A faculty-student team has been awarded funding to travel to and conduct research in Ghana this summer.
Madeleine Wong, associate professor and chair of the Department of Global Studies, and Rian Falcon ’18 received a Center for International and Intercultural Studies Fellow award to conduct their project, titled “Roots and Routes: The Politics of Identity for African American Expats and their Children in a Ghanaian Mecca.”
In July 2009, President Obama and his family visited Ghana, which included a visit to Cape Coast castle, a site where during the Atlantic Slave trade slaves were held until boarded onto ships headed for the Americas. While this visit signaled a call to diaspora Africans to reconnect with their African roots, local Ghanaians were unhappy with the association of Obama’s visit and the historical legacy of slavery, as opposed to the prioritization and celebration of Ghanaian achievements. This moment brought to the forefront the underlying tensions and competing constructions of notions of blackness and black/African identity between local Ghanaians and locally-based African American expatriates.
Their project seeks to explores those tensions and competing ideas and identifications through engagement with both African Americans and local Ghanaians around the questions of roots, of heritage and of belonging. By engaging with different groups of people with different interpretations of these questions, through focused group discussions, interviews and participant observations, we hope to gain some understanding of the challenges of trying to engage and relate along perceived common racial identities and connected histories.
“For me, as a teacher-scholar, international and intercultural study constitutes not only an essential bedrock of my pedagogical philosophy and praxis, but also a critical component of the mission of St. Lawrence,” Wong said. “Being awarded the CIIS Research Fellows Award to conduct research in Ghana with Rian presents an invaluable opportunity for grounded one-on-one faculty-student research collaboration, mentorship and guidance that not only enriches our intellectual projects, but also enriches our international and intercultural experiences.”
Wong said being in Ghana gives Rian direct access to both diverse local communities of African Americans and prominent Ghanaian and diaspora scholars and researchers working on various migration research projects that will inform her own analysis.
"This grant means getting the chance to connect on a personalized level with my Senior-Year Experience and to understand the ways that African Americans migrated to and integrated into Ghana," Rian said. "Children of African American expats in Ghana sometimes grow up straddled between two cultures that leaves that wondering whether they fit in amongst Ghanaian society. As a hub for African-Americans, Ghana’s culture offers the chance for a pilgrimage experience that I believe would allow me to gain a deeper sense of identity, history and appreciation for Ghana, a new perspective on the United States, and invaluable field research experience in global studies."
Rian, a global studies major and gender and sexuality studies minor, from Baltimore, Maryland, plans to present her research at next year’s Festival of Scholarship and Creativity and at the annual conference of the Association of American Geographers in New Orleans in April 2018.