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Okpewho, Isidore, and Nkiru Nzegwu, eds. The New African Diaspora.

Okpewho, Isidore, and Nkiru Nzegwu, eds. The New African Diaspora. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009. ix + 531 pages. Paper, $29.95.

As a cultural and regional geographer, this reviewer is always looking for materials that capture the diffusion of people and ideas across space; the spatial distribution of cultures and ethnicities; and, the reasons for that spatial phenomena. The New African Diaspora offers a collection of essays that examine that distribution from different perspectives, including that from a geographic perspective. The editors of this volume have done a solid job of putting together this group of essays to show the evolution, not only of the diffusion itself, but of the academic thought being applied to the study of current diaspora patterns out of Africa. This volume includes essays that explore the reasons behind the modern diaspora; the diffusion patterns of the people as they move into new cultures; and, some of the short- and long-term demographic and cultural affects that result from this modern diaspora.

The New African Diaspora is the second collection of essays devoted to the diffusion patterns of Africans into the global context. The first study, The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities (1999), concentrated on the forced migration of Africans to the New World. The volume under review focuses on the voluntary migration patterns of Africans and those of African descent in the modern world, specifically across the western Atlantic Ocean. A recurrent theme that captures a geographer's attention immediately is that of globalization. Several of the essayists point out that in modern diffusion patterns much of the diaspora could not have happened as it has without the global context of modern technology. Today's speed of transportation and the need for a global work force at all socio-economic levels has created a transnational and transcultural people. People emigrate from Africa to seek better economic futures in the Western world. However, these migrants are able to stay in touch with those back home, and often travel to visit them in a way they could not in previous migrations.

Many fields in the social sciences can benefit from this book. Diffusion patterns and the affects of that diffusion of both people and ideas and cultures can be shown on maps in a classroom, but the effects of that diffusion in personal terms is harder to communicate. Essays on the literary expression of migrants and others that look at redefinitions of self in terms of place make the migrant experience more real. Such studies can also be used to illustrate numerous aspects of globalization, starting with transnational corporations and the need for a global work force, and ending with the hybridization of cultures once they encounter each other.

For sociologists, these essays provide wonderful examples of how racial and ethnic conflicts are created and resolved. Some focus on explaining how recent African immigrants to America interact with African Americans who have long been part of American society. These essays also offer excellent examinations of how people construct their identity. For a geographer, those essays are great examples of the importance of place as part of identity. But their use extends into other realms. A psychologist could use some of the personal accounts to show how there are many parts to identity construction. Sociologists can use the various levels of societal interaction found in these accounts to develop an understanding of the pressure society puts on people to identify themselves a certain way. This brings to mind the textbook The Human Mosaic, which we use in cultural geography. That text points out that ethnic identity does not take place at home; it begins to develop when the group encounters a new group in a new place. Many of the essays in this volume share a similar conclusion: Ethnic identity became very important when migrants entered the Western world.

Unfortunately, this collection of essays lacks sufficient attention to history. Since the focus of these essays is the modern diaspora, it is reasonable to expect that some historical background on the topic would be provided. However, there is no mention of former diasporas from other places that had some of the same features of the current diaspora from Africa. The Irish potato famine in the 1840s forced many people to migrate to avoid starvation. The political upheavals in southern and eastern Europe of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries served as the major factor in the movement of people from those regions to the United States. While little ink and paper should be dedicated to those migrations, it is a mistake to treat this new diaspora as unique simply because it originates from a different continent. This shortcoming needs to be addressed in future works on the topic.

Another critique of this work came about in terms of identity structure and identifying who is African and who is not. It is clear that the editors and various essayists consider the peoples of the Caribbean to be counted as Africans. Yet, time and again in those essays that recount the personal experiences of the people from that region, they sought recognition as a Haitian, a Cuban or whatever their country of origin was. At what point does the academic researcher stop imposing his/her definitions on the people he/she is examining and listen to the definitions they use themselves?

Overall, The New African Diaspora can be used in many disciplines of the social sciences. Its value in geography is something that this reviewer has already tested in the classroom by using some of the examples of diffusion patterns, push and pull factors that cause immigration, and identity construction. While it might not work as a separate reader, particularly at the freshman and sophomore level, it is something that both faculty and students can reference.

Linda Murphy, PhD

Department of Social Sciences

Blinn College

Bryan, Texas
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Author:Murphy, Linda
Publication:International Social Science Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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