ABSTRACT

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, Alejandro, and Rubén G. Rumbaut. 1996. Immigrant America: A Portrait. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press]. Second generation Liberian Americans have to deal with a number of sources of stigma, leading them to distance 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 being an economic burden. In addition, images of the civil war that raged in Liberia still predominate in the media. Due to the war, many Liberian parents never completed their formal education and thus are illiterate, forcing them to work as home health aides, another cause of shame for the second generation. Finally, the geographical context also matters for Liberian American youth. Seeking to escape discrimination from African Americans in their neighborhoods, they often embrace a ‘Black’ identity, de-emphasizing their African heritage. However, this is to limited effect. Outside of their neighborhood, in greater Staten Island, being ‘Black’ is yet another stigma.