Culture, Structure, and the Refugee Experience in Somali Immigrant Family Transformation

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Abstract

This analysis suggests a theoretical refinement of migrant acculturation theories to deal specifically with refugee acculturation experiences. Using the case of family dynamics among Somali refugees in Minnesota, we find that the same factors that are theorized to affect voluntary migrants are also important for refugees. Specifically, the nature of exit from the sending society, the reception in a new location, and group characteristics all appear to be important. However, within the category of exit from the sending society, there are specific concerns that will be more relevant to refugees than to “voluntary” migrants. Specifically, the ongoing condition of the sending society and the effects of any transitions on transnational ties are critically important in the refugee context. We demonstrate how the societal upheaval that created the Somali refugee community also affected culture and connections within Somalia, and how this has an ongoing impact on the US Somali refugee community. We argue that it is valuable to refine the acculturation framework when considering refugees.

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