Why Kenyans Love Immigrating to California


What comes to your mind with the mention of “California?” For most Kenyans, California conjures up the image of Hollywood-and to an extent- its former governor and actor Arnold ‘Commando’ Schwarzenegger. Remember True Lies? Great movie!

For other Kenyans, California is the home to Genge musical genre in Nairobi’s Eastlands part. You may have heard of Calif Records; and Lang’ata in Nairobi fancies itself as LA, can fit the bill, given the laissez faireattitude of the bachelors who drink morning, noon and night.

This is about California, the third biggest state in America (after Alaska and Texas), and the state with the highest GPD (Gross Domestic Product, which measures total value of goods produced and services provided in a given year). According to the International Monetary Fund, if California were a country, it would be the world’s 5th biggest economy (Bigger than the economy of Britain, France, Italy).

One can make the case for why California is the best American state: vast, colourful, innovative and above all, the cultural headquarters of the world. There used to be an adage, “what California is today, the world is tomorrow.”

When Kenyans immigrate to United States, they tend to favour the mid-western and the East Coast, such as the New Jersey (mostly Kisiis and Luos), Massachusetts (mostly Kikuyus), North Carolina (mostly Kisiis and Kikuyus). There are those who favour the mid-West, ranging from Chicago, to Minnesota (exclusively Kisiis, little wonder they have not elected a senator, or even a governor), or Wisconsin. The Southern States like Atlanta attract Kenyans from all walks of life. Texas is for Kikuyus, mostly. And California has quite a good chunk of Luos and Kikuyus.

Over the years, California has continued to attract Kenyans who live and work in one of the most multicultural states in the United States of America.

What then makes California a state to immigrate to, or visit?

  1. Weather

California does not experience extreme weather like is the case in other parts of America.

“The weather is kind of tropical, and very similar to the Kenyan weather. It gets a bit colder though towards the North, during winter,” says Edu Mosy, who works as a nurse.

Chero Leitich says she cannot think of living in another state other than California. “California gives me this incomparable ability to pick and choose what to do (and wear) without having to give a hoot about the weather,” she notes.

  1. Sandy Beaches

Kell Njoki who lives in Orange County in California, cannot get enough of the beaches, she terms them free entertainment. The beaches are some of the best tourist attractions for anyone visiting the West Coast. For those into water activities like Surfing and Kayaking, California is your go to state. Beaches along the Pacific Coast Highway are also popular for sporting activities like beach volleyball.

Kelly Njoki
  1. Endless opportunities

Unlike some other States where unemployment rates can go as high as over 5 per cent, California has several opportunities to offer. It is an agricultural, innovation, R&D, entertainment and is so vast as to make it very vibrant. Despite the land being a desert and dry, the state has major measures which favour large scale farmers who grow all kinds of crops from vineyards to regular food. There are tens of thousands of jobs in California. All you have to do, is align yourself with the right job!

The faces of Kenyans in California at a Jamhuri day event in Los Angeles
  1. Immigrant Friendly

Jane Doe (Not her real name) went to Nairobi Technical and Training College, “back in its glory days” as she describes it. She trained as a cosmetologist and soon after started working in a salon.  When she got a visitor visa to the United States to attend her brother’s wedding in California, she decided not to go back to Kenya. For two years she got by, toiling in the shadows as a ‘Live in nurse.”

When I met Jane two years ago, she was serving her last customer for the day,  in an air-conditioned salon she owns,  doing what she loves, and was trained for in Kenya. This, courtesy of a California law that allows immigrants in the U.S. illegally to apply for state licenses as barbers, cosmetologists, auto mechanics, security guards and other professions.

The law that Jane took advantage of, allows California’s  40 licensing boards to accept a federal taxpayer identification number, which those working in the country illegally can obtain in lieu of a Social Security number.

California has been progressive in adopting laws aimed at easing the assimilation of those in the U.S. illegally. Previously, the state allowed such people to get driver’s licenses, college financial aid and law licenses.

It is also worth remembering that California has hosted some big names seeking asylum in the United States. You are to name them, one by one.

  1. Diversity

 A 2017 analysis by “WalletHub” that compared the 50 states in terms of socio-economic diversity, cultural diversity, economic diversity, household diversity and religious diversity, ranked California as the most diverse state in America. This is a notion echoed by Leitich (Chero). “Where do you want me to start? There is something and plenty for everyone in California. I personally thrive in its diversity.”

Chero Leitich
  1. Tourist center

Los Angeles County is arguably the epicenter of tourism in California. With its capital, Los Angeles City being the most populous city in California, none of the other 57 counties matches Los Angeles’s record breaking tourism numbers. In 2017, Los Angeles welcomed 48.3 million visitors, including 7.1 million international visitors, according to data available from the county’s tourism board.

In Los Angeles County, some of the attractions include Hollywood, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Pictures, Beverly Bills, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith observatory and many other iconic attractions.

Orange County, which neighbors Los Angeles, also brings to California a significant number of tourists, with Disneyland being the major attraction.

In Northern California, Silicon Valley is a major attraction, what with Facebook, Google, Apple, Pinterest and other major tech companies headquartered there.

  1. The Girls

For men, the beautiful California girls are quite an attraction. And they love African men too! Makes going to the beaches all the more attractive during the summer season. Remember the song “She is miss California” by Dante Thomas?

“She’s miss California, hottest thing in west L.A.
House down by the water, sails her yacht across the bay
Drives a maranello, Hollywood’s her favorite scene
Loves to be surrounded with superstars that know her name.”

  1. Better wages

Like all major cities, except for Texas, the wages in California are higher compared to other states. But the downside is that life is impossibly expensive. For those who work in Unionized employment, the perks are amazing. Whereas the healthcare industry remains a big employer for a majority of Kenyans in California , there is also a growing increase in number of Kenyans working in the corporate world, and heading some of the prestigious companies in the State.

9. Education 

California has some of the best universities in the United States. The UC campuses  (UCLA, UC Davis etc) are highly regarded for quality education and a who is who alumni, not to mention billions of dollars in funding for research.  Renowned writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o lectures at UC Irvine. The university of Southern California has arguably the best journalism department in the entire word-Annanberg School of Communication and Journalism. Stanford University is in Northern California and one of the famed schools in the world.

Most professional examinations administered by the state of California are known to be rigorous and intimidating. This however, makes a certification earned in California very attractive in other states.

10. Sports

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers need no introduction. In Northern California, Oakland is home to NBA Champions Golden State Warriors. Zlatan Ibrahimovic now plies his trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Russell Westbrook who plays with Oklahoma City Thunder is a California native.

For those who play golf, California has some of the best greens!

The Downside

  • High Taxes.

Extremely prohibitive.

  • Housing is too expensive

But being a large state, most Kenyans steer clear of expensive cities. Anything near the oceans or water is expensive. For instance, the Bay Area that has San Francisco, Los Angeles County and city and Sa Diego, are way too expensive. A one-bedroom goes for $2,500-3,500 in Santa Barbra. So, people choose to stay far and drive for like an hour to your job. But that means there is a traffic nightmare. But Central California includes the County and the City of Fresno is affordable, and a one bedroom goes for $800-1,200, has less traffic and you can still visit large cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. It takes about 2-3 hours of driving and less than hour of flying. But fuel is still expensive, presently retailing at $1:80 per gallon, but in California, it is nearly $4.

Clubs close at 2 a.m.

You would hope that the liberal state that gave the world Hollywood would let people have fun mpaka che…sadly by 2 a.m., it is over. No wonder Diasporans party like they are not going back any time they are back in the country.

While it should not matter, smoking marijuana, either for medical or recreational purposes, is legal in California. And California, according to reports, has the best marijuana in America.

Which State do you live in? Tell us more about your state. Your thought will be published when we cover that state. info@awmagazine.org