Research Update: Jewish Refugees, China, Australia: Finding Security After the Second World War

By Sara Halpern, PhD Candidate, Department of History

With the support of a Global Mobility grant, I spent five months in Australia studying its histories of foreign policy, Second World War experiences, immigration, and Jewish community.  This trip contributes to one of many facets of my dissertation, which examines the postwar lives and migrations of German and Austrian Jewish refugees who were stranded in Shanghai during the Second World War. They had escaped Nazism between 1938 and 1941 to Shanghai, one of the few places in the world that did not require a visa. After the Japanese occupation and the world war ended, the refugees preferred to resettle in Australia and the United States.  By examining the Australian path through archives and personal conversations in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, the emerging narrative from my research differed from those refugees who departed for the United States. Between Sino-Australian diplomatic relations and the Jewish refugees’ thought processes, Australia, China and the Jews shared a desire in the post-Second World War moment: security. The Australians propagandized a population crisis for national defense; the Chinese sought to expel foreigners who occupied its lands since 1842 and economic rehabilitation; the Jewish refugees desired freedom from persecution.

In the National Archives of Australia and the National Library in Australia’s capital of Canberra, I dove headfirst into documents connected to the newly-established Ministry of Immigration, part of the Department of External Affairs, and Australian Legation in Shanghai.  After terrifying four years of Japanese invasion in Asia-Pacific including its northwest city of Darwin and growing separation from its mother country, Great Britain, Australia desperately needed to build national security.  It was felt that the population must grow—exponentially.  A Ministry of Immigration was then formed in June 1945 by Arthur A. Calwell, who served as its minister until 1949.   During these years, Australia embarked on a contradictory campaign: “Populate or Perish!” On one hand, it aimed to see the population grow from 7 million in 1945 to 20-25 million by the 1960s.  On the other hand, the government and the population, which was 97% white British, wished to maintain the “White Australian Policy”.  Since Australia became a federation in 1901, the immigration policy highly restricted entry of non-British migrants including Chinese.  This policy effectively led to Australia “being more British than Britain”.  The personal papers reveal tensions that Calwell faced in the anti-Communist Australian Parliament and with the anti-Chinese diplomats in Shanghai, the nativist public, and his influential friends in Chinese and Jewish communities in Melbourne. The papers from the Australian Legation chronicled the transformation of its approach to immigration, from cooperation to suspicion, as the staff changed between 1946 and 1949 and conditions in Shanghai worsened, especially for foreigners.

In Sydney and Melbourne, I sifted through folders from Jewish Board of Deputies, an overseeing political body of the Jewish community with branches in each state, and somewhat of a liaison between Shanghai’s Jewish community and the Australian government. As the port of entry for many ships from Shanghai, Sydney welcomed over 1,500 Jewish refugees between 1945 and 1955.  I walked from the Overseas Terminal in Circular Quay to streets in Central Business District (“CBD”) where the local relief society placed them in hotels.  From there, refugees chose to either stay in Sydney’s Double Bay, King’s Cross, and Bondi suburbs or take a long train ride to Melbourne. As part of “populate or perish” campaign, Calwell determined that a “family reunification” scheme needed to be created and many Jews in Australia seized the opportunity, especially in the wake of the Holocaust through the Jewish Board of Deputies, and later local Jewish relief organizations.  The scheme allowed only relatives to apply for “landing permits” (entry visas) and thus, Shanghai’s Jewish refugees came through relatives living in Sydney or Melbourne who arrived in the late 1930s. These relatives permitted Shanghai’s Jewish refugees to quickly escape threats of persecution as Europeans from the anti-imperialist Chinese authorities and public.  Thousands of other Jewish refugees had to wait for other visas.

As I began to listen to video testimonies and read memoirs at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, the “family reunification” scheme resulted in advantaging Austrian and German Jews with birthplace in post-1919 Poland. Unlike the United States at the time, Australia did not impose national quotas.  Jews with birth places in Austria or former German territories in post-WWI Poland found planning for surviving family members to meet in Australia easier than anywhere else. A number of families did not “finish” reuniting until the 1950s owing to factors beyond their control, particularly transportation availability in the Pacific in the 1940s.

Photo Source: Migration Heritage Center of Powerhouse Museum, New South Wales

Meanwhile, I searched for surviving refugees and their families through Google and personal contacts.  I found Peter Nash and Ilse Charny, volunteers at the Sydney Jewish Museum.  Peter invited me to join his weekly tour where he took a small group of Jewish and non-Jewish Australians around.  When we entered the newly renovated Holocaust exhibit, he began to weave his family story of survival into the general narrative.  He showed us his personal contributions to the collection—a letter of eviction from the family’s landlord in Berlin in 1938 and photos of two children in his extended family who perished in the Holocaust in the beautiful Children’s Memorial. Peter’s devotion to his family history and the story of the Holocaust made him an inspiring guide and person.  Although still a teenager in the postwar period, Peter did not hesitate to interview with me at his home in North Sydney.  He showed me the beautiful vases, representing friendship, from his father’s Chinese employee (pictured). Unfortunately, Ilse Charny and I ran out of time before I had to depart for Melbourne but she kindly showed me her memoir that she donated to the Museum’s library which I read.

In Melbourne, I spent one Sunday afternoon with a group of Austrian and German Jewish refugees and their families.  In the photo, the woman in the far left, Ilse Sherwin (age 91), the man in front of me, Horst Eisfelder (age 93) and the man on the far right, Heinz Wolff (age 84) all escaped Europe for Shanghai with their parents.

Photo Source: Author (standing in the back)

  Ilse Sherwin belonged to a social group, which their Australian children called “Schrei Abend” (screaming evening) that met biweekly since 1950. As the group grew smaller due to old age, other refugees and their descendants were invited to join. Ilse remains the only living member of the original group of 25 people.  Throughout that Sunday afternoon, conversations revolved around personal health, Australian and U.S. politics, and, of course, Shanghai. The two grown Australia-born children who came—Peter Kohn and Alan Wolff— also shared stories they inherited from their parents. It could not be completed without plenty of food, including sweet cheese strudel.  Classic Viennese.  I soon discovered how surprisingly and unsurprisingly small world of Shanghai’s Jewish refugees was in Melbourne.1

Security eventually came for Australia, China, and the Jewish refugees. Australia and China eventually enjoy tremendous trade partnership however politically ambivalent with one another.  The Australian government collapsed under pressure to gradually dismantle the “White Australian Policy” to allow Asians and other immigrants to enter in the 1950s and 1960s. The Chinese government embraced a positivist view of Jewish refugees’ lives in Shanghai during the Holocaust.  For the Jewish refugees from Shanghai, they found security in Australia even if they were forbade to speak German in public in their first years due to antisemitism, anti-immigration, and cultural intolerance. Many have returned to Shanghai to visit in recent years; possibly  more likely to do so than returning to Germany and Austria where they experienced greatest persecution.

1 For more on Schrei Abend and its members, see Antonia Finanne, Far From Where? Jewish Journeys from Shanghai to Australia (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999.

Research Update: 3 Neglected Transnational Connections Between OSU and India During the Green Revolution

by Renae Sullivan, PhD Student Department of History

We are in a particularly critical moment in time that requires extended understanding of the complex issues of immigration into the United States and the associated global forces that determine mobility. My research explores the overlooked linkages during the Green Revolution between The Ohio State University (OSU), and four professional home economists trained at OSU, including one from India.

The Green Revolution was ~

After investing in agricultural experiments in Mexico during the 1940s, the Rockefeller Foundation started financing agricultural research stations overseas in the 1950s.  These locations, such as India, were sites for planting and harvesting experimental strains of wheat and rice.  These high-yielding varieties (HYV) were biologically created to produce more grain, in contrast to native varieties of wheat that generated more stock than seed. The blending of research, education, and extension activities facilitated the beginnings for the Green Revolution that was to blossom in late 1960s India.  Scholars emphasize that the Development Decade of the 1960s was distinct for its “all-out drive for increased outputs of grain,” and the land-grant university models, along with their agricultural specialists exported to India, were key to implementing modern technologies that facilitated that outcome.

#1)The role of OSU ~

Who were these specialists that were exported to India? In 1960s India, local governments began the task of developing agricultural universities. With the initial funding of the Ford Foundation and the assistance of American land-grant universities, Indian agricultural universities also established Home Economics departments as part of their academic systems. In India it was known as Home Science. Between 1955 and 1973, Ohio State cooperated with four Indian Agricultural Universities under a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project. Two examples of Indian universities that were associated with Ohio State were the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), inaugerated in 1963 by Prime Minister Nehru, and considered the first Indian university to effectively combine research and extension programs; and the University of Udaipur, established in 1955.  Through the Rajasthan Agricultural University Act of 1962, the resources of Udaipur Polytechnic, an institution that granted degrees in mechanical, electrical, and mining engineering, allied with the agricultural program at UU. Ohio State hired the American agricultural and home economics professionals who provided guidance at PAU and UU, located in Northwest India.

#2) Home Economics ~

Three professional, American home economists, who earned degrees in Home Economics at Ohio State University, were tasked with providing specialized support for the new Home Science departments at PAU and UU during the Green Revolution. Dr. Edna Ramsayer Kaufman, Dr. Maria Friesen, and Fanchon Warfield each worked under a USAID contract for a minimum of two years.  Kaufman and Friesen, for example, both worked at Punjab Agricultural University, Kaufman from 1965 to 1967 and Friesen from 1967 to 1969.  Warfield, who was the first to arrive in India and the last one to leave, worked at the University of Udaipur from 1964 until 1970.

In contrast to the Cold War ideals of domesticity, these three women were unique. Friesen, for example, earned her PhD in Home Economics at OSU at the age of 61, retired as head of the Home Ec. Department at Eastern New Mexico University in 1967, and then went to live and work in India at the age of 64.  Warfield, like Friesen, was single and started a new career in her 60s.  On the other hand, Kaufman, married at the age of 55, then left with her husband for her assignment in India. Although their personal circumstances and career motivations were different, they all held similar job responsibilities in India.  One of the main tasks for Warfield, Kaufman, and Friesen concentrated on hiring instructors and department leadership for their respective universities.  They also helped to promote increased student enrollment in Home Science courses and to develop curriculum and degree programs. They participated in village extension programs, extra-curricular activities on and off campus, advocated for the production of buildings created specifically for the needs of Home Science students, and frequently solved problems. In her monthly report to Dorothy Scott in 1966, for instance, Warfield tells the dean of OSU’s Home Ec. department that it was time for the University of Udaipur to open but there was nothing ready, “…not even a dean to give direction. This is the first time in the two years I have been in India that I have wanted to “chuck” it all and go home.” In their various locations, they always struggled to acquire and keep staff due to the lack of academically trained Indian Home Science professionals.

#3) Rajammal Devadas ~

One of the key Indian contacts that helped Warfield, Kaufman, and Friesen accomplish their employment obligations was OSU alumna, Rajammal Packianathan Devadas. After working at Women’s Christian College as a research assistant and as the first lecturer in Household Art in Queen Mary’s College, Tamil Nadu, India, in 1947 she received the Government of India Overseas Scholarship for advanced studies in the USA in Nutrition and Home Science Education.  With that scholarship, she enrolled at The Ohio State University, where she earned a M.S. degree in Foods and Nutrition in 1948, a M.A. degree in Home Economics in 1949, and a Ph.D. in Nutrition and Biochemistry in 1950.  Thereafter, she returned home to India and by 1953, she was Dean and Professor of Home Science, at Baroda College. 

During her tenure at Baroda, the Ford Foundation began donating large sums of money to the college to develop its Home Science department in order to train Indian women in advanced degrees so that they could fulfill academic positions around India.  As the author of the first Home Science textbook in India, published in 1959, Devadas stated that “Home Science coordinates the modern scientific knowledge with the cultural and spiritual traditions of the past, thus making home life a source of happiness and strength for the family.” From 1955-1961, she served India as the Chief Home Economist and Joint Director of Extension.  While she was working in the Central Government, Dr. Avinashilingam Ayya asked Devadas to help start a Home Science College in Coimbatore, India. For 20 years, Devadas was the principal of the Avinshilingam Home Science College until it transitioned into the Avinashilingam Deemed University in 1988, when she was advanced to the position of Vice Chancellor.  After 50 years of service to the people of India, OSU honored this alumna with the Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1994.

Thanks to the funding of the Global Mobility Project this preliminary research contributes to our understanding of the historical actors and motivations that provided opportunities for female Home Science students to receive funding in the 1960s from the Rockefeller Foundation in order to immigrate to America for advanced degrees.

Research Update: Transnational Performance

by Joshua Truett, PhD Candidate Performance/History/Theory Department of Theatre & Sexuality Studies

Project Location (Summer 2017): Juchitán de Zaragoza and Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico

El Foro Ecológico Juchiteco Stage

My mission as an artist/scholar is to create work that expands social discourse and instigates introspection about social and political issues. I was born in San Diego, less than twenty miles from the Mexican border. During my childhood in Southern California, I became fascinated by intersections: the places where peoples, cultures, and ideologies converge. This is reflected in my academic research and creative work, which is situated between the intersections of various art forms—prerecorded media and live performance, and the borders between theatre, dance and film.

Josh Truett at El Foro Ecológico Juchiteco

My dissertation research focuses on a study of the festival performances of the indigenous populations of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico. In particular I focus on the festivals, known as velas, in the Zapotec town of Juchitán de Zaragoza. During my third fieldwork trip to the city, I was part of a group of artists who began collaboration on a project to explore issues around borders and immigration. We were later invited by a local arts and educational organization, El Foro Ecológico Juchiteco, to use their community center for rehearsing and devising the production, which the Global Mobility Project grant helped to support in the summer of 2017. The artists involved in the project hail from the United States, Mexico, and Cuba. Together we have initiated an investigation into our collective experiences as migrants and border dwellers.

Radio interview

During our work over the summer we explored how borders and border crossings can be experienced not only physically, but also conceptually and spiritually. We began by asking how individuals navigate distances, mobility, and cultural clashes in fluid, creative, and productive ways that counter the common narratives constructed about migrants by politicians and mass media, especially in the United States and Europe.

These questions then contributed to a wider discussion of the challenges and opportunities created through national and transnational mobility, gaining insight into how these dynamics have affected our own individual lives and the communities we live in. The material we generated from our own experiences became the foundation for the original text and dance that we created during the workshop, which we plan to fuse with video and film as the project progresses. The performance we are creating will be multilingual, including Spanish, English, and Zapotec text.

Workshop 2

At the end of our two-week workshop, we were challenged by the realties of creating a transnational collaborative project in which the collaborators involved live in four different cities, separated by thousands of miles. How do we continue the creative work when we are not together in the same place? What are the hurdles to collaborating in a digital rather than physical space? In the future, how can we sustain a tour of a performance with the challenges of visas, “travel bans,” and the high costs of touring? What is the best medium to contain and share our work, so that it can circulate most widely? We are still seeking answers to these and the other questions raised during our summer workshop.

 

Postscript

A couple months after the workshop, in September of 2017, two massive earthquakes and numerous large aftershocks rocked the southern region of Mexico. The Isthmus and Juchitán de Zaragoza were hit especially hard, with over 100 deaths and countless numbers of buildings and other structures destroyed or damaged, including the complete leveling of a large section of the city hall, the palacio municipal. In a year that has witnessed so many natural disasters, the tragedy in Juchitán has gone under reported, and it has quickly faded from the headlines. However, the challenges faced by the inhabitants of the Isthmus persist and the need for aid and supplies is still urgent. Please consider donating to one of the organizations who are mentioned in this New York Times article.

 

Research Update: A Time to Rebuild: The Education and Rehabilitation of Jewish Children in Postwar Germany and Poland, 1945 – 1953

By Nikki Freeman, PhD Candidate in History

Center for Jewish History in NYC

Displaced children and incomplete families were a major international concern among governments, nations, and humanitarian organizations in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. My dissertation studies the rehabilitation, care, and education of Jewish children after the Holocaust in Poland and the US Zone of Allied-occupied Germany. I specifically focus on children’s centers, orphanages, schools, and summer camps as transnational sites where competing relief organizations and Zionist youth movements aimed to influence the future of Jewish life on the local level. Thanks to funding from the Global Mobility Project, I was able to spend three weeks at the Center for Jewish History in New York City conducting archival research for my dissertation.

During my time at the Center for Jewish History, I was particularly interested in learning more about Jewish infiltree children. In 1946, the US Zone in Germany received an influx of Jewish refugees, known as “infiltrees,” who fled from postwar antisemitism in Eastern Europe. I read one archival report that estimated that 76,924 infiltrees entered the US Zone between June and November 1946. Of that number, 13,878 were children. It is important to note that the majority of Jewish infiltree children were from Poland. Their wartime experiences can be divided into three categories. The largest group were children who fled with their parents to central Soviet Union or western Ukraine in September 1939. Then at the end of 1939 or early 1940, they were transported to Siberia. The second group were Polish Jews who lived in the area invaded by the German army in September 1939, but then were ceded to the Soviet Union and occupied by the Red Army. Finally, the third group were Jews who could not escape and stayed in Poland. Some were sent to ghettos and concentration camps while others hid on the Aryan side or in the woods with partisans.

Inside the Center for Jewish History – the Reading Room

In 1946, approximately 2,458 unaccompanied infiltree children entered the US Zone usually in kibbutz groups. They were organized under the care of youth leaders known as madrichim. Each kibbutz had its own political, social, and religious philosophies and teachings. They came to Germany with the intention of eventually immigrating to Palestine. The Child Welfare Division of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) accepted responsibility for providing care for unaccompanied Jewish infiltree children in the US Zone. They coordinated with the Jewish Agency for Palestine, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Central Committee for Liberated Jews. Archival documents suggest that this was not an easy task, and they encountered many problems.

For example, many unaccompanied infiltree children were not orphans. In fact, many had one or even both of their parents. Jewish families gave up their children to kibbutzim for many reasons. Unaccompanied children received better care and provisions, and they were given priority to leave Poland sooner. Once they reached the US Zone, they temporarily stayed at a reception center and then transferred to a more permanent children’s center. According to one report by Susan Pettis (child infiltree officer of UNRRA), this caused further problems because when the families learned that their children were not going to move immediately through Germany, they began appearing at centers to claim the children as their own. Pettis wrote that the Jewish children experienced emotional conflict because they had become attached to the kibbutz. It was also difficult to prove the relationship between the child and relative. In other cases, these children were under a lot of pressure from the Zionist youth movements and did not really want to go to Palestine. UNRRA had to intervene and remove the child in these particular situations because they believed “a child’s wishes should be recognized.” My larger project exposes tensions between these competing organizations and youth movements that all claimed to have the child’s best interests in mind.

Receiving the Global Mobility Project grant allowed me to finish an essential portion of my doctoral research in the US, and now I am able to focus on my archival research in Europe. I look forward to sharing my research in the near future at academic conferences.

Research Update: “Tracing interactions and transformations in contemporary arts-based protest movements in Germany”

Grad grantees

by Carolin Mueller, PhD student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University

Concert at the Bergfunkfestival in Berlin.

The recent influx of refugees to Germany lead to renewed discussions of how the “integration” of ethnically diverse actors is understood, practiced, and organized in German host communities, where national identities are highly contested. In 2014 PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), a nationalist, anti-Islam, far-right protest movement, emerged in Dresden, and caused a range of debates about the social inclusion of migrants. In response to nationalist claims, NO-PEGIDA counter-protest engaged in the cross-lingual and cross-cultural production of art to explore coping mechanisms for the impacts of global mobility. This summer I spent time in Dresden, exploring one of the most significant examples of this development, the musician collective “Banda Internationale” to understand the impacts of their efforts on community-building through the arts.

Concert at the Scheune in Dresden

My research was guided by questions such as: What spaces were made available to migrants through community engagement through music? What impact did incoming band members have on intergroup interactions? What forms of artistic expression were explored, developed, or merged? And, what passageways does music offer to come to terms with culturally-different forms of expression?

These questions helped me reflect on the recorded concerts. At the TFF in Rudolstadt in July, the opening performance allowed me to observe how the instrumentalists occupied spaces for individual and ensemble performances:

The qanun interrupts the cheering by quickly clicking on the high notes. While it carefully sounds out the distances of the concert space, the kalimba joins trotting out of the silence in deep tunes.

The kalimba hits different tones.
How far does it travel?
Deep electronic outcries,
People pouring in,
And sonic signals reflected from the body of the audience.
The drumsticks interrupt.
An attempt to disturb the kalimba’s melancholic journey?

There is not much time to further think about this question. The saxophone begins to breathe deeply: in and out, long and deep. The cymbals are slightly brushed. the breath is deepened even more.

The qanun jumps back in, tickling the saxophone.
back and forth
sounding the chirping of crickets, while the saxophone breathes on.

As the saxophone feels out the concert space, the other instruments seem to be jumping over the heads of the people in the audience who are standing or bouncing their bodies to the sound.

The rattle sets in
The bass drum gets louder.

Concert at the Elbwiesen in Dresden

As the frequency of the sound augments, the drum sets in. The niches taken up by the individual instruments get smaller and smaller. I feel overwhelmed by the clicking and the clacking, the breathing, and the ambience of the space filling with a range of different instrumental voices. I hear the qanun and rattle chasing each other around my ears, flying of the stage, through the branches of the trees and back. Their run is interrupted by the dark and slow bouncing of the saxophone, which tries to calm the lively crowd. But the drum does not want to have that and protests the saxophone stomping loudly. In response to the competing voices at play, the tuba takes charge of the chaos and announces the starting point for the remaining orchestral body that has been quietly observing from the back.

Concert at the TFF Rudolstadt

Thanks to a graduate student grant from the Global Mobility Project, and the felicitous connection that I was able to establish to the Banda, I observed and recorded their performances at twenty concerts, conducted seven interviews with different band members, and attended several band practices to gain a better understanding of their work and community. Focusing my data collection on their performances, my analysis of the visual and audio material explores the interactions between performers, instruments, and their environment, the stage. Our conversations were often centered on how the instruments were able to communicate, which involved re-developing ways of communication among performers through different languages and play. Making music together stands as the primary goal for the band project, and allows for gateways to address questions of the inclusion of different voices at different stages of interaction.

I was invited to share this project’s preliminary findings at the Midwest Modern Languages Association Conference in Cincinnati. The conference, themed “Artists and Activism”, brought together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as artists to discuss the connections between arts-based expressions and social change. In a co-sponsored effort by the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, the School of Music and the Undergraduate Studies Committee in AAAS, I was able to arrange an artist exchange with Banda member Ezé Wendtoin who will be visiting Ohio State University March 18 – April 4 2018. By bringing Mr. Wendtoin to the Ohio communities, we hope to explore further impact of this project’s activist objectives in sharing their ways of community-building through the arts.

Research Update: “Navigating Chicagoland: Social Dynamics, Religion, & Mental Well-Being among Central Asian Muslim Immigrants”

by Natalia Zotova, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

Natalia Zotova visiting a mosque at the American Islamic College

Migration the US creates a lot of opportunities, but also bring challenges. Navigating the new social and cultural environment is not easy. Migrants need to adjust and address different problems in their daily lives, which causes stress and has implications for health. What does it mean to be Muslim immigrant in the US? How does Islamic religious identity and observance shape life trajectories of new countries’ residents? What are the health implications of Muslim immigrants, and specifically of Central Asian natives?  The Global Mobility Graduate Research Grant gave me opportunity to address these questions by supporting my research in Chicago Metropolitan Area in September-November 2017.

Scholarship on religion and health indicate that stress among Muslim immigrants is intensified by experiences of discrimination, which negatively affects mental health. While studies on migration and health investigate stress, less attention is paid to the cultural context in which stress and coping occur. My research addressed the meaning and role of religion as a mediator of stress and mental well-being among Central Asian Muslim immigrants in Chicago Metropolitan Area. My work explored religious practices of Central Asian natives and culturally embedded stress responses through an ethnographic analysis of respondents’ narratives, completed with biological indicators of well-being (blood pressure, weight and height as secondary biomarkers of stress response), as well as self-administered mental health. That allowed to capture lived experiences of new immigrants to understand whether practicing Central Asian migrants have a stronger sense of mental well-being in the new social environment. During my time in Chicago, I conducted 5 informal expert interviews, 31 semi-structured interviews, as well as observations at mosques, Central Asian community gatherings and other social activities. The experts interviewed for this project included Central Asian community leaders and activists, academics at different universities of Chicago, as well as members of Muslim community centers.

Natalia Zotova with the head of Uzbek American Association of Chicago

While data analysis is in progress, some preliminary findings emerge. The influence of Islam differed between Central Asian immigrants due to the history of the region, development of Islamic communities and the secular pressures exerted by the Soviet Union and post-Soviet independence. While navigating new social environment, many informants became more religious during their stay in the US. Central Asians benefited from resources of Muslim communities, and settled in Chicago neighborhoods around other established Muslim groups. Connections with Turkish communities were of major importance. Central Asians were mainly not perceived as Muslims in their daily lives due to phenotype and lack of visual markers of religiosity (head scarf or beard). Practicing Muslims did not experience more discrimination than secular immigrants, unless they have visual markers of religious affiliation (head scarf or a beard). Major stressors producing adverse mental health outcomes were not religion-based. These stressors included migration-related factors such as insecurity, documentary status and work-related concerns. Recent immigrants (less than 3 years) had highest level of distress, which was likely to level up with the longer period of stay in the US.

A view of Chicago from Lakefront.

This study pointed at a negative association between religiosity and mental health disorders. Religion buffered stress, and moderated negative health implications among Central Asian immigrants by providing meaning and hope. At the same time, Islamic religious identity did not help Central Asian immigrants to bridge their way to mainstream American society. Visual markers of Muslim religious identity informed stress around experiences of marginalization and discrimination. Providing comfort as well as resources, Muslim identity informed segmented assimilation (Portes and Zhou, 1993) trajectories for Central Asian immigrants in Chicago Metropolitan Area. Culturally embedded and gendered stress responses, stigma around mental health disorders, as well as structural barriers to accessing health care services left mental health problems among Central Asian immigrants unaddressed. Chronic stress linked to migration and marginalization in the new country might severe immigrants’ health and lead to development of chronic diseases in the future.

Natalia Zotova gives a talk at the University of Chicago.

I was invited to share this projects’ preliminary findings and give a talk at the University of Chicago. The talk was sponsored by the Committee on Central Eurasian Studies, and brought together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as guests from Central Asian communities. Aiming to give back to Central Asian communities that I studied, I made a presentation on my experiences and findings at the Uzbek American Association of Chicago. I gratefully acknowledge support from the Global Mobility Project, which allowed me to conduct fruitful research.

Natalia Zotova’s talk poster. The background theme is a photo of a Kyrgyz scarf, which she got as a gift at a Kyrgyz-Thai wedding

Research Update – Transit Migration in Europe: Methods and Dialogues

by Eleanor Paynter, PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies

 

Prof. Luisa Passerini responding to a presentation Eleanor Paynter gave at the end of the seminar

For migrants crossing the Mediterranean and arriving to the southern regions of Sicily, Calabria, or Puglia, entering Italian space is, importantly, also both symbolic and legal entry into the European Union. I’m interested in how this arrival is, for many, not the end of a journey, but the beginning of a kind of limbo. How do migrants describe their experiences arriving to and waiting in Italy, for aid, visas, and the right to independent movement? How do these experiences intersect with or recall colonial history and the limited public awareness of that history? How do experiences of limbo influence migrants’ ideas about where they hope to settle, or about Europe more generally?

This summer I spent time in Central Italy exploring these questions through oral history interviews with recently arrived migrants who are at various stages of the processes of applying for asylum or other humanitarian visas. In fortuitous connection with this project, and thanks to a graduate student grant from the Global Mobility Project, I was also able to participate in the Summer Seminar “Memory, Visuality, Mobility,” held at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence and organized by oral historians Mary Marshall Clark and Luisa Passerini.

The seminar drew on work by both scholars. Mary Marshall Clark directs the Columbia University Oral History Master of Arts Program and the Rule of Law Oral History Project (see below). Luisa Passerini is the Principal Investigator of the project Bodies Across Borders: Oral and Visual Memory in Europe and Beyond (BABE), housed in the Department of History and Civilization at the EUI. The methodological approaches of BABE include interviewing migrants in Italy and the Netherlands. The seminar was organized around BABE’s multiple themes and methods, which sparked reflection and discussion on methodologies, in particular on incorporating visual tools into interviews and analysis, as well as on thinking about the context of a project in terms of archives. Our collective discussions of archives included scholarly work as well as visual and written narratives, movement, and sound. For BABE and for my own project, studying migration to Europe necessarily involves revisiting cultural archives, exploring and prompting understandings of the present as shaped by colonial histories. Approaching archives as changing, visual, living and lived constellations expands the possibilities of this kind of work.

Moving forward, my work on transit and limbo in migration has certainly been shaped by these experiences. The seminar’s focus on visuality addressed aspects of interviews and interpretation, from the visual aspects of language, to video art representing border crossing. In the oral history interviews I conducted after the seminar was over, I was more attuned to visuality. In walking interviews, for example, I paid attention both to the geographical itinerary, and to how the conversation between myself and an interviewee engaged the visual cues of our surroundings. A focus on on visuality and an attentiveness to the dissonant archives in which we work seem to me crucial for understanding experiences of limbo. I’ll close this reflection by sharing a few of the pieces and resources I found to be especially thought-provoking:

 

Note: Thanks to the Global Mobility Group for the opportunity to carry out this summer study. Funding for this project was also provided by the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, as well as through an OSU Global Gateway Grant.