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“I Don’t Even Know Monrovia in the First Place”: The Liberian Diaspora, Experiences of Displacement, and Shifting Sentiments of National Belonging, Talk with Yolanda Covington-Ward

When Feb 01, 2017
from 12:30 PM to 02:00 PM
Where 216 Willard Building
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Yolanda Covington-Ward, Assistant Professor of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh

 

Yolanda Covington-WardHow do experiences of forced displacement affect African immigrant perceptions of their home countries? Studies of contemporary African diasporas often focus on the movement of people from one nation state to another.  However, conflict-driven displacement within the region of West Africa often follows a pattern of extended stays in multiple countries, while the possibility of return remains uncertain.  The small West African country of Liberia was devastated by a fourteen-year-long civil war from 1989-2003.  More than half of the country’s population was displaced either internally or forced to take refuge outside of Liberia. Many people spent varying amounts of time, from a few months to more than a decade, living in neighboring African countries like Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and even Nigeria.  This extended time outside of Liberia, especially for those who left as youth and children, impacted life trajectories, family disintegration, and even sentiments of nationalism and belonging. Based on forty individual interviews and six years of participant observation within the Liberian community in the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area, this paper examines some of the experiences of displacement that interviewees shared as well as how displacement affected their attitudes towards both their West African host countries and Liberia.  This paper shows that displacement not only shaped unique perspectives on national belonging for Liberians in exile, but also impacted perceptions of individual character in different ways.