The Nigerian Union in Japan is the central civic organization for immigrants from Africa's most populous nation. It has foundered twice in 21 years and its current incarnation is less than a year old. Its mixed history is a reflection of the social and economic turmoil Japan's Nigerian community has endured over the past two decades.

Members have been factory laborers, globe-trotting entrepreneurs and nightlife industry pioneers. They've also been blamed for some of Tokyo's most publicized crime problems, notably a series of drink-spiking and bill-padding incidents that led the U.S. Embassy to issue a warning in 2009 against visiting Roppongi. With the exception of those incidents, their history has hardly been written about.

Union president Honorable Okeke Christian Kevin knows he has inherited an image problem that verges on unfixable, but which must be addressed if he wants to increase his constituents' social mobility. To that end, the Nigerian Union has held two fundraisers to benefit tsunami victims, hoping to portray Tokyo's Nigerians as socially conscious immigrants invested in the welfare of their adopted home. The second occurred during several months of reporting I dedicated to the Nigerian community.