(University at Buffalo-SUNY)
Paper Short Abstract:
Drawing upon my long-term fieldwork with Bhutanese refugees in a small, peripheral U.S. rust belt city that uses resettlement for revitalization, I interrogate the negotiations of everyday conflicts between refugees and their neighbors as they vie for resources, recognition, status, and stability.
Paper long abstract:
Erie, Pennsylvania—a small city in the region of the United States known as the "rust belt"—has been in a perpetual crisis for several decades. Struggling to reverse an ongoing exodus of people, jobs, and capital, this shrinking city has turned to refugee resettlement as a means for revitalization. Federal policy encourages resettlement to places like Erie due to their low costs of living and discourages refugees from accessing welfare. Locally, refugees are constructed as an injection of vital, new blood that infuses new life into Erie and its economy. This narrative portrays refugees as model minorities—active, economic agents saving the city from ruin—in contradistinction to Erie's poor white and black populations. Yet, while refugees are praised for buying homes, starting businesses, and "taking the jobs that nobody else wants," this narrative obfuscates the reality that most of Erie's refugees struggle for survival and social inclusion. Further, it exacerbates tensions within their new neighborhoods. As Erie has been devastated by deindustrialization and the U.S. welfare state has devolved, many Erieites—understanding that their livelihoods have been lost to competition abroad—feel as if they must compete amongst one another for a share of ever-dwindling resources. Refugee arrivals, seen as "getting a free ride," represent a new threat to their stability. Drawing upon my long-term fieldwork with Erie's Bhutanese refugee population, I interrogate the negotiations of everyday conflicts between displaced refugees and their dislocated neighbors in this peripheral city, as they vie for resources, recognition, status, and stability.
Encountering refugees beyond urban Europe: everyday interactions, pragmatics and outcomes