Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CODESRIA 2010 Gender Symposium24
-26 November, 2010Venue: Cairo, Egypt
Gender, Migration and Socioeconomic Development in Africa

Amakufuna Pakalowa Njoka, Pakalowa Mbewe, Ndikumba Ndekha:
The Structural Violence of being An African Immigrant Woman in Post 9/11 US.

The discourse on the migration of African intellectuals to the United States often dwells on chronicling the rags to riches story, the path from living in and leaving the stereotypically ‘poor’ African countries for the ‘opportunity’ abound US. This binary suggests that African men and women who carve a niche in the US stand to benefit in many ways thereby ‘developing’ themselves, their families and country in the process. What often gets glossed over is the gendered and feminist migratory subjecthood (Boyce Davies 1997, 2008) that is constructed when African women come to the US to pursue PhD studies. In order to take a position on whether the migration of African women develops them, their families or country – it is crucial to critically understand the path that they travel. This paper employs the stand taken on this issue by Chimamanda Adichie’s (Nigeria) in Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Doreen Baingana’s (Uganda) in Tropical Fish: Stories from Entebbe (2006) to argue that migrating the US, especially for African women who will be teaching assistants and hold FI visas in the US, can be an infantilizing experience that locks an those African women in various forms of structural violence (Bernbeck 2008) at horizontal and vertical levels (Duffy 1990) that can not only delay their professional growth, but threaten their livelihood and limit their human rights. A lot of their ability to succeed depends on performing various forms of subservience and second class citizen hood at racial, class and gender levels. To quote Adichie, instead of developing, most African female intellectuals swap their ‘laughter’, peace of mind and influential voice for material goods, commodification and being silenced. If we are to liken the classroom to a hunting forest and locate these women as hunters searching ground holes for hunt with other hunters, these women soon realize how much the following Chichewa proverb succinctly describes their positionality in the US academy and state: they are called upon when it is a snake that has entered the hole/ikakhala njoka, but when it is a rabbit/ ngati ili mbewa (edible wild meat), they are told ‘we can do the hunting ourselves, we do not need you’. Taking off from the literary texts, the paper uses the writer’s experience of coming to the US August 2006 to do a PhD, the traumatic and discriminatory experience with the USCIS and ISSS over the EAD card.- to illustrate the structural, symbolic and institutional violence that form the spine of the argument of this paper.

Jessie Kabwila Kapasula
State University of New York, Cortland/SUNY College at Oneonta/ Binghamton University.

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