The Liberian-American community is on edge following the diagnosis of the first case of the Ebola virus in the U.S., both out of fear of discrimination and concerns that it will be more difficult to visit family back home in West Africa. A man in Texas was confirmed as the first U.S. Ebola case Tuesday and there’s a possibility that he also may have infected more than a dozen other people.
“We were shocked when we first heard about the case,” said Nathaniel Kerkulah, chairman of the Oregon Association for Liberia, a nonprofit in Portland composed of Liberian immigrants. “This is something that our community has been on the watchout for. We as a community have to watch out for friends who are moving back and forth.”
He said a Liberian-American woman who had been in the United States for 10 years recently brought her sick American-born child to a hospital and was greeted with panic. “Everybody kind of separated themselves from her, running away from her,” Kerkulah said. “When you say, ‘I’m from Liberia,’ people have that fear.”
There are roughly 650,000 immigrants from West Africa in the United States, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Those numbers include more than 78,000 from Liberia, the nation hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak. Most foreign-born Americans from West Africa hail from Nigeria, with some 235,000 Nigerians in the United States. The country has been affected by the Ebola virus, but to a lesser extent than Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The Census doesn’t have detailed information on the number of Guineans in the U.S., but there are more than 37,000 people in America from Sierra Leone.
New York is home to more West Africans than any other state with nearly 101,000 people, according to Census data. The Empire State is followed by Maryland, with more than 67,000 West Africans, and Texas at more than 62,000.
The largest Liberian population is in Minnesota with 12,111 Liberians, including more than 9,000 in the Minneapolis-St.Paul metropolitan area -- the city with the largest Liberian population in the U.S.
Kerkulah said his organization has set up meetings with the state Department of Health so Liberian-Americans can send health advice to their loved ones dealing with Ebola. The group knows of about 20 people who were killed by the contagious virus.
“My concern is the awareness,” Kerkulah said. “It’s all about prevention.”
There is also concern about the U.S. reducing flights to Liberia. Some family members in the West African country are telling their relatives not to visit for fear of spreading the virus, he said.
“Some people here, they were about to travel, but when they saw how Ebola was spreading, their family warned them not to go back home,” Kerkulah said.