Liberian Immigrants in Rhode Island:
The Trauma, the Bliss, and the Dilemma
P. Khalil Saucier, Ph.D.
Rhode Island College
Department of Sociology
This paper explores the history of
Liberian migrants in the US,
and traces its genesis specifically, to the strife between the
Americo-Liberians and the various indigenous groups. Exploring the enduring effects of the
historical origin of the Republic of Liberia, it argues that ethnic intolerance is largely
responsible for the dislocation of the Liberian state and consequently the
migration of at least 15,000 of its citizens to the US, and many more to other West
African states. This paper locates Rhode Island as the hub of Liberian presence in the US and explicates
the basis of their concentration in that region. It recognizes the complexity of the dilemma that
Liberian migrants face in the US,
and silhouettes this against the backdrop of poverty and insecurity of lives
and property in Liberia.
The election of 2005 notwithstanding, it
is not yet Uhuru for majority of
Liberians. The Liberian migrants, this paper observes, seem undecided about returning to a country still smarting from the
trauma of the civil war, and at the same time are not content with remaining in
the US where threats to their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have become
persistent and ominous. It identifies
the factors which could serve as basis for Liberians’ return to their homelands,
as kinship and communality; guaranteed security, nationalism and nationhood. It concludes that any attempt by the U.S.
to deport Liberians would have devastating effects on the already traumatized
State of Liberia. It would also have an
impact on the possibility that other host nations could turn out Liberian
KEYWORDS: Liberians, temporary protected status (tps),
immigrant networks, Rhode Island.
Freed American slaves established Liberia, the small
West African country, as a modern nation in 1847, in a coastal territory in the
land of the Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru and Vai peoples. In 1872, the Americo-Liberians declared their
colony a free republic, and they adopted a system modeled upon the constitution
of the United States.
However, they replicated the same
injustices as they had suffered in America against the indigenous
population. Although the U.S. did not recognize independent Liberia until after the Civil War, after
recognition in 1862 under the Lincoln
administration, the United States
soon became Liberia’s
leading trading partner and major aid donor. Although there was mutual resentment between
the Americo-Liberians, who make up only 5 percent of the population, and the
indigenous peoples of the country, Liberia remained independent and
stable for well over 100 years until the dissension between the Americo-Liberians,
and indigenous peoples culminated in a coup.
In the period
leading to the 1980 coup, economic conditions deteriorated in the 1970s, and
the Liberian population suffered from high unemployment and steadily rising
inflation. Liberian commodity exports
declined drastically, while the cost of imported energy rose. Liberia was barely able to maintain
a positive growth rate in this period. Open
opposition to the political establishment escalated, fuelled by the economic problems.
Liberians in the Diaspora were not immune
from the crisis. Organizations of
Liberians abroad, including student groups engaged in various kinds of activism
that protested conditions at home, while suggesting solutions that were hardly
heeded by the parties to the conflict at home.
Back in Liberia,
demonstrations broke out, initially to protest the high cost of food. As conditions became more dangerous, many
Liberians began to flee, becoming internally and externally displaced. Finally, in 1980 Sergeant Samuel Doe (a
member of the Krahn ethnic group) led a successful coup against President
William Tolbert (an Americo-Liberian).
optimistic. They expected substantive
changes for the better. However,
Sergeant Doe became dictatorial, mistreating non-Krahn indigenous ethnic groups,
including the Gio and Mano. In December
of 1989, Liberia
was plunged into a civil war when a small group of dissidents led by Charles
Taylor (an Americo-Liberian) began to campaign to overthrow Doe. Eventually, Liberia was engulfed in full-scale
ethnic and armed conflict, with Doe’s Krahns fighting different warring groups,
including Charles Taylor’s NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia) rebels,
Prince Yormie Johnson’s Independent National Patriotic Front, fighting
Roosevelt Johnson’s United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-J), and Alhaji Kromah’s
United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-K).
The conflict raged on for seven years causing well over 150,000 deaths. Over one-half of the population was
displaced. Approximately one-third of
the Liberian population fled to neighboring countries including the Ivory Coast, Guinea,
and Sierra Leone. Others took refuge in nearby West African
countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau,
and the Gambia. Many also fled to Europe, but a large
percentage fled to the United States
and specifically to the state of Rhode
they continue to increase in number, Africans constitute a small proportion of
the immigrant population in the United
States. Especially, in the last two decades, the
number of Africans in the U.S.
has increased to the degree that at present, they constitute a significant
component of the cultural and ethnic fabric of the United States. This is noticeable, especially in major
metropolitan areas like Providence, Boston, New York, Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. Therefore, African migrants deserve to be
studied both as an aggregated whole and as distinct ethnic or national
This study provides a baseline
data (e.g. age, gender, marital status, etc.) for Liberians living in Rhode
Island; reference information concerning their stay in the United States;
analysis of family and country ties maintained through remittances; reasons for
migration, and continued stay in Rhode Island; and possible factors that could
influence their return to Liberia.
Profile of Liberian Immigrants in Rhode Island
Since the coup of 1980 led by
Sergeant Doe, and the two civil wars that engulfed the whole country (1989-2003),
many Liberians have sought economic opportunities, safety, political freedom,
and the means for a peaceful existence elsewhere. The civil wars it is estimated had claimed
over 700,000 lives, caused internal displacement of more than half a million,
and made more than 300,000 refugees (ARC 2011). In 2001, when the data used for this study
were gathered from a field work that was conducted, President Charles Taylor
continued to be one of the most destabilizing forces in West
Africa. Under his rule, Liberia, a
former, foremost modern West African nation-state, degenerated to one of the
most backward nation-states in the sub-region.
the capital, lacked basic infrastructure like electricity, pipe-borne water,
hospitals, sewers, telecommunication, and schools. They were all pillaged, and there were no
efforts on the part of the Taylor
government to restore such structures. Taylor
and his ever growing number of supporters grew rich at the expense of the
country, which was literally impoverished and the citizenry, pauperized. In short, the Republic of Liberia
had practically collapsed. Respite and
hope came with the historic election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005, when
conditions in that embattled state began to improve in Monrovia and the rest of the country. However, in spite of this remarkable turn of
events, the war’s devastation on infrastructure was so enormous as to continue
to pose serious challenges to the state.
unsavory psychosocial-cum economic setting made many Liberians leave Liberia for a
relatively peaceful West, through legal and illegal means. Although many of them migrated to surrounding
West African countries (i.e. the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, and
Nigeria), many found their way to American soil since the beginning of the
civil war, with an overwhelming majority located in the state of Rhode Island
(LCARI 2011). By 2003-2004, Liberians constituted the second
largest group of refugees in U.S.
Liberians in the United States
At present, there
are an estimated 200,000 Liberians legally residing in the United States,
on the bases of political asylum, permanent residency, citizenship, as tourists
and/or as students. Many have settled in
North Carolina, Minnesota,
California, New York,
and Rhode Island.
Many of them have integrated in all
aspects of American society. Like most
other Africans, Liberian migrants also contribute to the development of America. For example, several are college professors
and high school teachers, while others are church ministers and community
migration to the United States
is not a new phenomenon, rather it dates back to the early and mid-twentieth
century, when some of them entered the United States on student visas, and
attended institutions of higher learning, earning advanced degrees in medicine,
law, politics, etc. Indeed, education
has been factorial of established contact of African migrants, including
Liberians, in the United
In the 1960s, Washington, D.C. witnessed an influx of migrants from Liberia, Ghana,
Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. They joined a very visible Afro-Caribbean
community in the capitol, and many Africans also had their national embassies
located in Washington, D.C. As
a result of the enactment of the 1965 Immigration Act, which allowed existing
citizens and permanent residents to sponsor immediate relatives, the African
community, including the Liberians in the U.S. Diaspora, were able to sponsor
their parents, children, and spouses for U.S. residency. The population of Africans in the Diaspora also
increased following the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which
was designed to slow the migration of Mexicans to the U.S., but grant permanent residency to
undocumented immigrants, including those from Africa, living in the U.S.
was not until the 1980s and 1990s that Liberians came into U.S. in large
numbers. According to the Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS), more than 9,000 Liberians were legally
admitted into the United
States between 1980 and 1993. This figure excludes those who entered
illegally. Within the same period,
Liberians accounted for nearly four percent of Africans admitted; the country
ranked eighth out of the thirty-eight African countries recognized (Immigration
and Naturalization Service, 1998). As noted above, more than 15,000 Liberians
have entered the United
States since 1991, under the Temporary
Protected Status (TPS) something federal officials have extended on an annual
and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).
Many Liberians on TPS include opposition politicians, ex-service men,
student leaders, journalists, and ordinary people who also experienced
oppression because of their ethnicity. Many
Liberians were forced to flee their country due to civil war and widespread
violence, and it is due to these difficulties that the United States
has provided Liberians with TPS.
Although the civil war in Liberia ended in 1996, the
political and economic situation has remained fragile, and violence and
extra-judicial killings are commonplace.
Thus, Liberians continue to flee their country to join family and
friends in the United States.
Although the majority of
Liberians in the U.S.
are permanent residents or citizens, many of the 15,000, or so, who migrated
since 1991, have often faced the possibility of deportation. In 1999, then U.S. Attorney General Janet
Reno announced that she would let the TPS expire, because of official reports
that the Liberian war had ended. This was
in spite of a report issued by the State Department in 1999, describing the
human rights abuses, and unstable conditions in Liberia
as reasons why the U.S.
government would not want Americans to visit the republic.
To prevent the expiration of TPS,
several Liberian advocacy groups and friends of Liberia gathered on the grounds
of the U.S. Capitol to stage annual Liberian National Immigration Fairness
Rallies, designed to urge members of Congress and the President to grant them a
reprieve by changing their immigration status to that of permanent
residency The demonstrators supported
the passage of the Liberian Immigration Acts of 1999 introduced by Sen. Jack
Reed (D-Rhode Island) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island). The Liberian Community Association of Rhode
Island played an integral role in these rallies.
Liberian Immigration Act of 1999 included S. 656, “the Liberian Refugee
Immigration Fairness Act,” and House Resolution 919, “the Liberian Refugee
Protection Act.” A similar bill was
introduced in 2001. The purpose of such
bills was to provide for the adjustment of status of nationals of Liberia
under the Temporary Protected Status to that of lawful permanent resident. However, the bills faced major obstacles, for
many feared that letting Liberians remain in the U.S.
would encourage other refugees to exploit America’s generosity, and this might
threaten national security. For example,
Rep. Lamar Smith, the former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and
Claims refused to support any new immigration to the United States. Nonetheless, the proposed legislation was not
without precedence, for Chinese following the riots in Tiananmen
Square were granted permanent status, as were Nicaraguans who fled
the country’s civil war.
continue to push for permanent resident status, their Temporary Protected
Status has been renewed on an annual basis by the INS and, after 2003, the
Department of Homeland Security. Former
President George W. Bush and current President Barack H. Obama both extended
TPS for Liberians. However, TPS for Liberians is set to expire once again on September
30, 2011. Deporting Liberians also posed
the risk that it might cause other West African countries (i.e. Sierra Leone,
Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Guinea) to force thousands of Liberian refugees
to repatriate, thus destabilizing Liberian efforts at reform, and crippling the
fragile process of nation-building.
though the deportation of Liberians was postponed on an annual basis and many
Liberians, fearing return to their war-ravaged Republic, could remain in the U.S., their
sense of security was tenuous. Also,
without permanent residency or citizenship, many employers loathe hiring
Liberians who face deportation. At the
time of the study, many Liberians were optimistic about their chances of
obtaining permanent resident status and raising their children,-many of whom
are U.S. citizens, in the United States.
Today, this optimism has seemingly waned
given the unwillingness of the U.S.
government to grant Liberian migrants permanent citizenship.
Description of the Study
The project sample
consists of 105 Liberian immigrants 10 years of age and older, all resident in Rhode Island. All candidates were selected using
non-probability sampling, more specifically, snowball sampling and purposive
sampling. Snowball sampling is widely
used in community studies, difficult-to-find populations, and urban migrants,
and thus proved ideal for this project. The
other method in which data was collected was through purposive sampling, more
specifically key-informant sampling. The
key-informant was identified in two ways; one, others may have named them as
likely sources or valuable informants; and two, they were selected as a result
of preliminary data collection.
This paper will
first present a detailed outline concerning Liberian emigrant characteristics
in Rhode Island. Then it will analyze the complex set of
factors and influences that lead to international migration. Third it will analyze the factors that are
regarded as important to these Liberian emigrants in their decision to either
return or remain in the United
Finally, it will examine the data to see if there are any significant
differences between Liberian emigrants who plan to resettle in Liberia or elsewhere in Africa, and those who
plan to stay permanently in the United
Field Survey Results
A demographic survey of Liberian
immigrants was conducted in Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston, and Warwick. The result showed that 56 percent were female
and 41 percent male. The ethnic
composition of the immigrants was as follows: Kpelle 23 percent, Bassa 18%, Americo-Liberians
13% and Krahn 11%. Nearly 14 percent of
the respondents chose “other”, which, given the ethnic composition of Liberia, is
taken to include Loma, Gola, Dei, and Kissi.
no respondents were identified as Mandingo, an ethnic group that was targeted
during the conflict. This does not, mean
that some Mandingo-Liberians
did not migrate to the United States
and settle in Rhode Island,
but that members of this ethnic group may have feared that they may be targeted
or persecuted, even away from home. Fifty
percent of those surveyed were married, while 19% were widowed. Of the respondents who were married or
widowed, 18% had spouses that were Bassa and 13% had Kpelle spouses. Majority of respondents were married prior to
migrating to the United
States, accounting for the lack of
heterogeneity. At the same time, the
lack of heterogeneity among married couples could be due to the Liberian-based
immigrant clusters that have developed in Rhode Island
and other parts of the U.S. Cross-tabulations also suggest that 85% of
the respondents who were widowed were female.
58% of male respondents were married, while 73 percent of female
respondents were single.
of age, Liberian immigrants were fairly evenly distributed. The survey showed that nearly 19% were below
29 years old. By far the largest numbers
of Liberian immigrants were between 30-39 years old (18%) and 60-69 years of
age (21 %). Respondents between 40-49
years old comprised 16% and 50-59 years old formed 16%. Those in the age group of 70 and over were
10%. Further analysis revealed that 45%
of Liberians ages 30-49 were married, while 40 percent of those 70 years old
and older were widowed.
survey showed that approximately 32% of Liberian immigrants in Rhode Island had one to
two children, while 15% had none. Nearly
36% had three to six children, however, 17% had seven or more children. The analysis indicated that 71% of those
between 20-39 years old had two children, while 50% of the population between
30-39 years old had four children. Those
60 years old and over were more likely than any other age aggregate to have
seven or more children (76%). Also,
approximately 49% of married couples had one to three children, whereas 42% of
those who were single had none.
survey results also showed that Liberian immigrants were a relatively educated
group in comparison to most other nationals, according to immigration
statistics. Approximately 45% of
respondents completed high school.
Conversely, only 16% of all immigrants had completed high school. Only 8% of Liberian immigrants had no formal
education or had elementary education while 23% had the baccalaureate
degree. This is identical to the
percentage of all African immigrants earning baccalaureate degrees in the United States. Those who have earned a technical degree
comprised another 10%. Of all male and
female respondents, 15% and 7% respectively had technical degrees. In addition, 12% of Liberians in Rhode Island had a
post-baccalaureate education. Of this
percentage, 16% of female respondents received a graduate education, whereas
only 7% of all male respondents had post-baccalaureate training. Surprisingly, 25% of respondents with a
graduate degree were either homemakers or unemployed and only 16% were
considered to be professionals as defined by the researcher, that is, those who
are members of a vocation founded on specialized training. It is also worth noting in this context that
advanced degrees, especially from other countries do not translate into
professional employment or high status. Yet, the relatively high percentage of
educated Liberians testifies to the central role that education plays in their
lives. Therefore, like many other
African immigrants, Liberians came to the United States with a rich tradition
of, and commitment to, education.
According to the survey, Liberian
immigrants in Rhode Island
ere distributed across various occupational categories. The percentage of Liberians employed as
professionals (i.e. lawyers, teachers, professors, etc) in Rhode Island was 9%. Of the respondents, 11% were homemakers, and
11% were students. By far the largest
numbers of Liberian immigrants surveyed were employed in the social service
sector (23 percent), which could be attributed to the abundance of social
service employment opportunities in the United States. According to a respondent, “they are easy
jobs to get, for there is a great demand.” Only 7% of the immigrants in the survey held
managerial or technical positions, while 6% were in manufacturing and 3% in
clerical positions. The unemployed
accounted for 15% of the respondents, which many Liberians attributed to the
lack of recognition and respect the United States
job market had for training and education received in Liberia. In other words, many diplomas, such as law
degrees and certifications obtained in Liberia
or elsewhere in Africa, were said not to be valid or applicable in the United States. This accounted for many underemployed
Liberian migrants. Those who checked
“other” made up 11%, many of these were recent retirees, and no
respondents were employed in trading or farming.
of the survey data showed that job positions and description in Rhode Island differ from those previously held in Liberia, in the
sense that there had been increases and/or decreases in some occupational
categories. For example, 8% of
respondents were professionals in Liberia;
a slight increase was indicated, with nine percent so employed in the U.S. Approximately 20% held managerial or
technical positions and 10% held clerical positions; a substantial decrease was
indicated. Only 6% were employed in the
social services and manufacturing. There
were around 5% who were homemakers. Over
20% were students, and only 3% were unemployed.
There were about 22% percent that claimed to be employed in other
professions, such as politics and law enforcement.
regards to the migratory process, 56% of Liberian immigrants in Rhode Island did not leave Liberia and go to another African
country. For many who came directly to
the United States the common
port of entry was New York.
Nonetheless, 43% did migrate to one of
the Republic’s neighboring countries (i.e. Sierra
Guinea, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast). The majority of those who migrated to another
African country prior to their arrival in the United
States were said to have migrated to the Ivory Coast.
earliest year of migration indicated by the respondents was 1970, with the most
recent being 2001. Between 1970-1980 an
estimated 5% of the Liberian immigrants migrated to America, whereas 20% migrated
between 1981-1990. The overwhelming
majority (72%), however, migrated during and after the civil war (between
1991-2000), and only 3% in 2001.
Interestingly, 30% migrated from 1999-2000, a time that Liberia was
supposedly recovering from the war trauma, and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno
deemed it fit to remove the immigrants’ TPS, and deport them to their home
country. In other words, the high number
of Liberian migrants in the US
and elsewhere (during the same period), could only have meant that the Republic of Liberia was still in a state of turmoil
and infrastructural decay (Amnesty International 2001).
important feature that characterized the migratory process of Liberians in Rhode Island had been
remittances especially of money to the Republic. A respondent said, “Western
Union is used a lot.”
Nearly 82% sent money to Liberia,
of which 74% was for family members, 3% for friends, and 4% for
investment. Many Liberian immigrants claimed
that large portions of their weekly and monthly salaries were sent to family in
Others stated that their remittances were the only source of income
their families and friends had back home.
One respondent, a social service worker, said she sent over $500 a month
to her mother and brothers, which paid for their food and medical
expenses. Another young Liberian
immigrant, a student, stated that she
worked full-time while attending college full-time to help support her family
members in a refugee camp in Ghana. Others noted that such a practice was commonplace
among several young migrants. In many
respects it can be concluded that remittances from the United States
could make a lot of difference between survival and starvation for families
the respondents’ reasons for leaving the Republic of Liberia,
over 72% claimed that the civil war was responsible. Eleven percent left their homeland to pursue
a higher education. Others (13%) claimed
it was the economic and political situations that were a major cause for
migration. Only 4% left due to family
pressure, an extremely low percentage considering that Arthur
noted that 40% of African immigrants came to the US due to pressure from family
members. However, the majority of
respondents (87%) chose to migrate to Rhode Island
and not to New York or California,
in order to reunite with family and friends, while (2%) came to Rhode Island to develop
professionally. The data also revealed
that (4%) migrated to Rhode Island because
their spouses were from the area, and zero percent claimed economic prospects
as being a sufficient cause to come to Rhode
Island. A more
extensive study of Liberian immigrants in Rhode Island, however, would likely show a
correlation between migrants from the 1970s and 1980s and economic reasons for
Other reasons why Liberians
preferred Rhode Island to other places like New York, New Jersey, or Minnesota, included the
fact that it reminded them of home. That
is, people were able to live in close proximity, thus making it easy to create
and establish social networks that engendered kinship and strong bond. Being able to establish close-knit
communities, made and still makes the adjustment process easier and more
manageable. As one respondent stated, “instead
of driving one to two hours to friends and family, I drive five minutes.” Equally important is that the educational
system of Rhode Island
is seen as exceptional in comparison to most other states. Also, churches and religious organizations
such as Pond Street Baptist Church, Rhode Island United Methodist Association,
and the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island have been extremely receptive.
demographic survey also paid attention to the subjective feelings of Liberian
immigrants towards the United States
in general and towards Liberia. An overwhelming 95% missed Liberia. What respondents missed most were family (49%),
with 3% missing friends. It also indicated that 31% missed the sense
of belonging to a wider community and 13% missed the African atmosphere. For many, American culture and values were
extremely different from Liberian culture and values.
respondents specifically lamented that they missed meals prepared from iron cooking-pots
over hot coals. Other expressed feelings
of alienation as well as a lack of recognition.
Although more research is needed in this whole aspect, the respondent’s
feelings of alienation might have been the result of racism and discrimination,
but more importantly, it could be traceable to their immigrant status. In other words, their sense of alienation
might have arisen from the ambiguity of their temporary protective status.
and phenomenon that respondents (48%) most disliked about Liberia was the civil war. Others (15%), indicated that they disliked
dictatorship, and 15%, ethnic conflict. There
were 14% that disliked the corruption, and only 2%disliked the economic
crisis. What Liberian immigrants liked
most about the United States
were the opportunities available to them (48%), but many were quick to point
out that access could be greater if permanent status or citizenship was
The results also showed that
Liberians enjoyed the political freedom (32%) and educational opportunities
(17%) the U.S.
offered its citizens. On the other hand,
the majority of the respondents (62%) disliked the high crime and violence
rates in the U.S. According to many respondents, crime and
violence in Liberia
before the 1980s was somewhat of an anomaly, rarely experienced or
witnessed. However, following the Doe
coup of 1980, crime and violence became integral Liberia’s society. Around 22% disliked the ambiguity of TPS, for
many were living in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. Many felt that permanent status should be
granted, for it was granted the Chinese and, most recently, the Nicaraguans,
people who did not have any historical ties like Liberians have always had with
the United States. Such ambiguity, as a respondent elaborated,
“is like a slap in the face. Many of us
have paid taxes and obeyed the laws.”
Others expressed the idea that the U.S. cared very little about
Liberians in particular, and Africans, in general. Surprisingly, (10%) of Liberians disliked
racism and discrimination experienced in the United States, as opposed to 89%
of African respondents in a separate study conducted by Apraku ,
who condemn such discrimination. This
may be attributed to the close-knit Liberian immigrant clusters that have
developed in Rhode Island,
isolating them from the larger community. That is, the strong community, which Liberians
have forged among themselves, ironically led to mass isolation of Liberian
migrants, because it served to impede their psychosocial integration with the
larger American society. Or, as Waters
(1994), observed of black immigrants from the Caribbean,
Liberians, aware of their “racial” identity might not be as sensitive to race
as were native-born blacks.
Nevertheless, it is suspected that black-white polarization and the
pervasiveness of institutionalized discrimination troubled some Liberians. However, their preoccupation with immigrant
issues might preclude their ability to see the deep-seated racism and
discrimination in the United
States. Those that expressed dislike for the
alienation experienced in America
accounted for four percent.
On such decisions as return or
repatriation to Liberia, the
respondents were almost evenly divided, 43% wished to return and resettle in Liberia and 44% wished to remain in the US. The analysis further indicated that 45% of
immigrants between the ages of 40-59 wished to return to Liberia, whereas 40% between the ages of 20-39
did not anticipate returning to Liberia. However, several Liberians in their twenties
expressed a desire to return to West Africa, preferably, Ghana, some, the Ivory Coast. This was due to the countries’ relative
political and economic stability. Those
who were 60 years or above who did not want to return accounted for 35%, while
32% anticipated a return. Fatigue both
mental and physical were said to have informed the reason for their lack of desire
to return. Their desire was to retire
and, eventually, die in peace. Many,
however, wished to be buried in Liberia.
The tabulations also showed that
nearly half of immigrants (45%) with a secondary education wanted to return, as
opposed to 47% who wished not to repatriate.
Immigrants who had completed post-secondary education and wished to
return comprised 36%. Numerous migrants
cited the desire to help Liberia
develop as the impetus for return. Other
tabulations suggested Bassa and Kpelle, that 45% were more likely to return,
whereas the ethnic groups central to the conflict (i.e. Americo-Liberians and Krahn)
were least inclined to return. As for
the latter, only 16% wished to repatriate. The survey results also showed that roughly a
quarter of the respondents (21%) planned to resettle in Liberia within
the next ten years. Those planning to
resettle in 11 or more years comprised 12%, while those not sure accounted for
available data, three observable variables emerge as major factors that could
inform a Liberian’s decision to return: family ties in Liberia, restoration of political freedom in Liberia, and the desire to help Liberia
develop. For example, the factor cited
as most common was family ties in the republic, an estimated 46% felt this to
be very important. Conversely, racism
and lack of opportunities in the U.S. ranked lowest of the
variables. The data suggests that racism
and discrimination, as stated above, may not be a factor because of the manner
in which Liberian communities are established.
Further, the data suggests that
personal freedom in Rhode Island and political
instability in Liberia
are the most important factors in the decision to stay. Seventy-two percent felt the personal freedom
experienced in Rhode Island
was very important in their decision to stay, while 62 percent felt the latter
as being very important. Almost equally
important were economic prospects and professional development in Rhode Island. At the same time, many of the respondents who
planned to continue living in the state of Rhode Island
and the United States
said they hoped their stay was temporary, and that they would like to
return. A few others would like to stay
long enough to take advantage of educational opportunities for themselves, and,
especially, their children. It seems as
if the dynamics of repatriation is a bit more complex when children are
involved, especially those born in the United States.
It is evident, although some of
the field results may contradict such a statement, that the majority of
Liberian immigrants surveyed wished to return to Liberia. One observes a genuine interest on the part
of many Liberians regardless of age, or level of education, to return. Many reminisced on how things used to be, the
“good old days.” And if a return to
those days was or is possible the question concerning repatriation would not be
an issue, for the overwhelming majority would return happily. The African way of life, more precisely the
Liberian way of life, was more desirable than what obtained in America. In other words, the desire to repatriate was
often punctuated with feelings of nostalgia about home. Nonetheless, the economic and political
problems that led to the initial flight from Liberia persist. As one respondent indicated, “Liberians know
how to live a good life, whereas Americans all they do is work. When do they take the time to enjoy what the
world has to offer?” Many would simply
like to obtain a good education and a secured lifestyle, not a life of anxiety
and uncertainty, while their beloved country redevelops. For numerous Liberian migrants, migration was
temporary; that is, they are better regarded as sojourners and not migrants.
Liberian Immigrant Networks in Rhode
For the Liberian immigrants in Rhode Island, the
establishment of mutual aid associations has been important (this also includes
some religious institutions). The
associations serve a number of functions by providing cultural, political,
psychological, and economic support.
They have assisted during periods of emergency, while creating an outlet
for socialization. They also serve as
avenues for disseminating information on available job opportunities as well as
health care issues. Furthermore, these
associations affirm group solidarity by creating a distinct cultural community
that, among other things, engenders interpersonal bonds. For some, these immigrant associations are
what sustained them while their stay in the United States lasted. In short, the Liberian immigrant networks in Rhode Island foster
unity and provide support for members.
observed, immigrant associations are like a family, giving assistance and
guidance on such issues as economic, psychological, social, or cultural.
largest and most influential Liberian immigrant association in Rhode Island- (other groups are of less importance), is
the Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island (LACRI), a non-profit and
community-based organization located on Broad Street in Providence.
Formerly known as the Liberian Students’ Association of Rhode Island
(LSARI), the LACRI was founded in the 1970s.
Initially, it served as a support group for members who pursued degrees
in higher education. It also served as
an advocacy group for Liberians in Rhode
Island and was, especially, concerned with social
justice issues. Meanwhile, as the number
of Liberian immigrants increased in the state of Rhode Island, the LACRI expanded its mission
and sought to cater more for the social, political, and economic needs of the
the LACRI’s duty and purpose is to seek and advance the general well being of
all, while promoting Liberian culture. The
objectives of LACRI are:
Liberians in the adjustment to life in the United States.
Help Liberians at home and in the United States
to become self-sustained.
that Liberians in the United
States appropriately tap into available
opportunities and sensitize them on their civic and legal responsibilities to
The association has also been the recipient of grant
funding, which has led to the development of a community learning center and
elderly and youth programs aimed at educating fellow Liberians on current
social, cultural, health, political, and economic issues concerning the
community. For example, health clinics
for the elderly are held monthly, to inform members about diabetes, heart
disease, medical service, and other issues.
LCARI has also been fundamental in the push for legislation to grant
permanent residency to eligible Liberians living in the United States, and has supported immigration
rallies in Providence and Washington, D.C.
Other associations that do not
transcend ethnicity like the LCARI
include the Sons and Daughters of Liberia, the Kru Association, Bomi
County Association, Maryland County Association, Grand Bassa Association, Nimba
County Association, Kissi Association, and the Gentlemen’s Association. Each of these associations which, by no means,
compare to scale and scope of the LCARI, represents either village, ethnic or
religious affiliations. Again these
groups are parochial and do little to serve the greater Liberian community of Rhode Island; their
purposes are more social in nature.
organizations, however, do play an important role in the Liberian community of Rhode Island, because
many Liberians are extremely religious and tend to incorporate prayer and
sermons in most public and private events or gatherings. Like most mutual aid organizations, churches
and other places of worship foster unity and cultural identity among
Liberians. While most churches in the
Greater Providence area have some type of Liberian contingent, those with a
majority are the Grain Coast Fellowship (strictly Liberian), Pond Street
Baptist Church, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Trinity United
Methodist Church, and Tabernacle Baptist Church West Side. Other churches that have substantial Liberian
membership are the Cathedral of St. John, Calvary Baptist
Church, Mathewson Street
Church, and St. Matthew
Trinity Lutheran Church.
The field survey results in this
essay have focused on demographic characteristics and subjective feelings of
Liberian immigrants towards the U.S.
and Liberia. They also emphasize the question of possible
repatriation, and the factors considered as important in their decision to
either return or stay. No doubt, the
present study on Liberian immigrants in Rhode
Island has revealed some interesting results.
First, we have learned that a
fairly large portion of the respondents identified as being Bassa or Kpelle. I have been informed, however, that there is a
substantial Gio population in Rhode
Island which further research might reveal. The results also show nearly half of the
respondents are married, while a low percentage is married to African-Americans
and non-Liberian Africans. It can thus
be assumed that the Liberian community of Rhode Island is rather insular and
close-knit. Also the majority of
respondents were between the ages of 30-39 and 60-69, and over a quarter have
one to two children. Those 60 years old
and older tended to have seven or more children.
Second, it appears that the
Liberian immigrants surveyed are an educated group. An overwhelming majority had a secondary
education or beyond. However, we have
come to learn that an advanced degree (i.e. graduate degree) does not mean the
respondent is professionally employed in the United
States, although we did see a slight increase in
professional positions held in the United States
as opposed to those held in Liberia. Future research may reveal that such a slight
increase is due to age and training. That
is, many of the respondents may not have been of age or educated enough to have
obtained professional jobs in Liberia. The data also shows that technical and
managerial positions were much more common amongst respondents in Liberia than here in America. Furthermore, respondents are much more
inclined to hold social services positions in the U.S.
than in Liberia,
and they are also more likely to be unemployed.
Approximately 90 percent of respondents send remittances to family
members, who would suffer otherwise. As
mentioned above, remittances are, for most, the only steady income, serving as
the difference between survival and starvation.
Third, nearly half of the
Liberian immigrants surveyed are transnational, many of whom came from refugee
camps in the Ivory Coast and
Ghana. The earliest migrant among the respondents
came to America
in 1970, while some have come as recently as 2001. Of the majority, we learned that civil war was
largely factorial of their migration.
However, it is possible that subsequent study may like to explore a
fairly large population of Liberian migrants who came to America due to economic crisis,
especially those who migrated in the 1970s and early 1980s. Such migrants were not included in the
current study, and would have made for interesting comparisons. The handicap could be due to the manner and
period in which the data was collected, because the majority of the data were
collected at immigration rallies, and monthly meetings and programs. It is likely that those Liberian immigrants
who came to the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s, have socially integrated
with the wider American community, and might not consider it necessary to
participate in such events that help latter immigrants with the adjustment
Fourth, the results show that
most of all the respondents missed the Republic of Liberia,
and the “African atmosphere.” However,
many deplored the civil war and dictatorship that have become part of Liberia’s
recent history. In contrast, several of
the respondents enjoyed the political freedom experienced in the United States. And many take pleasure from the opportunities
available here in America
(e.g. educational opportunities).
Furthermore, many of the respondents wish to repatriate and resettle in Liberia,
although many are pessimistic and believe that a return is unlikely. Their return to Liberia is predicated upon
economic, social, and political forces at home.
Of those who wish to return, family ties and the desire to help the
country modernize and redevelop are the motivating factors for a return.
As mentioned above, the present study is only a beginning. There is yet a lot to be done in this area of
research. It would be interesting for
future research to build upon what has been done, that is, creating a larger
sample to compare and contrast results.
Also, it would be interesting for future research to examine Liberian
immigrant business formation and self-employment, gender roles, political
participation and social activism, as well as, Liberian immigrant relations
with native-born blacks. Other research
may include a comparative analysis between different African populations and
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Khalil Saucier is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the Program
in Africana Studies at Rhode Island College. His publications are featured in
the Journal of Popular Music Studies, Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of
Economics, Culture, and Society, American Communication Journal, and Fashion
Theory. He is editor of Native Tongues: An African Hip-Hop Reader
(Africa World Press, 2011) and is also co-author of Historical Dictionary
of the Republic of Cape Verde, 4th edition with Richard A. Lobban Jr.
(Scarecrow Press, 2007). He is currently completing a book length manuscript
entitled We Eat Cachupa, Not Clam Chowder: A Critical Mapping of Cape
Verdean Youth Identity in America (Michigan State Press).