African in Maine

Case Study: Center for Cultural Exchange

Patricia Romney, Margaret Juan Lado, and James Bau Graves

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From the case study's website:

"The Center for Cultural Exchange’s African in Maine aimed to build culture and community by assisting three newcomer African communities in Portland with developing cultural programming that would represent their respective cultures and people. Dialogue occurred first within each of the Sudanese, Congolese, and Somali groups and second between individual African groups and the wider, white community of 'Mainers.' The project aimed to address how cultural representation (or misrepresentation) can impact public perception of refugee communities and aimed to build a broader awareness of the diversity and conflicts affecting these newcomer African communities. It also sought to identify what constitutes valued cultural resources for these groups and how these reources might be recognized and supported.

The African in Maine case study, written by Bau Graves and Juan Lado (with a preface and reflections by Animating Democracy project liaison Dr. Patricia Romney), challenges the concept and illuminates the realities of 'dialogue' within and between cultures, particularly with respect to divided immigrant and refugee communities. This case study deepens understanding of the significant internal differences that exist within each African national group—tribal, generational, religious, immigrant/refugee, and gender—and how these differences need to be taken into account. Furthermore, it explores language and cultural differences between the center’s predominantly white U.S. staff members and the immigrant groups and also examines the role of an 'outsider' cultural organization in fostering cultural democracy."