Why Alexandria, Virginia?


The Washington, DC metropolitan area has one of the highest concentrations of African immigrants in the United States. This can be explained by looking at several key factors, which includes education, the capital cities’ effect, and transnationalism.[1]

Since African immigrants are highly educated, educational and career factors drew them to large American metropolitan cities. This, along with the possibility of earning a higher income, were crucial factors in choosing Washington, DC as their destination. In addition to these factors, Ethiopian immigrants were drawn to Howard University in Washington, DC, which is a predominately black college.[2]

Howard University, a federally chartered, private, historically black university in Washington, DC (Image courtesy of Howard University.)

As the capital city of the United States, Washington, DC is very much a cosmopolitan city and a melting pot for a variety of ethnic groups. Besides the education and government programs that lure immigrants to the region, the effect of Washington, DC being a capital city greatly influenced immigration trends. In addition, having a main embassy in that city provides incoming immigrants with a feeling of safety. The capital city is not only the political center of the country, but also the cultural, educational, and economic focal point. Additionally, Washington DC’s existence as a center for international work makes it an attractive destination for immigrants. Many Africans work for Washington-based international development agencies and organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The possibility of being able to work a steady job when suddenly settling in a new nation exists as a pull factor for immigration to the region.[3]

Transnationalism creates chain migration to the Washington, DC region. As Ethiopians and others settled in the area and became successful, it facilitated even greater numbers of immigrants. Through the creation of transnational social networks, African immigrants already living in Washington, DC were able to share information to friends and family in their countries of origin, which shaped how they imagined or perceived Washington, DC as a place. This process attracted more Africans to the metropolitan area.[4] Despite their lure to the capital city, high population density within the city forced many Ethiopians to find homes in the surrounding suburbs.

[1] Jill Wilson and Shelly Habecker, “The Lure of the Capital City: An Anthro-geographical analysis of recent African immigration to Washington D.C.,” The Brookings Institute (2008): 433.
[2] Ibid., 436.
[3] Ibid., 441-42.
[4] Ibid., 443-44.