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Creating Africa in America

Creating Africa in America: Translocal Identity in an Emerging World City

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Creating Africa in America
    Book Description:

    With a booming economy that afforded numerous opportunities for immigrants throughout the 1990s, the Twin Cities area has attracted people of African descent from throughout the United States and the world and is fast becoming a transnational metropolis. Minnesota's largest urban area, the region now also has the country's most diverse black population. A closely drawn ethnography, Creating Africa in America: Translocal Identity in an Emerging World City seeks to understand and evaluate the process of identity formation in the context of globalization in a way that is also site specific. Bringing to this study a rich and interesting professional history and expertise, Jacqueline Copeland-Carson focuses on a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, the Cultural Wellness Center, which combines different ethnic approaches to bodily health and community well-being as the basis for a shared, translocal "African" culture. The book explores how the body can become a surrogate locus for identity, thus displacing territory as the key referent for organizing and experiencing African diasporan diversity. Showing how alternatives are created to mainstream majority and Afrocentric approaches to identity, she addresses the way that bridges can be built in the African diaspora among different African immigrant, African American, and other groups. As this thoughtful and compassionate ethnographic study shows, the fact that there is no simple and concrete way to define how one can be African in contemporary America reflects the tangled nature of cultural processes and social relations at large. Copeland-Carson demonstrates the cultural creativity and social dexterity of people living in an urban setting, and suggests that anthropologists give more attention to the role of the nonprofit sector as a forum for creating community and identity throughout African diasporan history in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0426-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: On Life Betwixt and Between
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Prologue to a Diasporan Journey
    (pp. 1-12)

    Suddenly a woman, who seemed African American, stood up in the middle of a moderated session at a daylong conference called “Understanding African Refugees in Our Community.” Dressed in a West African factory-print head tie with bubba and wrapper, her emotionally charged plea suggests the debates about African diasporan identity occurring in Minnesota, which, according to the 2000 Census has the most diverse Black population in the nation: “If you want to build bridges, then look at me as African. When you look at me, you see the spirit of Africa. Look at me as an African; I am not...

  5. Part I. Reimagining North America’s African Diaspora

    • 1 “Africa” in Minnesota
      (pp. 15-23)

      The Cultural Wellness Center (CWC) was located on the major commercial strip of the Powderhorn neighborhood, a key crossroads in the Twin Cities’ changing demographic landscape.¹ At one time, this busy intersection was a major commercial corridor in midtown Minneapolis. The corridor declined significantly over the past five years as major businesses, for example, a large Sears department store, left the area. No longer called “midtown” Minneapolis in the media, to the chagrin of local activists who emphasized the neighborhood’s notable cultural and socioeconomic assets, the area was popularly referred to as the “inner city.” In the media, the area...

    • 2 Ethnographic Grounding
      (pp. 24-34)

      As noted by Lamphere (1992:7), there are some important differences between earlier phases of immigration to the United States (before 1924) and current immigration. A 1965 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act abolished country-by-country quotas that made it difficult for anyone but North Europeans to emigrate to the United States. Subsequent changes in immigration law, intensifying global economic restructuring, and political strife in their countries of origin have increased dramatically the numbers of immigrants and refugees from non-European countries, mostly Asian and Latin American, with smaller numbers of Black Caribbeans and Africans (Lamphere 1992:7). Furthermore, the class composition of...

  6. Part II. Across Diasporan Space/Time:: Who Is “African” in a Global Ecumene?

    • 3 “Three Parts African”: Blood, Heart, Skin, and Memory
      (pp. 37-58)

      The CWC’s “African born in America” leadership, in other words, African Americans, had a three-part definition of who was African. According to a key CWC “African” leader who was a locally well-known African American activist, an African was a person who was “black in skin color or race; has an ancestry that ties them to the continent of Africa; and has an African spiritual identity, meaning that you identify with the intellectual tradition that you are part of creation. Do you view the world as interconnected, or do you have an objective, technological view of the world? Who was African...

    • 4 Organizing Across Diasporan Crosscurrents
      (pp. 59-80)

      In March 1998, a Somali immigrant driver was brutally shot and killed as he responded to a fare in a largely low-income, African American section of North Minneapolis. The incident, widely reported in the press, underscored the broader socioeconomic context in which the CWC was attempting to promote a common “African” identity.¹

      The cabs stretched for blocks on Monday along the quiet residential street that borders the tiny Minnesota Islamic Cemetery in Roseville [a Twin Cities suburb].

      Inside the chain link fence, nearly 80 men huddled together against the icy wind as they watched the body of fellow cabdriver, Said...

    • 5 The African Body Resistant
      (pp. 81-94)

      The CWC’s folk notions of history, identity, and the body were integrated into its guiding policy statement, called “a people’s theory of health and wellness.” This “people’s theory” was seen as providing the CWC’s rationale for its particular approach to “cultural wellness”—the building of consciousness of heritage and its application of specific cultural healing practices that purported to promote wellness and prevent illness not only for individual people of African heritage, their families, and communities, but for the ethnically diverse constituencies represented by individuals and families of the Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods.

      The people’s theory was created by the...

  7. Part III. Creating “Africa”:: A State of Mind/Body/Spirit

    • 6 Healing the Mind: Embodying an African Epistemology
      (pp. 97-113)

      There was an ever present discourse on the distinctions between “African and European ways of knowing” at the CWC. After all, as noted by a key CWC African born in America participant, “The CWC taught me that the two systems of thought—African and European—are in conflict.” In constructing an African way of knowing, the CWC attempted to explicate the fundamental distinctions between these conflicted systems of thought and reconcile them. Its epistemology juxtaposed perceived European individuality with a purported African way of knowing that emphasized community or intergenerational responsibility informed by ancestral intuition. For example, the class titled...

    • 7 Healing the Body: Reactivating the African Habitus
      (pp. 114-138)

      The CWC’s African way of knowing implied not only a particular cognitive understanding of the world but also a particular sensorial way of seeing, experiencing, and interpreting it. As explained by one CWC African elder, “It’s a very different worldview—the African and the European. For the African, all phenomena are alive; they are invested with spirit. For the European, phenomena are objects; they’re dead, inanimate. These different approaches produce very different ways of negotiating; very different ways of consciousness.”

      The CWC leadership devised a multisensorial spatial aesthetic to stimulate Africans’ innate historical and cultural memory. The very deliberate way...

    • 8 Healing the Spirit: Embodying an African Historicity
      (pp. 139-161)

      For the CWC leaders and other active participants,¹ the body was understood as a sort of vessel that carried ancestral energy, perpetuating what was seen as core African cultural principles and practices over geographical space (place) and time (history).² The body was an active agent in the retention of Africanness. This embodied ancestral energy was the foundation of African community.

      Multiple examples of the role of embodied African energy were provided by a weekly support group to promote women’s leadership and explore the connections between spirituality and leadership. Called Leadership and Spirituality for Women, the sessions were regularly attended by...

  8. Epilogue to a Diasporan Journey
    (pp. 162-178)

    My diasporan journey through Powderhorn was ending, but it seemed like the community was in the throes of a new beginning. Lake Street had an air of heightened energy and possibility. Although several businesses had closed since I started my work here, several new ones had opened. There was a new tailor shop owned by a Somali man who reminded me of the fashion magicians that I knew in West Africa in the 1980s. Like them, he could sew “Italian” suits and indigenous African clothing with equal ease and quality—all without the use of any patterns! The African bookstore,...

  9. Appendix A: Research Design, Methods, and Documents
    (pp. 179-184)
  10. Appendix B: Cultural Wellness Center and Powderhorn Photographs / Bruce Silcox
    (pp. 185-198)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 199-212)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-240)