Cultivating Home: How Migrants Achieve Belonging and Social Agency through Community Building Practices

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Veronica MONTES, Bryn Mawr College, USA
Lilian DOMENICK, Haverford College, USA
In a moment where exclusionary nationalist sentiment in Europe has increased and xenophobic and nativist discourses intensify in the United States, a scholarly exercise reflecting on belonging and its relationship to place, migration and home becomes imperative. “The sense of belonging is constituted through shared meanings and sense of social alliance between people and places where they reside” (Shutika 2011: 15). In this regard, the development of the sense of belonging is the result of the activities that people employ to emplace themselves in new and everyday situations. Drawing on a qualitative methodology consisting of open-ended interviews, participant observation and the case-study approach, we examine projects developed by the Coalición Fortaleza Latina, a grassroots group of Latino migrants in the area of Philadelphia, which, as we will demonstrate in this paper, have allowed these migrants to craft a sense to belonging in the community. In this paper, we focus our analysis on two projects: a) a 12-week workshop on economic self-sufficiency, and b) a community garden. Specifically, this article presents and discusses the spatial and organizational dimensions of these projects, their specific structures and meanings, and their role as a vehicle of social recognition and visibility of the presence of Latino migrants in the community. The argument of this paper is that these projects serve important social mechanisms, first, to create a sense of community among the members of the coalition, and secondly to affirm these individuals’ right to claim space and belong in the new society. Particularly, through these social practices, these migrants not only recreate a sense of home but most importantly allow them to exercise a social agency which helps them to shield their community from the escalating aggressive xenophobic and nativist environment in which they live.