Albion College professors Emmanuel Yewah and ’Dimeji Togunde have added a new perspective to the intellectual discourse on African immigration to the United States in their edited book, Across the Atlantic: African Immigrants in the United States Diaspora, published in December 2010 by Common Ground at the University of Illinois.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 led to a substantial increase in the number of immigrants from Africa. The legislation, a product of the 1960s civil rights movement, abolished the system of national-origin quotas and enabled immigrants from nonwhite European countries to enter the U.S. on the basis of their skills. Other immigration acts, such as the 1980 Refugee Act, the 1986 IRCA (Immigration Reform Control Act), and the 1990 Diversity Lottery Visa Program have created a significant African presence in the United States. It is estimated that about 1.5 million African immigrants now reside in the U.S., although scholars are awaiting the results of the 2010 Census for confirmation.
As one of the justifications for the publication of the book, Togunde, chair of the Anthropology and Sociology Department and the John S. Ludington Professor in the Social Sciences, stated that “unlike previous studies of African immigration, this book is the first to document how media and African literary texts create images [of the U.S.] in the minds of Africans living in Africa.”
In the chapter he wrote for the book, Togunde utilized multiple methodological approaches such as surveys, content analysis, and focus-group discussions to examine if Nigerian university students are engaged in any selectivity process in their treatment of information about the United States and in their desire to come to the U.S. From this extensive study, “I wanted to know if there is any evidence of selective exposure, selective perception and selective retention.” He found out that almost 90% of the respondents wanted to come to the United States and that while the media convey both positive and negative messages about the U.S., the respondents tended to remember only positive information. “Even obvious negative images were interpreted to be positive,” Togunde said. “It is amazing that many think of the United States as a land of milk and honey.”
Yewah, the Howard L. McGregor Endowed Professor of Humanities in the Modern Languages and Cultures Department, added that “given the strong focus on Africans already in the United States in the existing literature, we wanted to look back to Africa not only to capture the fact that Africans do, indeed, have an existence prior to coming here but, more importantly, to explore the many factors that might have created certain perceptions of the United States; perceptions that ultimately ‘triggered’ the desire in some Africans to want to emigrate.”
Yewah’s piece “draws from a wide range of literary and cultural texts” dealing with African writers’ imaginative responses to their real or imagined encounter with America and Americans. He contends that these responses have the ability to “seduce” their readers into wanting to share in the writers’ experiences by performing the act of emigration.
Their chapters set the foundation for the book. “In addition to our individual chapters, we assembled essays by accomplished Africanist scholars from both the U.S. and Africa” who have examined in their individual chapters how Africans draw from their spiritual experiences, nutritional habits, ethnic background and cultural practices in their countries of origin as mechanisms for adaptation in the United States.
The book is available on Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble. Togunde and Yewah have been pleased with reviews the book has received. In the words of Raphael Njoku, professor of Pan-African studies at the University of Louisville and a reviewer, “The book provides the reader with rich and diverse ways of imagining African Diaspora connections and the dynamics of identity formation and cultural hybridization.”