"Some Type of American": Cultural Negotiations of a Congolese Refugee Community in Indianapolis

Fiona Schicho Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Julie Searcy Butler University
Despite government policies which intentionally disperse and resettle refugees, many refugee groups form communities, or enclaves, through common contacts when in the United States. These enclaves may encounter friction when confronted with ideological or cultural differences in existing social institutions, and must participate in a form of cultural brokering, working to negotiate boundaries between old practices and norms, and new ones. This thesis examines cultural brokering in one refugee group in Indianapolis, predominantly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which gathers to worship at Grace Tabernacle Church. The members of this community negotiate cultural differences in order to live, work, and raise families in a society which frequently challenges their belief systems. As children in this community are born and raised in the United States, they often grow to hold different values from their parents, and challenge long-standing traditions. This younger generation faces pressure to conform to their American peers and to maintain the language and traditions of their culture. Through extensive participant observation at Grace Tabernacle Church, interviews with members of the congregation, and analysis of existing scholarly works, this study demonstrates that this community’s emphasis on group identity frequently causes tension when confronted with Western ideals. From the perspective of older members of the community, this group identity is threatened by the changing values of the younger generation, which include individualism and self-expression. When asked about the future, all individuals agreed on the changes they could foresee, though there was disagreement about what those changes meant.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:45 AM
Jordan Hall 336C