Catherine Besteman conduced fieldwork in the late 1980’s in the small village of Banta in southern Somalia. Implausibly, she was reunited with many of her former friends and interlocutors in Lewiston, Maine two decades later, laying the ground for this impressive ethnographic study. In Making Refuge, Besteman traces the experiences of Somali Bantu refugees from Somalia, through the Kenyan refugee camps, and to their resettlement in the United States. She shows how the prevailing view of refugees as “apolitical, docile, and dependent recipients” (Pg. 29), and as passive and grateful objects of humanitarian aid is both misconstrued and morally deficient. By tracing the particular journey of Somali Bantu families, she also underscores that not all immigrants are alike, and assimilation is not a universally desirable or feasible expectation. Finally, she shows the complex ways in which immigrants and host communities grapple with “the seepages, mutual transformations, and slow border crossings of all kinds,” (Pg. 31) which characterize human mobility. While a transcontinental coincidence of migration brought Besteman back into close contact with her former interlocutors in this methodologically innovative work, it is Besteman’s skill as an ethnographer that provides the emotional and intellectual rigor for this outstanding book.
"Review of Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine by Catherine Besteman,"
The Journal of Social Encounters:
Available at: https://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/social_encounters/vol2/iss1/10