Catherine L. Besteman
's book Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine
(Duke University Press, 2016) is an important contribution to our understanding of the process of remaking one’s way of life after war in a new place, and in a new culture. Besteman writes about her ethnographic encounter in the 1980s with Somalis from the village of Banta who she then re-encounters in 2006 in the town of Lewiston, the so-called “Armpit of Maine.” The result is an intimate account of the trajectory of Somali Bantus from their home in the Jubba Valley, their experience flight to refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and their eventual relocation to cities and towns in the United States. Readers also learn that assimilation is not just a one-sided affair, as Besteman narrates how the arrival of Somali Bantus in Lewiston impacts residents there, neighbors and government officials alike. As such, Making Refuge
reminds us that resettlement is more than the arrival of refugees; it is also a process by which receiving communities adapt to their foreign neighbors. In other words, Besteman’s work is a study of mutual transformation.
Susan Thomson is associate professor of peace and conflict studies at Colgate University.