Our VoiceImmigrationNews & Politics

African Immigrants in the Valley of the Sun

MJ Olahafa • Jul 01, 2010

Arizona’s new bill SB1070 has had its share of controversy over the past few months, and with good reason. As much as its supporters try to deny it, the bill is anti-immigrant to the core, calls for racial profiling and promotes more abuses against immigrants in Arizona. And even though this bill is only set to take effect in August, many families have already moved out of state - substantiated by the dramatic drop in school registration in areas with a strong immigrant presence.

It is true that Latinos are directly targeted by this bill, as they comprise the majority of the immigrant population. But other smaller groups are suffering the wrath of the racist bill as well, some of whom are the African immigrants residing in metropolitan Phoenix. Even though they only represent an underwhelming 4.3 percent of the black population, this is a population on the rise and should not be ignored. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the African-born population has soared by 577 percent to nearly 20,000 from 1990 to 2006 and is still growing.

Because of its relatively low cost of living and job opportunities, Arizona has been one of the top states for refugee resettlement. But this doesn’t mean it has been easy. The first obstacle African immigrants face is that of language, as it is the main pre-requisite for a job. Most do not speak English and have to learn from scratch. And even those who do speak English still have to adjust to an American accent, and sometimes that’s the most frustrating thing of all. You start asking yourself how many ways are there to say ‘water’ anyway?

And then there is the cultural shock. Elders can feel like the authority in the household is turned upside down because they have to rely on their children (who adapt more quickly) for mobility and translation. This is not something they are used to, or feel comfortable with. Even healthcare becomes a major issue because people feel uncomfortable sharing intimate details with a complete stranger. Most African immigrants prefer avoiding the ordeal altogether and, of course, women are the ones who suffer the most. By avoiding obstetrics and gynecology, they put themselves at risk, and pregnant women do not get adequate neonatal care.

Despite these hardships, the African Immigrants in the Valley of the Sun have been doing their best to integrate into their new culture, raise their families, find jobs, and establish themselves in Phoenix. These are pretty difficult tasks, which will be rendered almost impossible with the constant threat of detention. SB1070 has, in effect, turned a helping hand into a beating stick by hurting the very same people this government has been trying to help. There seems to be no end to the shame that Arizona has brought to this country.

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