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African-American Immigrants Tell Story of Their Homeland


Millions of people in the United States can trace their roots back to Africa, but there is an increasing number of people who have come here directly from an African nation. These Africans in America are trying to establish their own identity and play a larger role in their communities.

When African officials and oil industry executives come to Houston, one of the places they can go to get a taste of home is Kenny's restaurant in the southwest part of the city. Owner Kenny Adebiyi, an immigrant from Nigeria, says he is also trying to build an identity for African food and culture among both black and white people living in Houston.

"Definitely, we are not being recognized because other cultures, like the Chinese, cling to certain areas," he said. "We need that here. That is why we are doing this. We need to be recognized and have a place of our own."

Kenny Adebiyi and several other African immigrants have now formed a group called the African Coalition to promote the image of African immigrants in Houston and to develop some clout both politically and socially.

His friend and fellow Nigerian immigrant Sam Uzoh is especially keen on the idea of bringing a better understanding of Africa and Africans to the people of the United States. In the two stores he owns in the Houston area, Sam sells African art, crafts and clothes mostly to African-Americans who want to get closer to their cultural origins.

But Sam Uzoh was distressed by the questions some of them asked him.

"Isn't there something good going on in Africa? Is there anything good at all or is everything war and starvation and stuff like that?" some asked him.

To counter the image created by news reports out of Africa depicting violence and poverty, Sam Uzoh began importing African movies on video tape and in the DVD format to sell in his stores.

He says this venture has been quite successful and that many customers come back for more.

"The movies have some wonderful stories, with great acting," he said. "We pick the movies in English and with subject matter that would be of interest to Americans."

Most of the movies currently come from Nigeria, which has an active film production industry, but Sam Uzoh is on the lookout for films from elsewhere with good, compelling stories that will both entertain and educate his customers.

African immigration to the United States is small compared to immigration from many other nations. In 2003, for example, 115,000 Mexicans were admitted legally into the country, while 48,738 people from all of Africa entered.

Census data indicate there are around 27,000 African-born immigrants living in the Houston area, but members of the Houston Africa Coalition believe the actual number is much higher. Many Africans come here for jobs in the oil and gas industry or to study in local universities. Nigeria is by far the country that has supplied the most immigrants to the area, followed by South Africa, Egypt, Ghana and Ethiopia.