolitan area and assisted relatives left behind to immigrate to the United States.  These locations include New York City, Washington, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. 

It’s crucial to remember that African immigrants make significant contributions through remittances to the growth of the American economy and the economies of their home nations. 

The World Bank estimates that $45.7 billion in remittances from Africans living abroad were sent to Africa in 2018.

How Many Africans Immigrate to the US?

As of 2019, approximately 2.1 million immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa were living in the US, making up 5% of the country’s 44.9 million foreign-born citizens. This diverse group includes people from 51 different countries with a mixture of linguistic, educational, and racial backgrounds. 

Sub-Saharan Africans have higher levels of education and are more likely to be employed and speak English at home than the entire immigrant population in the U.S. 

Although most of the 4.6 million Black immigrants in the US are from the Caribbean, a growing percentage comes from sub-Saharan Africa. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2060, the total number of Black Americans who were born abroad is expected to more than double to 9.5 million.

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The Challenges of Maintaining Cultural Identity While Adapting to American Culture.

For immigrants everywhere, including African immigrants in the United States, maintaining cultural identity while adjusting to a new culture is a common challenge. Immigrants from Africa come from different backgrounds, and their experiences can be very diverse. 

However, some everyday challenges they face in preserving their cultural identity while adjusting to American culture include;

Cultural Clash and Identity Crisis

The traditional cultural values of African immigrants frequently conflict with American society’s values. As African immigrants attempt to strike a balance between their African heritage and the pressure to assimilate into American culture, this may cause them to experience an identity crisis.

Language Barriers

Language is a fundamental component of culture, and many African immigrants may struggle to maintain their native tongues while interacting with Americans, mainly in English and other languages. 

Due to generational language gaps, children may find it challenging to communicate effectively with their elders at home.

Discrimination and Stereotyping

African immigrants may experience prejudice and stereotyping based on race and nationality. These unpleasant incidents may lower their self-esteem and make them reluctant to express their cultural identity publicly.

Generational Differences

While their parents and grandparents might want to uphold traditional values, the younger generations of African immigrants may be more inclined to assimilate into American culture. This generational divide may lead to conflict within families and communities.

Also, over time, some aspects of their cultural identity may decline as African immigrants adapt to American norms. This situation can result in losing traditional practices, clothing, and customs.

Economic Pressures

Many African immigrants come to the United States for better economic opportunities. Balancing the pursuit of economic success with cultural preservation can be challenging, as work demands may limit their ability to engage in cultural activities.


Children of African immigrants often attend American schools, where they are exposed to American culture and values. Although America provides one of the best schools or universities in the world, attaining an American education may potentially strain their connection to their African heritage.

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However, many African immigrants successfully navigate the process of adapting to American culture while preserving their cultural identity. 

They frequently maintain a balance by participating in cultural activities, observing customary holidays, and passing on cultural knowledge to younger generations. 

The United States’ vibrant multicultural fabric is further strengthened by the rich diversity of African cultures. 

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Sedi Djentuh
Sedi Djentuh
Hey, Sedi here, a content writer. She's fascinated by the interplay between people, lifestyle, relationships, tech and communication dedicated to empowering and spreading positive messages about humanity. She's an avid reader and a student of personal weekly workouts. When she's not writing, Sedi is busy advocating for plastic-free earth with her local NGO.


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