Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Immigrant Experience: Liberians in America, Part I

"Rhode Island is a small state. Rhode Island reminds us of Liberia. Liberia is just a little larger than Rhode Island." Elaine Traub, Liberian nurse.

"I can drive from here, two blocks, and meet another Liberian, and go downtown, and wherever I go, I will meet Liberians." Eleanor Gaye, Liberian restaurant owner.

While I was Voice of America's West Africa correspondent, from 2003 to 2008, my favorite country to visit was Liberia, partly because of the way people spoke English there with such energy and flavor, frankness and poetry.

I was always interested in finding out more about the Liberian diaspora as well. By most accounts, nearly a third of the country's three million people fled the war, corruption and neglect that ravaged Africa's oldest republic over the past 20 years.

Many of them have never returned.

In the United States, the largest concentration of Liberians is in Rhode Island, the smallest American state.

The first installment of this five part series asks members of the Liberian diaspora why so many of them decided to make Rhode Island their home away from home.