Rust Belt Renaissance? The Experience of Refugees from Burma in Buffalo, New York
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Buffalo, New York receives the most refugees for resettlement in the state, and has constructed a narrative as a welcoming place for this population. While this narrative is mostly true, refugees from Burma are facing a new set of challenges arising from Buffalo’s broader urban redevelopment that need to be addressed. This study asks the following specific research questions: 1) How do refugees from Burma build community in Buffalo? In particular, how do they build social capital through ethnic and religious organizations, and shared identities? 2) How do refugees adapt their housing strategies in the face of neighborhood change? In particular, how are they responding to gentrification of the West Side neighborhood?; and 3) How do refugees from Burma develop livelihood strategies? In particular, how are they adapting to market saturation within the restaurant and retail industries that they have traditionally been engaged in? To answer these questions, this study makes use of in-depth interviews with refugees from Burma and key actors in the resettlement process, secondary sources, such as news articles and government documents, and census data. The results indicate that community-building, the flow of information, and the creation of social capital are strongly tied to sub-national identities, such as ethnicity and religious affiliation. Additionally, significant changes in the neighborhood of initial resettlement are forcing people from Burma and resettlement agencies to adapt their housing strategies to find affordable housing in other neighborhoods. People from Burma are also adapting their livelihood strategies in the face of market saturation in ethnic businesses and changes in hiring practices at small manufacturing facilities by accessing social networks to gather information about new opportunities. Overall, this study highlights the importance of understanding how refugee communities adapt to broader urban redevelopment processes in their new homes, and identifies community needs that can inform practices by resettlement agencies, as well as policy considerations in the city government.