Sample Anthropology Research Paper on Africans in America: Migrant Entrepreneurs in New York City

Africans in America:  Migrant Entrepreneurs in New York City


African immigrants constitute a relatively smaller percentage of the United States immigrant population. However, their numbers has been increasing every decade since 1965. The relaxation of the United States immigration laws in 1965 increased the population of immigrants into the country from different parts of the world (Capps et al 5). The population of African immigrants in the United States is considered to be increasing because of constant wars in Africa, the need for better eductaion, better livelihoods, asylum seeking, and employment opportunities in the United States. The main objective of this research paper is to engage in critical analysis of Africans in New York. The paper will talk about their countries of origin, their employment positions, their standards of living, the probability that they travel to Africa and back to America and the remittances they send back to Africa. In addition the paper will also focus on Paul Stoller’s view of Africans in New York City.

African in New York City

Their countries of origin

The country of origin of different Africans living in New York can be attributed to different legislations passed by the US government targeting Africa. The Refugee Act of 1980 made it easier for African fleeing from conflict prone countries to seek resettlement in the United States. This explains whey there are Africans in New York origination from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The Diverse Visa Program passed by the United States government in 1990 encouraged immigration of African from countries that were perceived to be underrepresented. The main objective of this legislation was to boost the population of European immigrants into the United States but Africans were also considered as beneficiaries. Countries that produced that population of Africans into the United States include Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Egypt, South Africa, Central African Republic, Sierra Leon, Cape Verde, Uganda, and Algeria.

The Diverse Visa Program was targeting African professionals. This is because of African immigrant comprise the best-educated group of immigrants in the United States. The Diverse Visa Program requires African immigrant to have acquired at least a university degree and two years’ experience any professional fields (Capps et al 8). Attracting a pool of educated and trained individuals provides the United States with the benefit of an improved pool of human resources, which is crucial for the development of the United States economy.

Occupations of African in the New York

Majority of Africans in New York City are entrepreneurs with a smaller percentage in professional employment opportunities. The immigrant entrepreneurs and the businesses they initiatives have been major contributors to the improved level of enterprise and innovation in New York City. Upon arrival into the United States, African immigrants often move into low rented neighborhoods that are characterized by deteriorating conditions and limited economic activities (Capps et al 11). Most of these immigrants establish small businesses as alternative to working low wage jobs. The businesses they establish are often small or moderate in size and they focus on the provision of restaurant services, food stores, gift shops, nail and hair salons, and real estate firms. Most of these businesses offer retail or personal services relative to the needs of the existing population. The process of establishing businesses in the United States by the immigrant population is often defined by the skills and knowledge from their home countries in Africa coupled with the knowledge acquired on trade through working in New York City.

Through these small businesses, immigrants from Africa have been able to create employment opportunities essential in reviving commerce and investments in their neighborhoods. This means that Africans in New York City have a positive impact on the economy of the city. According to the report from the Center for an Urban Future, Africans in the city accounted for about half of the self-employed population. Despite only constituting 36% of the city’s population, the Africans in New York City have been major players in fueling an explosion of new businesses within the city (Capps et al 9). By 2004, there was a 9% increase in the number of businesses in the United Sates and the number of companies in immigrant-dominated cities grew by about 54% reducing the unemployment rate while improving the economic performance of these cities (Capps et al 11).

New York City considered as home to businesses that offer numerous services and produce varieties of products. Most of these companies employ more than 100 workers to produce and sell their products in different markets within the country. Furthermore, the city is also home to high numbers of markets, local restaurant, and transport business. The transport business offers relatively affordable services to different parts of the city and other states. Commuter van services in the city often target areas that are underserved by the city’s public transport service. This sector has grown to more than 60 companies, 90% 0f that are owned by African immigrants (Capps et al 12).

In areas such as Harlem African immigrant have established business such as restaurants that celebrate the African heritage. The Senegalese population for instance has been instrumental in the establishment of businesses in Harlem. Senegalese restaurants in Harlem established by members of Mourids, Senegalese Muslim Sufi brotherhood, targeted home sick Senegalese with comfort in cuisines derived from Senegal. Businesses targeting the promotion of cultural heritage constitute a majority of employment areas among immigrant population. There are shop owners within New York City who seek products from their home countries. In addition, they also offer money transfer services such as Juba Express in New York City, which targets Africans from Somali interested in sending money to their families in Somalia.

What do Africans in New York do with the money they earn?

Africans in New York City consider the United States as a land of opportunities for political, social, and economic development. Their involvement in numerous economic activities majority of Africans are defined by self-employment helps them in the acquisition of financial resources, which is essential for their survival in the city. Other than using the money to ensure the provision of basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing, they also use these resources in attaining better and higher education. According to Pew Research Survey, more Africans living in New York are seeking higher education opportunities (Capps et al 18). The main objective of seeking these opportunities is to ensure that they become marketable and relevant for the sustainability of the United States economy. The acquisition of higher education also guarantees these individual longer stay in the United States considering their relevance in different sectors within the economy. Conflicting to the existing public opinion, Africans immigrants in New York have the largest degree attainments compared to other immigrants despite their minority levels in terms of numbers (Capps et al 18).

The need to improve their life standards also defines the activities in which Africans living in New York invest their money. According to the Pew Research survey, immigrant African invest money in real estate business as a way of ensuring that they acquire better and safer homes for their families (Capps et al 19). Africans living in New York save majority of their financial resources for future purposes. This is especially among those with temporary citizenship in the country. The main objective of such saving is to ensure that they have sufficient resources when they are repatriated back to their home counties by the US government (Barkan 411).

Africans in New York arrived through different methodologies. Asylum seekers or those escaping from wars in countries such as those from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo arrive in groups. There are those from South African, West African countries and East African countries who arrived in New York as groups of students seeking scholarship opportunities in the United States (Barkan 422). This is however not exclusive to East and West African countries because there are also those from war tone countries who seek arrived in New York to explore the scholarship opportunities. There are Africans who arrived in the United States as professional seeking better employment opportunities. These were considered qualified to acquire work permits in the united states due to their academic and technical expertise in different fields (Barkan 425).

Standards of living

African in New York have a relatively high-level proficiency in English and academic attainment compared to other immigrant population in New York City. Inasmuch as this translates into high labor force with regard to their participation in economic development, it does not translate to high earnings. African immigrants are considered relatively lower in terms of their economic class despite the high employment rate of this population (Capps et al 16). In 2009, the median annual earning of African in New York was $27,000, which was slightly above the median of all immigrants in the city, which stands at $26,000. This compared to the media of United Sates born workers, $33,000, is 20% lower (Capps et al 17). The academic attainment of Africans in New York City is slightly higher than that of the average American worker while their English proficiency is higher than that of other immigrants. From the evidence, it is not possible to use lower human capital as an explanation for relatively lower earning for black Americans (Capps et al 17).

How often do Africans in New York City travel back to Africa?

The decision of when and how Africans in New York choose to travel back to Africa is dependent on numerous factors. There are Africans considered as refugees in New York. For such individuals the state and federal government often chooses when to repatriate them back to their countries of origin depending on the prevailing security situation in the country. For those seeking scholarships and higher learning opportunities, they often travel back to Africa depending on their holiday schedules and their financial capabilities in terms of affording air tickets (Barkan 200). There are also those with temporary working permits in New York City. The decision of when and how to travel back to Africa is dependent on the duration of their stay in the United States. For African living in New York City as permanent citizens, the decision to travel back to Africa is dependent on the prevailing economic condition and the existing desire to visit relatives and friends in Africa (Barkan 200). For African students and professional in New York, the decision to visit Africa is also dependent on the desire to cascade skills and expertise acquired in the United States back to the African content as a way of fueling development and innovation in the country. This is often realized in the form of workshops and summit meetings organized in Africa by African governments and international organizations to attract skills, resources, and ideas from players in different economic fields (Barkan 201).

Inasmuch as Africans in New York should be able to travel back home and participate in economic development, the reality is that for most African in New York, the continent does not present a political, economic and social environment that enhances personal growth and development. The employment prospects for the burgeoning population are relatively low and this has been considered as a major impediment for Africans in New York City. These Africans often choose to live in New York and straddle the two worlds. They remain both Africans and Americans while actively participating in the economic and political processes of both countries. Some African in New York City does not travel back to their original homes because their lives have been integrated into that of Americans making the U.S their home (Barkan 710).

Remittances that Africans in New York send back to Africa

Remittances from Africans living in New York are considers as significant contributors to the portion of income in many African countries. This is because these remittances amount to billions of dollars hence contributing to the gross domestic product of different countries across Africa. From a general perspective, remittances are considered as one of the major sources of income for the continent (Barkan 710). Most of the remittances are often directed to sub-Saharan and West African countries with Nigeria receiving the largest portion considering that it has the largest population of Africans living and working in New York City. In West African countries such as Liberia and Cape Verde, remittances re consider essential to the wellbeing of the economy (Barkan 710).

Other than the economies, families of African in New York City depend on remittances for their economic health and they would suffer if there were any failure in submission of remittances. Events such as the 2009 global recession reduced the amount of remittances submitted by African in New York City to their families in Africa (Barkan 710). Most of the families affected reported that they had relatively less financial resources to spend on healthcare, food and education and other needs. This affected African economies because a reduction in the disposable income meant less income for local businesses engaged in the sale and production of domestic goods and services. This translated to a reduction in the standards of living of many Africans, which directly affected economic development in these countries (Barkan 711).

Remittances are considered by Africans in New York City as efforts of mobilizing resources as seed capital for essential social ventures in Africa. This is considered as an effective approach towards resource mobilization compared to actions of chasing after dwindling foreign direct investments. Chances are that through their remittances, Africans in New York City have the ability to repatriate their financial gains while in New York City (Barkan 711). These are considered as resources that they can invest in their countries for economic development. Despite the perceived benefits associated with remittances, the high cost of transfer for Africans is considered as major impediment to the drive. Furthermore, most of the disruptive technologies such as PayPal, which provide a better and relatively affordable money transfer services have been blacklisted in a number of African countries such as Ghana (Barkan 710).

Paul Stoller’s perspective of Africans in New York City

From his anthropological viewpoint, Stoller presents information of West African traders in New York City from the perspective of space, power and multiple positioning. According to Stoller, the decision by Africans from West African countries such as Gambia, Nigeria, and Senegal to migrate into the United States was to acquire better opportunities for trade and business for the improvement of their economic wellbeing (Stoller 776). For the realization of this objective, it was important for the state and federal governments in the United States to consider the provsionof sufficient space to conduct trade and establish businesses (Stoller 777).

Stoller traces his understanding of the role of Africans in the development of New York’s economy to the1994 cultural cross roads disagreement between the mayor of Harlem who had threatened to  disperse African market from the 125th street. African traders in Harlem threated to shut down New York City’s 125th street to ensure that no business was conducted until the mayor acknowledged their place in the society and the right to engage in business practices (Stoller 777). According to West African traders, the decision by the mayor to outlaw African businesses and trade activities in Harlem was culturally biased because they were major players in the reinvigoration of the economy of 125th street and should be treated as equal partners in any trade or business related decisions affecting their operations. 

Stoller presents the notion that Africans especially the Hausa, Yoruba, and Fulani of West Africa often associate their activities with their cultural and Islamic religious backgrounds. These elements determine the nature of businesses that they conduct and the goods or service that they provide to the market. Unlike the businesses conducted by natives in New York City, African markets often appear disorganized considering that places such as sidewalks are crowded with vendors tables. From an outsider’s perspective, the disorganization that characterizes the market seem to govern what the traders decide to sell. These are however, impressions that present a negative picture of the true nature of an African market. African markets are defined by high levels of organization though in an informal way. The informal organization is the defining element throughout markets in West Africa. Just as in Harlem, market in Africa are defined by the movement of people and goods in open market spaces and this may appear as disorganized and chaotic for an outsider. The identification of this chaos is associated by failure of the outsider to notice that the space that defines open markets in Africa is apportioned and governed by informal mechanisms (Stoller 777-778).

Africans in New York City from the perspective of Stoller presented a new approach to conducting business in open markets. This is because, members of the same ethnic group such as the Fulani and Hausa from Niger, and Yoruba from Nigeria selling the same kind of merchandize from casually designated spaces characterized informal mechanisms. This is an indication that markets in Africa are characterized by sociological and religious complexities (Stoller 778). These complexities were considered to have introduced a set of traditions and practices, which influenced the behavior, and attitudes of West African traders at the Harlem market in New York City. African in New York City inculcated their cultural and religious practices into their businesses on 125th street. The spatial allocation of tables in the Harlem market was comparable to the nature of organization in West African countries. The difference was that in the Harlem market traders were organized according to their countries of origin rather than their ethnic identities (Stoller 778).

In the process of conducting trade activities, most vendors engaged in free communication with their customers in American English with variable grades of sophistication, which was largely influenced by the local African American idioms. Bargaining was a defining element of the harem market because prices of goods were flexible and largely negotiable. The complexity that arose from the culturally and religiously inspired West African businesses is that they were in violation of a number of minority regulations on trademarks and copyrights. The law enforcing agencies were however subdued by their only preoccupation was enforcing parking regulations. The seeming anarchy that characterized operations on the 125th street ended in 1994 when the city’s mayor ordered the market closed (Stoller 781).

While arguing against the decision by the local government to close the market on 125th street African in New York asserted that prior to their coming the market was deserted since the people of New York were scared of the bandits and criminal activities that characterized operations on the street (Stoller 780). However, the advent of West Africans from Nigeria, Niger, Guinea and Senegal into the town brought with it crowds of people interested in conducting business operations. This was not only significant to the economy of New York City but is also served to as a tourist attraction site. The element of tourism arose from the cultural and religious aspect that defined the market. In addition, the decision by traders to sell goods from Africa and other foreign countries also provided a platform of revitalizing 125th street (Stoller 771). 

The decision by the mayor to close the 125th Street market was based on the desire to outlaw street vending and implement a formal approach to conducting business in Harlem. From the perspective of the local government, this approach to business was to be considered as a technique of eradicating impunity to the laws governing trade and ensuring that all African traders within the city were operating in accordance with the requirements of the law. Despite the opposition from African traders citing racism, police brutality and discrimination, the closure of the African market on the 125th street provided essential knowledge and information on the techniques of improving the nature of business while upholding traditional and cultural practices that define businesses (Stoller 781-782).


New York City considered as home to businesses that offer numerous services and produce varieties of products. Most of these companies employ more than 100 workers to produce and sell their products in different markets within the country. Majority of Africans in New York City are entrepreneurs with a smaller percentage in professional employment opportunities. The immigrant entrepreneurs and the businesses they initiatives have been major contributors to the improved level of enterprise and innovation in New York City. Africans in New York fail to travel back home and participate in economic development because the continent does not present a political, economic, and social environment that enhances personal growth and development. Remittances are considered by Africans in New York City as efforts of mobilizing resources as seed capital for essential social ventures in Africa and for the support of their economies and families.

Works Cited

Barkan, Elliott R. Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration. Santa

Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2013. Print.

Capps, Randy, McCabe, Kristen and Fix Michael. Diverse Streams: African migration to the

United States. Migration Policy Institute, 2012

Stoller, Paul. Spaces, Places and Fields: The Politics of West African Trading in New York

City’s Informal Economy. American Anthropologist, New Series. Vol. 98, No. 4, pp. 776-778, 1996