United African Organization

African Immigrant Community featured in Chicago Tribune

January 16, 2013SarahBlog, Photo Reel

Mary Ngomb, a hair braider, originally from Senegal (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)

In an article on Monday, January 14, 2013, Chicago Tribune reporter Antonio Olivo featured Chicago’s fastest growing immigrant population: Africans. In his article, Olivo touches on African migration patterns within the Chicagoland area, as well as visions from the community to make Chicago’s south-east side distinctly unique to African culture. Here are some excerpts :


Over the past decade, the 700 block of East 79th Street has undergone a transformation that points to another shift in Chicago’s ethnic landscape.

First came Yassa, a Senegalese restaurant whose spicy, rich cuisine has garnered attention from foodies across the region. Then Mandela, an African grocery store, opened next door, followed by two hair braiding shops and a Senegalese tailor across the street.

Now, the colorful business strip lies at the heart of hopes within one of the city’s fastest-growing immigrant groups for an “African village” that can stake a claim to a neighborhood in the same way that newcomers have shaped pockets of Chicago for generations.

“We see this as an anchor around which we can see other community development aspects flourishing and, over time, use it to create our resources and, hopefully, our political power, just like in other communities,” said Alie Kabba, director of the United African Organization, an umbrella group that has been scouting the 79th Street area for property to use as an African community center.

Since 1990, the number of Africanimmigrants in the Chicago area has quadrupled to an estimated 42,300, now the country’s fifth-largest African population behind New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Minneapolis, U.S. census figures show.

The growth comes as older immigrant groups like the Italians and Irish that once dominated certain city neighborhoods shrink, and as members of larger groups such as Mexicans and Poles move to the suburbs or return to their native lands in search of better opportunities.

For decades, African immigrants have been concentrated in North Side neighborhoods such as Uptown and Edgewater, where refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia moved to be close to the many social service agencies based there.

While those communities continue to grow, Africans from Senegal, Nigeria, Mali and Ghana have been moving to the South Side, where rents and home pricesare cheaper, community leaders say. Others have been moving to the southwest suburbs.

The community’s growth on the South Side can be seen in hair braiding shops that do brisk business among soul food restaurants and sneaker stores in Bronzeville and Chatham or in the clusters of taxicabs parked outside mosques and churches in the shadow of the Chicago Skyway.

For the full article, visit the Chicago Tribune website by click here

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