Coming to America

Coming to America:
The Transnational Lives of Ghanaian Migrants

On a recent visit back home to Ghana, my father discovered a box filled with his late father’s writings. Unbeknownst to any of us, my grandfather had kept every letter he received from four of his children who traveled abroad.

There are letters from one daughter who emigrated to New Zealand and then to Australia, from a daughter who went to Liberia and then to the U.S., from a son who left for England and then to the U.S., and some from another son, my father, who followed his older sister to Liberia before coming to American. In addition to each original letter, my grandfather attached to it a carbon copy of his response. In these letters are my family’s immigration stories.

The object of my next major research project is to build and train a team of undergraduate students who will work with me to take my family’s story as the starting point and tell a comprehensive story about African migrants in the United States.

I consider this topic within a transnational framework

Transnationalism views migration not merely as the unidirectional movement of people from one nation to another, but as an ongoing exchange between places. I center the research around Ghanaian immigrants because they, along with other African immigrants, are among the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the U.S. To build on and confront some of the limitations of the transnationalism literature on migration, this project focuses on the motivations, processes, and consequences of migration. 

First, the focus on motivations reorients the literature because most migration studies, especially studies of migration to the United States, pay little attention to feeder-country context. By contrast, I will pay as much attention to emigration as to immigration. How does the home country’s political and socioeconomic context impact motivations for leaving one’s home country?

Second, my careful focus on the process of migration, especially on immigration policy, will enable me to rethink the role of the nation-state in contemporary migration. Is it as minimal as some transnational scholars argue? And, more broadly, as compared to several decades back, are nation-states less consequential in the lives of migrants in today’s globalized world? 

Third, by investigating the consequences of migration, which for this project includes both the consequences for migrants and for those they leave behind, this project examines both the benefits and the drawbacks of transnational lives. 

Want to learn more and hear about this project?