Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Hans C. Buechler


Ethiopia, Immigrants, Second Generation, Transnationalism, Transnational politics, Washington .D.C

Subject Categories



This dissertation explores the transnational experiences of Ethiopian immigrants in the Washington metropolitan area across generational units. Much of the recent research on transnationalism has focused on the ties immigrants maintain in the sending country. This dissertation adds to this analysis by looking at how the actions of Ethiopian immigrants contribute to nation building in the United States as well as in Ethiopia. The double engagements of Ethiopians challenge either/or views of immigrants and demonstrates how transnationality works in both directions.

My research, based on 12 months of fieldwork in the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C., used participant observation, interviews, life histories and extended conversations to provide the first comprehensive study of first- and second-generation Ethiopian migrants using the transnational perspective. I explore the factors that motivate migrants to maintain transnational connections. I argue that for first-generation immigrants, the conditions of exit greatly shape the types and nature of transnational engagements as much as the receiving-country contexts. In addition, Ethiopian immigrants arrived in three distinct generational units, each of which had starkly differing experiences in Ethiopia and in the United States. These experiences have influenced their priorities regarding adaptation and transnational connections. Largely as the consequence of incongruent pre-immigration experiences, some Ethiopians are heavily involved in political transnationalism while others favor philanthropic giving.

I also analyze the transnational activities of second-generation Ethiopians, which include visiting the ancestral land, sponsoring children in the homeland, working for philanthropic NGOs in Ethiopia, shaping definitions of Ethiopian Americans, defending the homeland in the United States, and taking part in political action, especially the hard work of building a voting bloc. Both the diverse generational units of the first- and second-generation Ethiopian immigrants grapple with politics, family loyalty, nationalism, obligations to those left behind, differing views of success, racial views, and many more transnational ties, all the while gauging how far to integrate into U.S. society.


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