Monday, January 17, 2011

African Immigrants Appreciate, Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.

African immigrants appreciate, celebrate MLK, Jr.

By Hana Baba on January 17, 2011 - 7:53pm

Share1 The American Civil Rights Movement may have been a struggle fought by, and for, descendents of African slaves wanting their basic human and civil rights in society, but in reality, that movement helped another population as well: African immigrants.

When my parents came to the U.S. in the 1970s from Sudan, they found a post-civil rights era America. The Civil Rights Act was in place, African Americans were called “black,” not “colored,” and gone were the “Whites only” signs, as segregation was so “last decade.” Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X had been assassinated. They found an America that had just emerged from an identity transformation. And while they weren’t a part of that change, they benefitted firsthand from it.

Such was the case of the thousands of African immigrants to the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s. African countries were recently decolonized, and some of the more educated and able sought opportunity – education and employment – abroad. There was a large influx of Africans in Europe and the UK, and then to the U.S. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 effectively encouraged immigrants from developing nations to come to the U.S., particularly from Africa and Asia. And, they did. They tended to head for the big American cities, or wherever they were accepted for university degrees or jobs. And the numbers steadily increased over the decades. The 2000 census estimated the number of African-born people in the U.S. was 881,300. By 2008, that number increased to 1,436,000.

They came, they worked, learned, built communities and businesses – flourishing as black people in America. So today, as America celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his struggle for racial equality, I would like African immigrants and the children of African immigrants – a group that includes our president – to reflect on what would have been their situation had a visionary like Dr. King not struggle and succeeded. After reflection, comes appreciation.

I, for one, will be taking my children to one of the many MLK events here in the Bay Area, so that they, too, can understand what it took for them to live freely in America today.

Thank you, Dr. King.

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