The Immigrant Community

lex immigrant community

Kentucky began receiving its first group of refugees after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 through Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Louisville. Since that time, Kentucky has had a proud history of welcoming refugees from all around the world. Today Kentucky is home to three refugee resettlement agencies with five offices across the state. Refugees are initially resettled in Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Owensboro. Since 1994, over 30,800 refugees have been resettled in Kentucky. Many other refugees have moved to Kentucky after initially being resettled in another state. At the close of Fiscal Year 2019, Kentucky ranked 5th in the nation in the number of refugee arrivals compared to other states.

According to an article posted by Karla Ward of Associated Press, more refugees than ever are settling in Lexington.

After families are approved for admission to the country through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, organizations like Kentucky Refugee Ministries step in to help them resettle here.

KRM, which has offices in Lexington and Louisville, has been receiving more refugees in Lexington than ever before, said Dabney Parker, who works to find co-sponsors like the St. Luke group to come alongside refugee families. During the last fiscal year, which ended in September, KRM helped 372 people resettle in Lexington, Parker said. The organization is on pace to far surpass that this year.

During the first quarter, the organization served more than 200 refugees, Parker said, and more than 40 refugees were expected in January. “It’s a very high arrival rate,” Parker said. “Higher than we’ve ever had.”

One of the biggest challenges the organization is facing with the influx is finding safe, affordable housing close to bus stops, she said. But more volunteers, donations and groups to co-sponsor families are needed, too. Most Congolese refugees come from rural areas without electricity, he said. The team will show the family features of their apartment that Americans take for granted, like the lights and chain lock on the door, and they will make sure they understand the rules of apartment living. Every family that comes want to get out on their own as quick as possible.

Some of the refugees coming to Lexington are from Syria, Iraq, Bhutan and the Ukraine, but the largest group is from the Congo, she said. Lexington has the fourth-largest resettlement population of Congolese in the country, she said. Once they arrive in the U.S., Parker said, “the goal of resettlement is self-sufficiency.”

While 4 percent of the state’s population was born in another country, foreign-born residents make up a vital, educated share of the labor force. A third of immigrants in Kentucky possess a college or higher degree, and three-fourths report speaking English well. The state also benefits from the various ways immigrants participate in the economy—from working in arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media professions to accounting for 17 percent of Kentucky’s fishing, farming, and forestry employees. As neighbors, business owners, taxpayers, and workers, immigrants are an integral part of Kentucky’s diverse and thriving communities and make extensive contributions that benefit all.

Immigrant entrepreneurs in Kentucky generate hundreds of millions of dollars in business revenue.

  • 11,238 immigrant business owners accounted for 6 percent of all self-employed Kentucky residents in 2018 and generated $321.4 million business income.
  • In 2018, immigrants accounted for 9 percent of business owners in the Cincinnati/Middleton metropolitan area (which spans Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana).

Considering that Lxington is home to such a large number of African Immigrants, it make sense to welcome an African Food Market in the community. Once inside O’Hana Market, you’ll first notice the shelves of imported items and fresh produce. You’ll walk by a box labeled “Fresh Coconut: $0.99,” with the nutty fruit, as advertised, ripe for the picking. If you are new to African cuisine, walking around O’Hana is like an introduction to a whole new world of cooking that about 370 million people in Central Africa have grown up enjoying.

Despite the growing amount of international options in Lexington’s standard grocery stores, O’Hana sells specialty African products that you simply will not find in a larger chain. Individuals seeking to reproduce their family recipes can find the grains, spices, and produce that people new to African cuisine never knew existed. Ground Cassava Sticks come in bundled packages, waiting for the right customer who can incorporate it seamlessly into a dish. Sacs of “Garri” flour, made from cassava, are ready for buyers who may use it to create a stew. Palm nut cream is stacked in cans, familiar to African cooks as a necessary ingredient in a popular soups.

If you don’t know where to begin with preparing the ingredients you see on the shelves at O’Hana Market, you can visit our Recipe page.  The timing for O’Hana Market could not happen soon enough since the city holds an unprecedented population of vibrant African residents. Whether you’re coming in for that one ingredient that you can’t find elsewhere, or just to peruse the exotic items at O’Hana Market, “come, come, come” (and eat, eat, eat) – you won’t regret it!