New Iowans: African Immigrants
Many Americans think of Africa as one big country. In fact, Africa is the world’s second largest continent and has 49 countries. These countries range in size from the largest, Sudan, which is four times the size of Texas, to the smallest, The Gambia, which is one-fourth the size of Iowa. Far from being a uniform population, Africans speak more than 1,000 different languages and identify with an even larger number of distinct ethnic groups. The largest number of African refugees in Iowa came from Sudan. Other smaller populations have arrived from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Congo, Chad, Togo, Ivory Coast and Liberia.
Most of Iowa’s African newcomers are refugees. Refugees differ from immigrants because they are no longer able to live in their home countries. This is certainly the case in Africa, which has the world’s largest refugee problem. Africa only has about one-fifth of the world’s population, but it has more than one-half of the world’s refugees. Although many of Iowa’s African newcomers hope to return home someday, most come to Iowa to start over again to create new lives for themselves and their children.
Coming to a new and strange place
like Iowa presents a number of challenges for African refugees. The first
cold winters are a shock, as are many cultural differences. There are challenges
of being black in predominately white communities and workplaces. Although
many Sudanese refugees speak English, most do not, and learning English takes
a great deal of time and effort.
- Mark A. Grey, Ph.D., Anne C. Woodrick, Ph.D., Michele Yehieli, D.P.H., and James Hoelscher, The New Iowans, A Companion Book to the PBS Miniseries “The New Americans”, 2003, Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration, University of Northern Iowa