The Seventies: Part Five.
As others ventured out to other parts of Nigeria in the 70s, a relatively small but substantial number of Igbos, having decided that they were fed up with the frustration and inconsistencies of West Africa’s Giant, set their eyes on greener pastures overseas in Europe and the Americas. The presence of foreign humanitarian and religious organizations such as the Catholic Relief Services, the World Council of Churches, and Caritas International, helped facilitate Igbo immigration into the United States, as these organizations readily sent their members and clergy overseas for campaigns, revivals, and other religious programs. Moreover, the devastation wrought by the war convinced many people who were already based overseas to apply for visas and prepare documents to bring over their relatives and loved ones.
Although post-war difficulties were a significant factor in the decisions of many Igbo families and individuals to travel overseas, it was not the main cause of emigration in the 70s—the era to which this series draws focus. A combination of many social and economic factors, which we are yet to discuss, resulted in a brief period of national prosperity in the mid to late 70s that afforded a number of students the opportunity to obtain temporary visas and documentation in Universities across the West (with the United States being their main destination). As a result, in the years between 1970 and 1980, a steadily-increasing influx of Igbo migrants found themselves in the streets of American cities such as Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Houston.
The presence of pre-established social welfare institutions such as town unions and community groups and organizations played a large role in the accommodation of these fresh immigrants, who were unfamiliar with the norms of their new lands. Amongst the Igbo diaspora, the foundation of organizational bodies in which sons and daughters of the same town or clan would convene regularly to discuss matters of importance pertaining to them, in addition to ensuring their general welfare, drastically promoted solidarity amongst their communities and reflected the beliefs present within the traditional Igbo phrase “nwanne di na mba” (meaning: I have people I can trust in foreign lands). These organization would donate warm winter clothing to newly arrived members, contribute funds for the delivery and burial of the corpses of deceased individuals, and employ the talents of the lawyers and other legal and financial professionals amongst them to wrestle their members out of any mishaps they might have entered with federal agencies such as Immigration or the IRS. All across cities in the diaspora, Igbos regularly gathered in crowded basements and cramped living rooms to break kola and celebrate the beloved traditions they brought along with them from home, nursing within their deepest of hearts the unconscious desire to one day return to their fatherland.