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It is tough to be a Liberian refugee in Staten Island, NY: The importance of context for second generation African immigrant youth

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This long-term ethnographic study about the Liberian refugee community in Staten Island, NY shows that their integration and identity formation are not only influenced by race, but also by the context of reception (Portes and Rumbaut 1996). Second
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  It is tough to be a Liberian refugee in Staten Island, NY: theimportance of context for second generation Africanimmigrant youth Bernadette Ludwig Wagner College, Staten Island, NY, USA ABSTRACT  This long-term ethnographic study about the Liberian refugeecommunity in Staten Island, NY shows that their integration andidentity formation are not only in fl uenced by race, but also by thecontext of reception [Portes, Alejandro, and Rubén G. Rumbaut.1996.  Immigrant America: A Portrait  . 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press]. Second generation Liberian Americans have todeal with a number of sources of stigma, leading them todistance themselves from their African heritage. As the children of refugees, they endure taunts associated with this label. The term ‘ refugee ’  for Blacks in the U.S. has often been equated with beingan economic burden. In addition, images of the civil war thatraged in Liberia still predominate in the media. Due to the war,many Liberian parents never completed their formal educationand thus are illiterate, forcing them to work as home health aides,another cause of shame for the second generation. Finally, thegeographical context also matters for Liberian American youth.Seeking to escape discrimination from African Americans in theirneighborhoods, they often embrace a  ‘ Black  ’  identity, de-emphasizing their African heritage. However, this is to limitede ff  ect. Outside of their neighborhood, in greater Staten Island,being  ‘ Black  ’  is yet another stigma. KEYWORDS Second generation; Black;African; refugee; stigma; race Introduction What does it mean for young people to grow up as Black refugees in a society where theyare stigmatized because of their race and their refugee status? The presidential election in2016 and its aftermath has brought to the forefront xenophobia, racism, and other ismsthat were thought to no longer exist or, at the very least, were considered unacceptableto be voiced publicly. In line with this, recently published research, such as Imoagene(2012), suggested that  ‘ a more racially mature America ’  (2156) with a  ‘ new, more sensitive,etiquette about race in public discourse ’  (Foner and Alba 2010, 799) made it easier for chil-dren of Black immigrants to become part of U.S. society. But present day events  –  includ-ing the 45th President ’ s famous comment about  ‘ shithole countries ’  (Dawsey 2018)  – demonstrate that we can no longer assume that  ‘ Mexicans and other Spanish-speakingimmigrants [ … ] are [ … ] the contemporary immigrant groups that are currently being © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group CONTACT  Bernadette Ludwig bernadette.ludwig@wagner.edu AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNALhttps://doi.org/10.1080/17528631.2018.1559782  racialized and discriminated against [and] [ … ] not black immigrants and their children ’ (Imoagene 2012, 2155 – 56). On the contrary, continued unpunished police brutalityagainst Black people and the  ‘ refugee and Muslim ban ’ 1 make Black refugees a targetof individual and institutional discrimination.A closer examination of second generation Liberian Americans in Staten Island, NY shows that discrimination based on heritage, race, and refugee status is not new.Despite the growing population of African refugees in the U.S., little scholarly attentionhas been given to these groups, with the exception of Somali and Somali Bantu refugees(Abdi 2015a, 2015b, 2011; Darboe 2003; Besteman 2016; A. M. Waters 2013). Instead, second generation African immigrants 2 with highly educated (upper) middle class back-grounds have been the focus of social scientists (Imoagene 2017, 2015, 2012; Kebede 2017; Clark  2008; Basford 2010; Awokoya 2012; Shani 2010). 3 For example, more than80 percent of the research participants in Awokoya ’ s (2012) and Imoagene ’ s (2017,2015, 2012) studies had parents with at least a college degree. And while Nigerian immi- grants in the U.S., along with South African immigrants, are the most highly educatedgroup,  ‘ only ’  57 percent had at least a bachelor ’ s degree (Zong and Batalova 2017). Asimilar conclusion can be made about the Ethiopian Americans in Kebede ’ s (2017)study. Their parents were also much more likely to have a college degree than theoverall Ethiopian population in the U.S. (Zong and Batalova 2017). This is the casebecause the participants ’  parents in Kebede ’ s (2017) study had immigrated to the U.S.in the 1970s and 1980s. The earlier wave of Ethiopian immigrants is quite di ff  erent intheir socioeconomic background from Ethiopians who started to arrive in the 1990s, of whom a large number are refugees. 4  The children of these (upper) middle class Africanimmigrants, like those of many (middle class) Black Caribbean immigrants develop iden-tities that align with their parents ’  national origins and cultures (M. C. Waters 1999;Clergé 2014). These second generation Americans do this to avoid stigmatization asAfrican American. 5 Additionally, by deliberately holding on to their parents ’  culturalvalues they are  ‘ selectively assimilating ’ , which research has shown to be advantageous,especially in economic terms (Portes and Zhou 1993).While there are similarities in the identity formation process for children of Caribbeanand African immigrants, there are also di ff  erences. In the vast majority of Caribbeancountries, ethnicity equals national identity and shared cultural traditions and values. 6  This it not the same in African countries, which are made up of di ff  erent ethnic groups( ‘ tribes ’ ) that have distinct histories, traditions, languages, religions, and cultures. InAfrica, national identities developed in most cases only since the countries ’  independence,often forging together ethnic groups that are not only very di ff  erent from each other, butin some cases have had (very) acrimonious relations. Therefore, most Africans have anethnic as well as a national identity. For example, one can identity as Bassa (ethnicgroup) and Liberian (national group). Thus, in this paper, I use ethnicity only as it relatesto ethnic groups, such as Bassa, and refer to a  ‘ Liberian identity ’ ,  ‘ Nigerian identity ’ , etc.as cultural identity/cultural heritage. 7  This also re fl ects the terminology used bymembers of the Staten Island Liberian community, who consistently discuss  ‘ Liberianculture ’  rather than ethnic groups as it relates to culture and identity. The present study seeks to answer what happens when second generation Africanimmigrants do not see their parents ’  heritage and culture as a source of pride, andworth retaining. This occurs most frequently among children of African refugees with 2 B. LUDWIG  lower social and human capital, including Somalis, Somali Bantus, and Sierra Leoneans.Studies show that for the second generation of these particular groups, religious identities,speci fi cally being Muslim, are central in their adaptation to life in the U.S. (D ’ Alisera 2004;Besteman 2016; Abdi 2015a, 2015b, 2011; Roubeni et al. 2015; Darboe 2003; Basford 2010; Forman 2001; Guenther, Pendaz, and Makene 2011). Some scholars suggest that  fi rst andsecondgeneration Muslim African refugees and immigrants usetheir religious identities todistinguish themselves from Black Americans, who are much more likely to be Christian(Guenther, Pendaz, and Makene 2011; Abdi 2015b; Basford 2010; Forman 2001). 8 Butsuch an  ‘ alternative identity ’  is not possible for children of Christian African refugeesand immigrants.Little is known about the identity formation among children of Christian African refu-gees of lower socioeconomic status, which include Liberian Americans. Findings fromthis study are very timely and relevant because a signi fi cant percentage of today ’ sAfrican migrant population is neither Muslim nor highly educated. For example, in FiscalYears (FY), 2016, 2017, and 2018, Congolese (from the Democratic Republic of Congo),who are predominantly Christian, made up the largest contingent of refugees fromAfrica. In FY 2015, they were the second largest group of refugees from Africa behindSomalis. So how will the children of these newly arrived Congolese refugees fare? Thisresearch about second generation Liberian Americans, whose low human capitalparents arrived in the U.S. in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s may hold the answer to this. Two questions anchor this article: First, what are the barriers for second generationLiberian Americans to develop an a ffi rming cultural identity? An a ffi rming cultural identityimplies that second generation Liberians not only hold positive attitudes toward theirLiberian srcins but also develop a sense of belonging (Sabatier 2008; Roberts et al.1999). Second generation Liberian Americans di ff  er signi fi cantly from other second gener-ation Africans in the U.S. in that the intersections of refugee status, race, and class, andgrowing up in an inner-city neighborhood with African Americans are central in their iden-tity development. 9  This stands in contrast to other second generation African immigrantsfor whom religion, in the case of Muslim African refugees, or socioeconomic status andmobility are much more signi fi cant.Second, what are the community-based strategies that aim to provide positive counter-cultural narratives for second generation Liberian Americans with the hope that they gaina better and positive understanding of their heritage? These practical solutions could alsobe adopted by other newly arrived (African) refugee and immigrant groups, especiallythose with lower socioeconomic status, and as such, contribute to the youth ’ s successfulintegration into U.S. society. Literature review: other second generation immigrants of African descent Race and racialization greatly impact how Black second generation immigrants becomepart of American society (M. C. Waters 1999; Kasinitz et al. 2008; Vickerman 1999; Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Alba 2005). After all, race in the U.S. is the  ‘ most salient identi fi er ’ (Awokoya 2012, 257). And while all individuals in the U.S. are racialized, since it is not poss-ible  ‘ to be without a race in a racialized society ’  (Bashi 1998, 966), racialization is detrimen-tal for Black immigrants because Blackness in the U.S. is linked to negative social stigmas(Awokoya 2012, 257; Bryce-Laporte 1972; Foner 2001, 2005; Bashi 2007; Vickerman 2001). AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 3  In an e ff  ort to avoid these stigmas, many  fi rst and second generation Black immigrantsengage in di ff  erent strategies that challenge the homogenization of all Blacks, often bydistancing themselves from African Americans. Some second generation Black immigrantsdo so by asserting their ethnic and cultural identities  –  often by claiming cultural super-iority over native-born Blacks (M. C. Waters 1999; Roubeni et al. 2015; Imoagene 2015; Kebede 2017; Pierre 2004; Rong and Fitchett 2008; Guenther, Pendaz, and Makene 2011) and/or stressing class di ff  erences (Imoagene 2012; Awokoya 2012; Kebede 2017; Clergé 2014). There is no consensus on whether second generation Black immigrantscan have racial and ethnic (cultural) identities (Butter fi eld 2006; Imoagene 2012; Kebede 2017; Awokoya 2012; D ’ Alisera 2009), or if it is an either/or scheme (M. C. Waters 1999). However, many native-born African Americans expect Black immigrants to show solidarityand experience Black immigrants ’  stressing separate ethnic and/or cultural identities asdivisive (Awokoya 2012, 258 – 59; see also Kasinitz et al. 2008; Butter fi eld 2006; Vickerman2001; M. C. Waters 1999). Others have argued that a  ‘ one culture, one voice and one ideol-ogy ’ , in other words, a cohesive Black force, has been essential for the survival of AfricanAmericans in the U.S., especially in politics (Clark  2008, 170, 179; see also Rogers 2001; Humphries 2009), and thus must be continued. With this homogenization of Blacks, acertain kind of Blackness/Black culture becomes dominant. This Blackness which is associ-ated with underclass, inner cities, crime, hip hop, and adversarial school and behavioralculture is then promoted as  ‘ the African American culture ’  by at least large parts of thesociety, certainly the media, and, sometimes, even some scholars (Imoagene 2012, 2170;see also Kebede 2017; Awokoya 2012; Clark  2008;  M. C. Waters 1999; Traoré 2004; Arthur 2000; Roubeni et al. 2015; Rong and Fitchett 2008; Pierre 2004; Besteman 2016). At the same time it is important to remember that  fi rst and second generation Black immigrants have bene fi ted from accessing middle-class African American opportunitystructures and resources (Kasinitz 2008; M. C. Waters, Kasinitz, and Asad 2014; Imoagene 2017; Kasinitz et al. 2008). Nevertheless, this and the multifaceted side of American Black- ness and Black Americans ’  many accomplishments are often overlooked. Subsequently,many Black immigrant parents oppose their children ’ s embrace of an African Americanidentity because for them this is synonymous with only the lower/underclass AfricanAmerican culture (Imoagene 2012, 2170; see also Kebede 2017; Besteman 2016; Abdi 2011; M. C. Waters 1999; Awokoya 2012; Clark  2008). First and second generation Black immigrants are also wrongly stereotyped. Theyreport being frequently teased and discriminated against by Black and White Americans.One of the most commonly taunts is  ‘ booty scratchers ’  (Imoagene 2015; Kebede 2017; Ludwig 2016a). Other insults, such as  ‘ monkey ’ ,  ‘ from the jungle ’ , and  ‘ running aroundnaked ’  are based in the misrepresentation of the African continent and its cultures andsocieties that American youth of all races encounter in the media and in school curricula(Awokoya 2012, 258; see also D ’ Alisera 2004, 2009; Traoré 2004; Clark  2008; Besteman 2016). Muslim second generation also have to deal with Islamophobia (Besteman 2016; A. M. Waters 2013; Darboe 2003; Abdi 2015a, 2015b). Research shows that African immigrant parents employ di ff  erent strategies so that theirchildren develop a ffi rming cultural identities (Imoagene 2015, 2012; Kebede 2017; Awokoya 2012; D ’ Alisera 2004, 2009). This is generally much easier for (upper) middle class families with higher human capital. The second generation leverages their parentsand their own educational attainment, and report that they are seen by others as 4 B. LUDWIG  ‘ smart ’  (Imoagene 2015, 181). Being part of transnational networks and exchanges, as wellas visits to their ancestral lands contribute to a positive association with one ’ s ethnic andcultural heritage (Kebede 2017). Children of African refugees, who cannot participate infrequent transnational visits due to a lack of   fi nancial resources, continued violence andinstability in their ancestral homes and/or visa limitations, such as those imposed by Tem-porary Protective Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) (Reilly 2016), 10 areless likely to report such pride (D ’ Alisera 2009; Imoagene 2015). Scholars document that the (upper) middle class second generation youth of Africandescent develop  fl exible and multifaceted identities. They straddle di ff  erent worlds/iden-tities and engage in code-switching (Clark  2008; Awokoya 2012; Imoagene 2012). Researchers also conclude that many of these second generation youth embrace bothracial and a ffi rming cultural identities (Clark  2008; Imoagene 2012; Awokoya 2012). At the same time these scholars caution that the second generation ’ s Africanness is fre-quently questioned, especially when it does not fall within the stereotypical views of Africa and Africans (Awokoya 2012, 272; see also Clark  2008). Perhaps most importantly, this (upper) middle class second generation does not identify with and as African Amer-icans, but is more likely to embrace a socially mobile American immigrant narrative (Imoa-gene 2012, 2166). Beyond the obvious fact that they are immigrants, I conclude that this ispossible because of two important factors that are related to the groups ’  socioeconomicbackground. First, in many ways they, and often already their parents, have achieved  ‘ theAmerican Dream ’ , and second, they have grown up in suburbs and thus  ‘ avoid[ed] tra-ditional domestic Black residential concentrations such as the inner city ’  (Rong and Fitch-ett 2008, 38; see also Kebede 2017; Imoagene 2012). The Liberian community in Staten Island: data and methods Data for this study come from a number of di ff  erent sources. All data were collected fromthe Liberian community in Staten Island ’ s North Shore in New York City. Although StatenIsland is one of New York City ’ s  fi ve boroughs, it di ff  ers signi fi cantly from the others in itsdemographic make-up. It has a non-Hispanic White majority; a relatively small, butgrowing, foreign-born population; and leans politically Republican (Ludwig 2017a,2013). Most of the approximately 6,000 Liberians in Staten Island live in or around thePark Hill neighborhood, which has the largest per capita concentration of Liberiansoutside of Liberia (Ludwig 2013). This is not surprising, given that Staten Island was thesecond most common resettlement destination for Liberian refugees who came to theU.S. through the U.S. Resettlement Program between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s(O ffi ce of Refugee Resettlement 2011). During and after that time Liberians with otherimmigration statuses have migrated to the U.S. (Ludwig 2016c, 2013), putting the number of   fi rst, second, and third generation Liberian Americans in the U.S. at around350,000 today.While the majority of Park Hill residents are Black, it is not a homogenous community. Two-thirds of all Park Hill residents are of Liberian heritage, the rest are from other WestAfrican nations (mainly Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Guinea), African American, and PuertoRican. Due to the large number of Liberians in the area, Park Hill is often referred to as ‘ Little Liberia ’ , and therefore Black immigrants in Staten Island are often seen as  ‘ Liberians ’ . ‘ Little Liberia ’ , unlike most other immigrant enclaves, is devoid of ethnic businesses. The AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 5
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