The Impact of Social Networks on the Immigration Experience of Ethiopian Women
Immigration to the United States from African nations is growing exponentially. Female African immigrant populations in the United States are growing faster than male African immigrant populations. Despite the growing population, there has been limited research examining the African immigrant population, with most of what does exist focusing on Black immigrant men. Washington, DC is an emerging gateway for African immigrants, and the majority of African immigrants to Washington, DC are from Ethiopia. This research study explored the immigration experience of Ethiopian women and how they used social and kinship networks as they immigrated to the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Data were collected through face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with 14 participants. Questions in the interviews were based on an interview guide developed by the researcher and informed by social capital theory. The transcripts of these interviewed were then analyzed according to qualitative content analysis methodology to determine themes arising from the participants' experiences. The themes that emerged during the coding and analysis process included the important role family members who already lived in the U.S. played in connecting participants with housing, jobs, and educational opportunities; the importance of the church in providing a social home and sense of community for the participants; and the way the participants' feeling of belonging grew over time with experiences that helped them feel comfortable in new surroundings. Findings suggest that social capital theory is an appropriate lens through which to view Ethiopian immigrant women. The findings of this study demonstrate the importance of both family and fictive kin relationships in the lives of the participants. Results also underscore the importance of religious communities among Ethiopian women immigrants. Social workers in refugee centers, health departments, and public schools would benefit from partnering with Ethiopian churches to better meet the needs of this underserved population.
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