Susan Hartman, “City of Refugees: The Story of Three Newcomers Who Breathed Life into a Dying American Town” (Beacon Press, 2022)

How can scholars employ the practices and techniques of investigative journalism?

Susan Hartman provides an answer in her intimate look at refugee experience in the United States. In City of Refugees: The Story of Three Newcomers Who Breathed Life Into A Dying American Town (Beacon Press 2022), Hartman introduces readers to Utica, a small Rust Belt city located in upstate New York, just 250 miles north of Manhattan. The city provides the backdrop as Hartman examines the lives of three refugees: a Somali Bantu teenager who straddles the expectations of her Somali mother and those of her American peers; an Iraqi interpreter who worked with the American military in Baghdad; and a Bosnian entrepreneur who finally achieves her American dream of opening a café and bakery in March 2020.

Across 48 short chapters, Hartman traces how Utica’s economic and cultural renewal is tied to the city’s policy of welcoming refugees from across the globe. But not everyone is happy as locals often seen refugees as foreigners who steal jobs, drain public coffers and overwhelm social services. But, as Hartman ably demonstrates, refugees bring their energy and wit in rebuilding their lives and growing new communities in cities such Utica. In the process, readers learn of the ways in which refugees have invigorated rust belt cities, long characterized by declining industry, decrepit factories and aging populations. The book ends with a caution: America’s closed door refugee policy threatens the well-being of Americans and refugees alike.

Susan Thomson is Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University. I like to interview pretenure scholars about their research. I am particularly keen on their method and methodology, as well as the process of producing academic knowledge about African places and people.

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