The importance of family, from Missouri to Minnesota

The article “Out of Africa, into the Heartland,” published by KTVO ( Moling 2015), chronicles the stories of Richard and Celeste’s immigrations from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Kirksville, Missouri. In the article, Richard explains his motivation for immigration; for his family to have a better future. This consequently led them to suffer through five years separation, while Richard worked in the United States in order to save enough money for Celeste and their children to also immigrate.

This secondary source is especially useful for Alex’s and my research project, as it shares the experiences of a couple who actually might be the part of the “origin story” of the Congolese in Kirksville. Whenever I ask my English as a Second Language (ESL) professor about the Congolese, she says, “Do you know Richard and Celeste?” Being some of the first immigrants here, it follows that they are also the most publicly known individuals.

The Congolese seem to have two subpopulations. The first is immigrants who have their family with them; parents and children who were allowed to immigrate together. The second is young men, who were over the age of 21 when they received permission to come to the United States. Due to their age, they were not allowed to bring their parents or siblings. In imposing the American definition of family as nuclear, this often breaks their perception of family, where a cousin is called brother.

This is most relevant to Amy and Joy’s project comparing Apostolic and Mexican immigration in Minnesota, where apparently “Everyone works hard and honors their families.” The influence of family in chain migration might be fascinating to study across the spectrum of migration. 

In researching the importance of family among migrant populations, it might be interesting to see if or how the ‘host’ community is affected by these values. Finally, family might also be a key in how chain migration actually comes to a halt. Do people stop migrating internally once there family settles there? Once they start having family there? A combination of the two?

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The Congolese Population in Rural America

Kirksville, Missouri, isn’t known. It isn’t even known within Missouri. When I moved from the suburbs of Kansas City to Kirksville, a town of 17,500 people when students are here, I was struck by the homogeneity of the population.

So when the Congolese population (from the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the DRC) started trickling in, they were noticeable. Not only are they black in a sea of whiteness, their colorful clothes attract the eye. From my apartment which overlooks Kirksville’s downtown area, or the “Square,” I can see them gathering for church every Sunday, shouting in Lingala, Swahili, French, or any other of their multitude of languages.

Wanting to become an English as a Second Langue (ESL) teacher, I started volunteering for a campus organization, United Speakers. Through teaching an Advanced English class on a weekly basis, I learned a little more about this enclave immigrant community’s stories.

Therefore, I designed and implemented my own qualitative research of the acculturation of the Congolese population in Kirksville for my capstone research project in Sociology last fall. This included receiving permission through the Institutional Review Board (IRB), being allotted a grant from the Office of Student Research at Truman, conducting a literature review, interviewing 5 participants, transcribing the interviews, and analyzing the data.

In short, I learned that the Congolese population emigrated to the United States legally, through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV), a lottery program that was established in 1990. They left the tumultuous DRC, which hasn’t enjoyed a moment of peace or prosperity since the European powers divided up the rest of the world at the Berlin Conference of 1885. The Congolese are attracted to Kirksville due to its low cost-of-living, a sense of security, and good public schools. Many professionals are able to find employment at a meat factory until they achieve high enough levels of English to find a new job.

Through the COPLAC Cultural Crossroads course, we hope to expand upon the research that I have already been conducted, in order to find out how levels of acculturation have developed in the past year through using qualitative interviews and secondary resources to expand this pool of research and knowledge.

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The joy of working with librarians

Libraries are rife with contradictions. Imposing, grand, and even somber from the outside, they have a personality full of the solid satisfaction of hard-back books; physical, tangible knowledge; and most importantly, kind librarians.

In attempting to figure out what kinds of knowledge Kirksville’s local resources could offer, I asked the front desk of the library, slightly bemused as a student worker called her professional staff member, who called an expert researcher to my aid. I scheduled a “RAP,” or Research Assistance Program session for the following day, with the librarian. I could see the wheels in her head turning as she brainstormed what seemed like 1,000 potential resources with me.

However, the following day, an unexpected emergency had called her away from work. But another librarian tried to help my research partner, Alex, and me with the same zeal as the first. She raced to research local resources, showing us our school newspaper’s archives, which date back to 1909; the university’s special collections, which include Harry H. Laughlin’s, a Truman alumnae, Eugenics Collection; as well as more general information, such as census data in

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Why should we care who wrote it?

Adam Goodman, “Nation of Migrants, Historians of Migration,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer 2015): 7-16.

Donna Gabaccia, “‘Is Everywhere No Where?’ Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant Paradigm of American History,” Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 3 (December 1999): 1115-34.

Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 2017).

Extra: Julian H. Steward, Theory of Culture Change: the methodology of multilinear evolution. (University of Illinois Press, 1972).

America’s myth of being a melting pot has long been a point of pride or consternation in our national identity (Gerstle 2017, 3). But while teaching English in Taiwan, I preferred to use the analogy of America as a ‘hot pot’ – a soup that tastes delicious together, but where all of the ingredients, (in this case cultural groups) remain separate entities. This was supported by Goodman’s article, which also dismantles America’s melting pot myth, positing that WASPs were privileged as non-European immigrants were viewed as secondary actors (8).

Though some anthropologists, such as universal evolutionists, attempt to analyze culture through area types, and might define the whole of America as a ‘culture’, I prefer to use Stewart’s lens of national groups as supra-individual institutions, and understanding that unlike in early hunter and gatherer groups, no individuals can encompass entire national patterns (Stewart 1975, 46).

This is relevant to my research in that while examining the assimilation of any ethnic minority into a national group, they are absorbing the characteristics of the first sub-group they encountered, and secondly the supra-individual institutional values, such as liberty, individual rights, and national arts; what Gerstle claimed to make us American (2017, 4).

Gabaccia studies Italian migration underlines the “tyranny of the national” (1117) and migration to understand how history produces nations. To me, the author demonstrates how important the authory of history is, because historical ‘facts’ are told from the point of view of someone, no matter how god-like and ‘objective’ they attempt to be. For example, Gabaccia points out that American historians view migration as immigration, whereas European scholars viewed is as emigration (1118). This pertains to our research project in order to be as transparent as possible regarding our own backgrounds.

Going forward, it will be important to remember the research subject’s backgrounds. Were they part of the privileged group of immigrants? How does our national story shape our, as researchers, perceptions of them? What do we view as the ‘dominant culture’ that they seemingly need to assimilate into, and how does this vary from other subcultures? These questions must be at the forefront of our minds as we embark on this research project.

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