Chapter 5 Urban Refugees and Education Advocacy

A Case of Syrian Refugees and Coalition Building in Urban Education

In: (Re)Mapping Migration and Education
Authors:
Jamie Lew
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Vania Villanueva
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Abstract

Migration studies often focus on top-down views of national and state governance integration and assimilation efforts for refugee families, and there is a glaring need for studies that center the voices and experiences of refugee families and children themselves, especially those being resettled in small-scale U.S. cities. An increasing number of refugees are being resettled in cities and attending urban schools that have been historically populated by poor, racial minorities, and disenfranchised populations. How newly arriving Syrian refugee families are negotiating their place in racial hierarchy/ies, relative to the native-born and immigrant populations with their own histories of oppression and political resistance, speaks to an important narrative about changing demographics and race relations.

In order to address this gap, this study will examine the day-to-day experiences and sense of belonging of a group of Syrian refugees recently resettled in the small city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, using a multimethod case study design. The research draws from and integrates multiple types and levels of data and analysis – historical archives, census data, in-depth interviews, and GIS mapping. It investigates how particularities of these “small-scale city spaces” with their own distinctive migration histories, local politics, and changing demographics, serve as important sites of interaction and resistance for refugee families and their children. Using school systems and assignments to demonstrate belonging and intergroup relations, this study reveals how a group of Syrian refugee parents drew from both practical and symbolic resources – a process that included building coalition across racial and ethnic boundaries towards garnering political and social capital for their children.

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