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AFRICAN MIGRANTS

Thoughts and Reflections on African Migration and Settlement in Australia.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

STATUS ANXIETY

Increased migration of Africans to the Western world is generally seen as a good thing; a win-win situation for the migrants and their countries of origin. The grass may appear ”greener” elsewhere; but things are not what they seem.

The problem is that transnational migration may not always unlock the nirvana for everyone at the same time, because migration affects people differently. And there are winners and losers.

Thus, in the migration stakes, African women are the real winners. They have tasted the fruits of freedom from “patriarchal control” and are not about to give up. Nor should they give up their hard won freedom.

Consequently, too many men of African descent are suffering in silence due to what they perceive to be an inevitable loss of status as soon as they arrive in the new country. Most Africans I know think they have lost control of their family because they are no longer “respected” and seen as the “Bread winner”. And this sense of loss has overwhelmed them; affecting their self-image and relationship with family and friends. Hence, the emergence of status anxiety as a significant problem of adaptation for African migrants.

In fact, despite their impressive academic credentials, and most are very highly educated, African migrants are sometimes forced into a position in which they have to take the jobs that others reject; working either as farm hands. Or building laborers. Or street cleaners. Or rubbish collectors just to make ends meet. But sometimes, to their utmost surprise, the ends do not always meet!

“They asked me to wipe the floor and clean the toilets” Eyenowo said, with a great deal of sadness in his eyes as he remembered his first day at work as a migrant, “A whole me! I have never done such work before…And I don’t intend to start doing it now”.

Come to think of it, African migrants want to "work hard" and "live well". They want the best of all possible worlds. And they want "decent jobs" that pay well - naturally, jobs that are in line with their perceived status.

For the African men though, migration is a traumatic experience. But for the African women (married or single), it is probably the best thing since the invention of the wheel. They have ceased the initiative where it matters most and are moving towards real independence. Now that they have got the “economic power” and have been blessed with their own sources of income, most women generally feel they do not have to depend on any man for survival in the new environment.

“We were definitely growing apart” said Felix Okonta as he reflects on what could have been a long and happy marriage to his former school sweetheart. “The divorce was quick, it caught me by complete surprise”. But Felix is not alone. His experience of family breakdown, and a quick and easy divorce, is common to many migrants.

Thus, while African women are celebrating their new found “freedom from patriarchy” and domestic chores and are becoming more independent than ever before, African men have been devastated by the experience. They are no longer considered the “Head of the household”; no servants to cook and clean and mow the lawn, as was the case in Africa. They have to learn to do everything by themselves to survive the early years of migration.

Migration is an orphan!




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