Academic journal article Migration Letters

Exploring the 'Third Coast' and 'Second City': Background and Research on African Migration in the Midwestern U.S. and Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Exploring the 'Third Coast' and 'Second City': Background and Research on African Migration in the Midwestern U.S. and Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area

Article excerpt


The United States now represents one of the foremost destination for contemporary African migrations, as the U.S. is the second largest non-African recipient country for migrants from all corners of the African continent (Ratha et al., 2011), and is quickly becoming the single largest non-African recipient country for those originating south of the Sahara (Capps et al., 2012). Even so, voluntary African migrations into the U.S. are relatively new developments in the grander scheme of global population movements, following the removal of racially restrictive immigration policies in the mid-1960s as an ancillary to broader civil rights movements at the time (Castles et al., 2014).

In the decades since, U.S. Census Bureau demographers estimate that the nation's "stock" of migrants born on the African continent has almost doubled in each successive decade, resulting in nearly 1.6 million foreign-born Africans currently residing in the U.S. - accounting for around 4% of all immigrants (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006; Gambino and Trevelyan, 2014). During the first decade and a half of the 21st Century, African migration has experienced an even more dramatic upsurge as populations of African-born individuals residing in the U.S. have more than doubled from around 880,000 in 2000 to nearly 2.1 million in 2015 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).

The relative newness of African migration is even more pronounced in interior regions of the country, as more densely populated coastal and border areas constitute natural arrival points for migrants from which they often branch outward to settle in larger metropolitan areas in the Midwestern U.S., particularly around its Great Lakes region (Yeboah, 2008; Capps et al., 2012).1 For the most part, African populations were absent in large numbers from Midwestern states and cities until the mid-to-late 1990s, and in some cases into the early 2000s; thus, researchers have paid very little attention to the unique experiences and challenges of Africans in this increasingly important migrantreceiving region of the country (see, e.g. Ocran, 2005; Yeboah 2008).

Early on, steadily increasing trickles of African migrations to large Midwestern/Great Lakes regional metropolitan areas like the nation's "Second City" of Chicago, Illinois in the mid-to-late 20th century were driven by (predominantly male) students seeking college and university education in the US beginning in the late 1960s and carrying into the 1980s. Since then, African populations in Illinois have doubled between each of the decennial census rounds following the liberalization of immigration laws, making African migrants one of the fastest growing foreign-born populations in both the region and the U.S. as a whole (Capps et al., 2012).

The U.S. Census Bureau states that around 43,000 African migrants currently reside in the greater Chicago metropolitan area, although estimates in the city indicate that total foreign-born African population did not reach five-digit figures until the 1990s (Paral & Norkewicz, 2003; Gambino and Trevelyan, 2014). Survey data further suggest that the vast majority of African migrants (70%) arrived between 1996 and 2008 (Wilson, 2012), while over the course of just the past few years (2013-2015), populations have increased by more than 11% in the area (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).

Among West Africans in particular, the last two decades of the 20th century saw significant increases in population sizes in the U.S. and its Midwestern heartland. Overall, West Africa is now estimated to be the single largest regional source of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa: populations in the US currently stand at over 750,000 individuals, adding up to just over 37% of the total African-born population and approximately 48% of the total Sub-Saharan African-born populations (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Across Midwestern states, West Africa now accounts for over 31% of the total African-born population, with numbers increasing by 3. …

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