Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Richard Clemmer-Smith, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Dores M. Cruz

Third Advisor

Ermitte Saint Jacques

Fourth Advisor

Arthur Gilbert


Ethiopian migrants, Gender, African feminism, Identity, Integrative patterns, Mimicry, Hybridity, Refugees resettlement


The purpose of this study is to examine the challenges faced by Ethiopian women in the Denver community to reach harmony within their new social and cultural space and to examine what they feel they have lost and gained in their self-identity as a result of their immigration. Refugees face a multitude of dilemmas when they are compelled to relocate from their home countries to a new, foreign-host society. Ethiopian refugees have been arriving in the US since the 1970s and feel the uprootedness of being away from their homeland. Being uprooted is losing one’s culture and ways of life. Therefore, for these refugees to integrate into an unknown social space is highly challenging, as they have to relearn how to live their quotidian life in a new cultural and social context. Relocation requires an active negotiation of situations and behaviors; therefore, it is paramount to understand the refugees’ agency in the processes of integration and in rebuilding their lives. By analyzing these processes we can learn about the struggles of negotiating different cultural and social aspects ---that is, those from the culture of origin and those of the receiving communities--in order to successfully rebuild continuities and find a sense of belonging.

In this study, I use the terms refugee and migrant interchangeably because the majority of first generation informants arrived as refugees, but after living for decades in the US, many no longer identify as such, but rather as migrants. I examine three main aspects of becoming a refugee/migrant: (1) the metamorphosis of the family structure, including the transformation of power relations between husband and wife; (2) the cultural differences between Ethiopians and their receiving community, which often fosters the idea that refugees and migrants represent a cultural and economic threat to the nation; and (3) the construction of the category of refugee/migrant, which provokes a loss of identity among these Ethiopian women.

I found that Ethiopian women refugees/migrants assert their authority through traditional gender roles rather than through western-centric worldview of success. Ethiopian women refugees/migrants’ agency permits them to negotiate between the two cultures, enabling them to choose features from both cultures that bestow upon them power, and actively engage them in decision making in the household and in the community. This study results from fieldwork conducted from June 2012 until December 2013 among Denver Ethiopians who have constructed social spaces of belonging around perceived traditional family and religious values, and who congregate at the Tewahedo Kidane Meheret, Kidane-Mehret and Medhane-Alem Curches, and the now closed Ethiopian Community Center. This thesis contributes to the general body of literature on migration and fills a lacuna on anthropological research concerning Ethiopian refugees/migrants in the United States.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Barbara Guglielminotti Valetta


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

363 p.


Cultural anthropology, Social research