Voices of African Immigrants in Kentucky
Migration, Identity, and Transnationality
By Francis Musoni, Iddah Otieno, Angene Wilson, and Jack Wilson
University Press of Kentucky
Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum
The heart of this book is based on oral history interviews with nearly 50 Africa-born immigrants in Kentucky — of which there are now more than 22,000. From a former ambassador from The Gambia to a pharmacist from South Africa, from a restaurant owner from Guinea to a certified nursing assistant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, every immigrant has a unique and complex story of their life experiences and the decisions that led them to emigrate to the United States. The geography of stories reaches from Algeria to Zimbabwe, Somalia to Liberia, grouped together with stories of origins, opportunity, struggles, and success, and connecting two continents.
Within scholarship on migration and identity, this book “offers a refreshing step away from existing research on major urban centers that host large populations of African immigrants,” notes a review in the Journal of Southern History. “It is especially relevant to the study of ‘new African diasporas,’ which focuses on African diaspora communities who have arrived directly from Africa in recent decades and whose sense of history, race, and identity is understandably different from the many other African diaspora communities in the United States.” And at a time when migration continues to roil U.S. politics, the book also offers new insights into transnational identity. With that in mind, the final chapter takes as an epigraph an Igbo proverb from Chinua Achebe’s novel Arrow of God: “The world is like a Mask dancing. You do not see it well if you stand in one place.”
The project brought together Angene Wilson and Jack Wilson with historian Francis Musoni, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe and teaches the University of Kentucky; and Iddah Otieno, a professor of English and African Studies who teaches at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and is originally from Kenya.
This review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated May 2, 2022.
Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.