Coming to America and Wanting to Go Home

Alone, in a foreign place, 18-year-old Kofi Manu, made his journey to the United States, but just 6 years later, he wants to go home.

“I’m so stressed,” Manu said. “Here I feel like everything is a routine lifestyle. You work, you go to school, you eat, you sleep.”

Manu’s home is Ghana. His family came to America in 2009 for his father’s job. One by one, the family relocated, he said. At the time, many people from his country were moving to America. It was thought to be a place with an abundance of opportunities.

In 2009, about 1.5 million African immigrants voluntarily resided in the United States, according to www.migrationpolicy.org . Webster’s dictionary defines a diaspora as, “ The movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland.” The first African diaspora was known as when the transatlantic slave trade forcefully brought millions (12 million) of Africans to the United States from 16th to 19th centuries. From 2000–2009, another African diaspora occurred, and the Manu family was a part of it.

Take a look at the number of African immigrants by region of birth. The diagram below displays data from 1960–2009.

Source: Data for 2000 from the 2000 census; 2009 data from the American Community Survey 2009. Data for earlier decades from Campbell Gibson and Emily Lennon, “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 1990” (US Census Bureau Working Paper №29, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1999). Available online.

Manu was excited to be America, but when his father died in a car accident just 2 years later, he said his perspective on America died with it. Now, there’s not a day that goes by where he does not think of home.

“It’s actually hard living in America,” Manu said. “Everything in Ghana was family. It’s not individual like it is here. You can go next door and eat or ask for some spices and it’s nothing. You don’t just live with you wife, it’s the whole family.”

Pan-African Studies Lecturer Idris Syed said that individualistic mindset stems from way back in American history.

“ We [America] grew out of a movement that really included slavery,” Syed said. “Even though we are a country of immigrants, that history is intertwined with slavery and capitalism.”

The idea of always looking to make a profit never really died, Syed said.

“We see that idea playing itself out in society all the time. That people can make as much money as they want and don’t feel responsibility for anyone but themselves,” Syed said.

African civilization had a different mindset than America from the beginning of their history and that’s the distinguishment, Syed said. It was more community and socially oriented so that the benefit was the community and to the family rather than to the individual.

That aspect of African culture is what Manu misses. Life is hard in America because in addition to much of his family back in Ghana, African food is more expensive due to supply and demand, and people aren’t as friendly, Manu said.

When working at a grocery store in Seattle, Washington, he experienced racism for the first time. Manu was chosen for employee of the month and his photo was placed on a wall. He said a white costumer came in and was upset that he was chosen and not a white person.

“My coworkers just laughed,” Manu said. “Early on it hurt my feelings, but then I realized some people are just ignorant. Racism will never go away. I never received racism in Ghana.”

But why does racism happen? Syed said it’s likely because of lack of knowledge leading to a poor perception.

“ In reality we [Americans] don’t really know the cultural histories of Africa and the importance of classical african civiliation within our own cultural context, so there are a lot of preconceived notions about Africa being poor, diseased, or politically stiffled,” Syed said.

Those notions are not the Africa that Manu remembers nor the country he misses so much.Yet surpassing his desire to return to Ghana is his passion for helping others, he said. Currently a nursing major at Kent State University, his dream is to open a nursing home for the elderly.

“ It was something I wanted to do since I was younger. Coming here and getting the opportunity to choose what I wanted to do, working in a nursing home seeing how old people go through pain in their last stages and helping them.” Manu said.

His ultimate goal is to return home to build his nursing home, but he knows he will have to build here first. Until that day comes, Manu said he’ll continue to visit.

Facts from: www.migration.org, African Immigrants in the United States

Size and Geographic Distribution
In 2009, about 1.5 million African immigrants resided in the United States.
African immigrants made up 3.9 percent of all immigrants in 2009.
Nearly two-thirds of African immigrants were from Eastern or Western Africa in 2009.
The top countries of origin for African immigrants were Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya.
There were 3.5 million self-identified members of the African diaspora residing in the United States in 2009.