Migration Stories

Migration Stories is a project that seeks to gather stories in various forms about both the experience of immigration for Africans and the impact of changing demographics in Midwestern communities. 

African immigration to the United States has grown rapidly over the past three decades with more than 1.5 million sub-Saharan Africans now residing in the United States. Close to 10,000 African immigrants (and their American-born children) live today in the metropolitan centers of Kansas City, Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, Wichita, and Garden City. These recent demographic changes have particular resonance in the Midwest where increasing numbers of non-traditional migrant groups, including Latinos, Asians, and Africans, now live in communities that are often unaccustomed to large groups of migrants of non-European origin. For although the U.S. celebrates itself as a nation of immigrants, recent immigration is perhaps not as clearly understood as that of earlier periods of our history. Long-term residents are, as such, left without a clear sense of who these new arrivals are and how to include them within the larger local community.

Focusing on the diversity, adversity, and struggles of Latin American and African immigrants in the Heartland, this initiative asks how the new digital age affects the stories that immigrants tell, as well as the possibilities for their visibility in the wider community. The project positions past and recent immigrant stories in trans-generational conversation with one another through multimedia and multi-modal vignettes, constructed via the storytelling methods unique and best suited to each generation.


Migration Stories on KCUR

KU’s Migration Stories feature on KCUR’s Central Standard to raise public awareness of the upcoming forum at the Unity Temple on the Plaza. Guests of the program included Marwa Ghazali of the KU Department of Anthropology; Kenny Vy, a local resident who immigrated from Vietnam; and local resident who immigrated from Vietnam; and Garth Myers, Professor of Urban International Studies at Trinity College, former director of KU's African Studies Center.

Migration Stories Public Forum

The Kansas African Studies Center at the University of Kansas hosted a public forum highlighting the possibilities for meaningful conversation about immigration through the sharing of stories. The forum took place at 7 p.m. May 9 at Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. This community gathering began with presentations by three speakers, followed by a moderated public discussion on the challenges and opportunities that arise from recent demographic changes in the Midwest. The forum brought together acclaimed Nigerian novelist and poet Chris Abani, Northwestern University; distinguished cultural geographer Garth Myers, Trinity College, Connecticut, and nationally recognized expert on Latino/a migrant experiences Marta Caminero-Santangelo, University of Kansas.

Maps of Africa-Born Population in the Midwest

The maps below present the Africa-born population in the midwestern United States based on the 2015 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

They were created by Dr. Di Shi and Regina Thomas of the KU Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science and are being shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Migrants in the Midwest

Julie Morris, PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science, discusses African immigration to the Midwest, with extensive demographic comparisons of the newcomers to those born in the U.S.

Annotated Bibliography of additional readings on migration to the Midwest.

Integration of African Immigrants in the U.S.

Professor Abel Chikanda, KU Department of African & African-American Studies, places African immigration to the U.S. in historical context and discusses the degree to which these African immigrants exhibit the economic mobility and social inclusion necessary for successful integration into their new communities.

Don Stull

Don Stull is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at KU. His work focuses on the meat and poultry industry in North America, rural industrialization and rapid growth communities, and industrial agriculture’s impact on farmers and rural communities.

Beverly Mack

Beverly Mack is a Professor of African Studies in the Department of African and African American Studies and a Courtesy Professor of Religious Studies. Her work focuses on Islamic and African literature and Muslim women’s lives in West Africa.


The most difficult issue in exploring any new issue is deciding the best place to start. Below you will find a brief bibliography of resources to help get you started. Included among them are both scholarly and more popular treatments, from a wide range of sources. If there areas of particular interest not covered in this bibliography, you are invited to contact the Kansas African Studies Center at kasc@ku.edu or (785)864-3745 for additional recommendations.

Drinking from Ceremonial Cups (Cameroon)

Hear the story of a freshman film major at the University of Kansas whose parents are both from Cameroon. We explore the themes of home, and the connection that children of immigrants feel to the home country of their parents.

Learning How to Fly (Sudan)

We hear the story of a software developer from Sudan. We explore the themes of hope, discrimination, and what it’s like to leave a country that you love.

Looking to the Future (Morocco)

We hear the story of an engineer and father from Morocco. We explore the themes of why people choose to leave home, and how having children affects your perspective.

Iman Al Hassan (Kansas City, MO / Nigeria)

Iman Al Hassan was born in Columbia, MO and raised primarily in Kansas City, Missouri, but is a “generational immigrant” who maintains strong cultural ties back to Nigeria, where both of her parents were born. She is also the author of Unrequited, a collection of poetry that voices stories of love, loss, the struggles of family and of cross-cultural differences through the journey to self-actualization of the second generation American, Muslim author.

Bhaa Elashkar (Shawnee Mission / Egypt)

Bhaa Elashkar was born and raised in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, but maintains strong ties back to Egypt, where his parents were born, as well as to the United Arab Emirates, where he worked and met his wife.

Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna is the award-winning author of the three novels: The Hired Man, The Memory of Love and Ancestor Stones, and a critically-acclaimed memoir The Devil that Danced on the WaterIn this talk she traces her own links to the cultural heritage of Sierra Leone through the enslaved in the Americas. She also discusses her “reverse Roots” project that stems from her childhood in Sierra Leone. Forna is currently a Lannan Visiting Chair at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Henry Lubega (Uganda)

Henry Lubega, a native of Uganda, came to the United States after escaping from a rebel group that forced him to fight on their behalf in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mpho Kekana (South Africa)

Mpho Kekana grew up in post-apartheid South Africa before moving to Maryville, Missouri. He tells the story of his first encounters with overt racism when his family moved from an all black township into an all white suburban neighborhood.

Diane Umutomi (Rwanda)

Fabrice Snga (Rwanda/Burundi)

Mousab Hamid (Sudan)

Abikadir Dahir (Ethiopia/South Africa)


This project was made possible through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was led by Professor Elizabeth MacGonagle (History) and Professor Byron Caminero-Santangelo (English / Environmental Studies).