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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Harold Odden


Department of Anthropology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


This pilot project is an ethnographic study focused on the adolescent and young adult children of African immigrant families who are members of or affiliated with St. Augustine’s Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This project examines how these youth are identifying with what it means to be African American. We ask what the implications of this process are for the youth themselves, their families, and American society. Outside of home, research participants are members of a pan-African church and youth group, but they attend American public and private high schools during the weekdays. In these contexts, they are navigating what it means for them to be both African and American in ways that challenge their immigrant parents’ expectations as well as American racial categories and understandings of diversity. This dynamic often creates tensions within their immigrant families but also gives the children opportunities to learn important and useful cross-cultural skills. In the broadest sense, this study contributes to a growing body of research that illuminates rapid demographic, social, and cultural changes occurring as growing numbers of non-white immigrants are incorporated into American communities (Waters 1999; Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Waters and Ueda 2007). Much of this research has been conducted in historically well-established immigrant gateway cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami (Singer et al. 2008) but this project, set in an area with historically low levels of immigration, provides a unique case study of how American racial categories and ideas of “diversity” are being challenged even in a small mid-western city with much lower numbers of immigrants. The children in this study are not foreigners like their parents, and at the same time, they do not share a history and culture with black Americans. Caught between categories, these youth are engaged in an active process of exploring what it means to be African in America. Understanding this process has potential to provide valuable information to the youth themselves, the African families they are part of, as well as educators and government and non-government agencies who serve this population. The study has the potential to promote greater cross-cultural understanding between immigrant parents and children by examining points of conflict and common ground. Additionally, as the black population in the U.S. continues to diversify, the presence of these new African Americans will be increasingly significant in the context of issues of Affirmative Action and funding for scholarships and social services. Finally, through this study, the youth, who are a minority within a minority, will have the chance to see their identity challenges within the wider context of social change in America.


Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Puzzling Identities: Children of African Parents in America’s Growing Diversity

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