Malian Americans

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Mali Malian American United States
Bakary Soumare cropped.jpg
Total population
1,790 (2000 US Census)[1]
6,000 (Malian-born, 2008-2012; American Community Survey Briefs) [2]
Regions with significant populations
Mainly New York City, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and Baltimore
Related ethnic groups
Ivorian American, Guinean American, Senegalese American

Malian Americans are people with ancestry originating in Mali. According to the US Census Bureau[3] ancestry survey, approximately 1,800 Americans stated they had Malian ancestry, making them Malian Americans. The survey did not take into account illegal immigrants or people who did not participate in the survey, which could mean that many more uncounted Malians live throughout the US.


Fist Malians who migrated to the United States were mainly Mandinkas slaves, a Muslim ethnic group descended from the Mali Empire (1230s–1600s), who scattered throughout West Africa because of the expansion of the empire. They were exported to the United States as slaves during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.[4] In addition, the Mandinkas had a large presence of non-Muslim Bambara from Mali in Louisiana and a large presence of non-Muslim people from India as well. This fact is very peculiar, when we consider that, at present, most of the Bambara people are Muslims.[5] The African slaves were often captured as a result of conflicts with other African ethnic groups in the interior of Africa. They were then enslaved by the winner of the conflict and subsequently sold to European and American slave traders on the African shores.[6]

After the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, few Malians immigrated to the United States until the 20th century. The first voluntary wave of Malian migration occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.[7]

It was not until the 1990s that the largest wave of Malian immigrants arrived to the United States. At that time, the majority of Malians who immigrated to the U.S. and Europe came mainly to escape poverty and famine in their country, along with political unrest including a coup and the closing of schools in 1991.[8] At the beginning of the decade, most Malians who immigrated to New York were Malian musicians and Dioula (traders). In New York, they sought new markets to sell their products. Over time, they moved to other cities including Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia. As a result of these migrations, Chicago became one of the major cities in the United States with Malian communities. In addition, many Malians who immigrated during this decade were women who came to New York[7][8] and Washington DC, in pursuit of economic and educational opportunities. In addition, a small group of graduate students studying under government-sponsored scholarships moved to the US, along with family members using the lottery system for green cards.[8] Roughly 3,500 Malians enter the United States each year on temporary visas,[7] but only about 85 Malians actually become US citizens per year. Some Malian immigrants also gain asylum, mainly women seeking refuge from female genital mutilation, as it is a widespread practice in West Africa.[9][7]


Many Malians live illegally in the United States, and raise native-born children. Furthermore, the practice of polygamy exists in Muslim countries and is still maintained in the Malian community in the United States.

The cities with the most significant population are New York City (an estimated 20,000 people of Malian origin, mostly in the Bronx where approximately 8,000 live[9]), Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and Baltimore.[9][7] Malian Americans may speak French as a first or second language, English, Bambara and other African languages. Most are Muslims.[7] The Malian community has continued to grow rapidly due to immigration to New York.[8]

Organizations and parties

Most Malians are Muslims. Many Malians meet regularly for parties and holidays, among which both Muslim and Christian holidays are included. They celebrate both traditional Malian holidays and those indigenous to the US, such as Thanksgiving and American Independence Day, and Malian Independence Day .

As with other ethnic groups, multiple Malian organizations exist. One, the Mali Association, is a mutual aid organization to help members who encounter financial problems. Monthly meetings are held where various problems affecting the community are discussed. Established in 2001, it is supported by many Malians. The organization and the community make financial contributions to be used in emergencies such as illness or death.

Because of the cultural ties that bind many Malians with other ethnic groups in West Africa, many Malians regularly attend events and meetings of other West African organizations in Chicago, and, although these groups are largely organized along national lines, there is much fluidity among the organizations. Consequently, there is talk of forming a larger West African organization in the city.[8]


  • Historian Matt Schaffer believes that American Southern English, "despite all its varieties, is essentially an African-American slave accent, and possibly a Mandinka accent, with other African accents, along with the colonial British accent layered in."[10]


  1. "Table 1. First, Second, and Total Responses to the Ancestry Question by Detailed Ancestry Code: 2000". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-11-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Foreign-Born Population From Africa: 2008–2012" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 20 April 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Omar ibn Said (1831). "Autobiography of Omar ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ethnicities in United States
  6. Bound To Africa — The Mandinka Legacy In The New World
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Disaster puts spotlight on Malian immigrants to U.S. By Michael Powell and Nina Bernstein. Published in Saturday, March 10, 2007
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Encyclopedia of Chicago: Malians in Chicago. Posted by Tracy Steffes. Retrieved September 2, 2012, to 1:27 pm.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Mali in the Bronx. Posted by Earlene Cruz on January 29, 2013 at 9:30pm
  10. "Bound To Africa — The Mandinka Legacy In The New World" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-10-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links