Literature Review

For the last century, historians in the United States and immigration to America have gone together. At that time, most historians were focused on immigration from European countries like Ireland, Italy, and what would eventually become Germany. Historians, like Solomon Addis Getahun and William A. Shack, state that the reason for this is because of the role of ethnicity and to further the idea of racial supremacy.

It seemed for the first half of the 20th century, the focus would remain the same, with it being situated on Europe. This would change in the 1950’s with the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement. As historians started to shift their views from white immigrants to non-white immigrants, a new wave of immigration started to hit America. While there was a large number of immigrants from southeast Asia that came to the United States in the mid-20th century, most immigrants at the time (roughly 0.9 million) were from Africa. Even though most immigrants from Africa are Nigerian or Egyptian, the most notable group of immigrants are from the African Horn countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The history of Ethiopia and Eritrea has always been intertwined. From the ancient Kushites to the emergence of Christianity, from the kingdoms of Aksum and Medri Bahri to the establishment of the Solomonic dynasty. From the resiliency of Menelik II to the courage of Haile Selassie I. One can infer that documenting such a large history, especially regarding immigration, is a difficult task, and in the beginning, it was. Despite the difficult task, historians like Solomon Addis Getahun, William A. Shack, and Elizabeth Chacko has managed to tell the story of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in the United States to some comprehensible extent. The main question, however, still stands: why is there a lack of sources regarding Ethiopian and Eritrean immigration to the United States? historians, researchers, and students alike have come to the same conclusion; that the lack of information on Ethiopian immigration can be accredited to the disorganization of immigration records and the lack of written material. I agree with this; however, I believe that the blame lies more with the disorganization of records rather than lack of written material.

The journals, articles, and books about Ethiopian and Eritrean immigration to the United States first appeared in the 1970’s with the publishing of Ethiopia and Afro-Americans: Some Historical Notes, 1920 – 1970 by William A. Shack in 1974. The article, published in Phylon volume 23, was the forerunner of the Ethiopian immigration field and was where Shack initially called into question the organization of immigration records. He stated that when African-Americans went to Ethiopia to study and do research, the American immigration offices did a poor job of recording their departures and return[1].

Shack also began to talk about one of the major themes of Ethiopian immigration, about how Ethiopians and Eritreans interact with the African-American community that was already in place. As more and more scholarships started to appear, each author had their own opinion on how the Ethiopians interacted with the community. With being the first, real scholarship on the subject, Shack’s statement about the interactions between Ethiopians and African-Americans would become the precedent. He argues that the relations between the Ethiopian Government and African-Americans were at least sub-par, as the government did not regulate the movement of African-Americans visiting Ethiopia[2]. Not everyone agreed with Shack’s opinion. Shelly Habecker’s Not Black, But Habasha: Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in American Society states the opposite. She states that the Ethiopian community in the Washington, D.C. area resist racialization, arguing that while their goal is to preserve the distinct Habasha culture in the area, they are unknowingly reinforcing the racial divide in the United States[3]. According to Habecker, the Habasha often distanced themselves from American blacks through pursuing transnational connections, producing safe zones, and displaying the attributes of a ‘model minority’, even going to such lengths to protect the Habasha culture by practicing endogamy[4]

Shack’s work would pave the way for other scholars and their scholarships, leading to new opinions and arguments. As the 1980’s and 1990’s rolled around, new scholars began researching information based on previous works on the subject. During this decade, the field surrounding Ethiopian and Eritrean immigration would receive the most influential scholarships of the subject, however, the two most popular scholarships from this time is A history of Ethiopia and Ethiopian Refugee Resettlement in the Western United States: Social Context and Psychological Well-Being.

          While A history of Ethiopia, written by Harold G. Marcus, does a good job of covering the basic reasons why Ethiopians fled the motherland during the 1970’s, the book does not fully explore the topic as much as it needs to be. Lucia Ann McSpadden, however, saw this, and in her essay, she would explore the topic further. This brings up another key theme of Ethiopian immigration, the theme of Psychological well-being and emotional health. In Ethiopian Refugee Resettlement in the Western United States, McSpadden reports that resettlement done by Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in the western United States have caused high levels of depression and suicide. She states that the reason for the high levels among Ethiopian single males is often related to their being culturally and ethnically different[5].

While books and articles up until the 21st century have had solid information about Ethiopian and Eritrean immigration to the United States, most books were covering the exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, which researchers studying American immigration patterns does not need. It seemed bleak for researchers until the publishing of The History of Ethiopian Immigrants and Refugees in America: 1900 – 2000 by Solomon Addis Getahun. Written in 2005, the book by Getahun is the authority when it comes to the Ethiopian immigration field. The book covers many themes that describe the Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants. However, one thing that this book does is fully recognize the lack of sources. Getahun states that one of the main problems is the disorganization of immigration records in the United States. one problem he has is that the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) had never broken down the number for Africans by country of origin. This means that Ethiopians and Eritreans were being grouped in with other Africans, which is something that Ethiopians do not want to be equated to[6].

Getahun continues, saying that the U.S. Census figures since 1990 are contested. The main reasons why the census numbers are contested is because a large number of Ethiopians reside in low-income government housing. Though illegal, these Ethiopians share homes with other Ethiopians, but they do not report them on the census[7].

Despite all the information that Getahun and other scholars have provided, the lack of sources about Ethiopian and Eritrean immigration to the United States is still a major problem, a problem that I intend to solve with these sources at my disposal. I am arguing that the lack of resources and materials about Ethiopian and Eritrean immigration to the United States are caused by two problems: the disorganization of immigration records in both Washington, D.C. and Addis Ababa and the lack of written stories.

The argument for the lack of organization regarding Ethiopian immigration records is straightforward. Getahun, as well as several notable historians, have agreed that both countries have done a poor job documenting immigration and migration. The blame, however, shifts from historian to historian. Getahun and McSpadden state that American immigration agencies like the INS and the Census are to blame for the disorganization, while Shack and Habecker place the blame more on the Ethiopian governments of the 20th century.

The argument for the lack of written-down sources and materials is more abstract. Most of the tribal groups that make up Ethiopia and Eritrea are verbal-based societies. This means that stories and legends are more likely to be passed down verbally rather than through literature[8]. Because of this, stories about 1st generation Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants have been lost. This too leads to another theme; identity.

Identity has played more of a role in the lives of Ethiopian immigrants than any other theme. Historian Elizabeth Chacko states this in her essay, Identity and Assimilation among Young Ethiopian Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington. In the essay, she states that the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in the D.C. area started to develop their own identity, separate from the African-Americans and separate from other immigrant groups from Africa. She also brings up the lack of research about the assimilation of Ethiopian immigrants into American society[9]. Susan E. Hume’s essay, Ethnic and National Identities of Africans in the United States, also looks at the role of identity, however, it encompasses the entire African immigrant population including Ethiopia and Eritrea. Hume states that religion plays a founding role in determining someone’s identity, especially amongst African immigrants[10]. Chacko agrees with Hume’s statement; however, she believes that ethnic makeup determines a much bigger role rather than religion. I agree with both statements. Religion and ethnicity go together constantly throughout these scholarships. It would be very hard to leave out one or the other.Both Chacko and Hume have made some good points.

In conclusion, I support these scholars and their scholarships. Solomon Addis Getahun, Lisa Ann McSpadden, Elizabeth Chacko, and other historians in the field have soundly stated through their works that there is simply not enough information about Ethiopian and Eritrean immigration to the United States of America. The fact that the United States Census and the Immigration and Naturalization Service fails to correctly survey and record proper data is supported by these books and essays. It is necessary for scholars to continue this work and add more to the field so others may benefit from it.

 

 

Bibliography

Bariagaber, Assefaw. “Globalization, Imitation Behavior, and Refugees from Eritrea.” Africa Today 6, no. 2 (2013): 2-18. Article.

Chacko, Elizabeth. “Identity and Assimilation among Young Ethiopian Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington.” Geographical Review, Vol. 93, No. 4 (2003): 491-506.

Getahun, Solomon Addis. The History of Ethiophian Immigrants and Refugees in America, 1900-2000. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC , 2007.

Habecker, Shelly. “Not black, but Habasha: Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in American society.” Ethnic & Racial Studies (2012): 1200-1219.

Mcspadden, Lucia Ann. “Ethiopian Refugee Resettlement in the Western United States: Social Context and Psychological Well-Being.” The International Migration Review, Vol. 21, No. 3 (1987): 796-819.

Shack, William A. “Ethiopia and Afro-Americans: Some Historical Notes, 1920-1970.” Phylon, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1974): 142-155.

Wolde, Samuel. “Acculturation, Identity Formation, and Mental-health Related Issues Among Young Adult Ethiopian Immigrants.” Dissertation. 2017.

 

[1] William A. Shack, “Ethiopia and Afro-Americans: Some Historical Notes, 1920 – 1970,” Phylon 23, no. 2 (1974): 146

[2] Shack, “Ethiopia and Afro-Americans: Some Historical Notes, 1920 – 1970,” 142

[3] Shelly Habecker, “Not Black, but Habasha: Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in American Society,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 35, no. 7 (2012): 1200

[4] Habecker, “Not Black, but Habasha: Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in American Society,” 1201

[5] Lucia Ann McSpadden, “Ethiopian Refugee Resettlement in the Western United States: Social Context and Psychological Well-Being,” The International Migration Review 21, no. 3 (1987): 796

[6] Solomon Addis Getahun, The History of Ethiopian Immigrants and Refugees in America: 1900 – 2000 (El Paso: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2005) xvi

[7]Getahun, The History of Ethiopian Immigrants, xvi

[8] Assefaw Bariagaber, “Globalization, Imitation Behavior, and Refugees from Eritrea,” Africa Today 60, no. 2 (2013):10

[9] Elizabeth Chacko, “Identity and Assimilation among young Ethiopian Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington,” Geographical Review 93, no. 4 (2010): 492

[10] Susan E. Hume, “Ethnic and National Identities of Africans in the United States,” Geographical Review 98, no. 4 (2008): 499