Somali Refugee Resettlement and Residential Patterns in Nashville, Tennessee

By Chaney, James; Mohamed, Abdishakur et al. | Southeastern Geographer, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Somali Refugee Resettlement and Residential Patterns in Nashville, Tennessee


Chaney, James, Mohamed, Abdishakur, Williams, Samuel, Southeastern Geographer


INTRODUCTION

In Nashville and other Southern metropolitan areas, much scholarly attention has been directed toward the remarkable surge in Latino immigration since the late 1980s (Smith and Furuseth 2006; Odem and Lacy 2009; Chaney 2010, 2015; Winders 2012, 2013; Sluyter et al. 2015). This focus has obscured the multitude of other emerging immigrant and refugee communities found in contemporary Southern communities, and, as a result, the various dimensions and nuances of how each new group arrives and adapts to its new host society remains unexplored. Each group's ethnic history, racial categorization in the United States, and religious and cultural beliefs influence how its members settle into new communities. This research addresses the dearth of literature on contemporary immigration in the American South by examining residential settlement patterns of Nashville's burgeoning Somali refugee community.

Over the course of the past three decades, the Nashville-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN, Metropolitan Statistical Area (Nashville MSA) has developed into a globally-linked metropolis, experiencing exponential growth in the national and international flow of people, capital, and cultures. Between 1980 and 2010, the population of Nashville's MSA increased from 850,505 to 1,670,890, and, as of 2015, the number of residents in the MSA was estimated to have grown to 1,830,34s. (1) Perhaps one of the most notable facets of Nashville's current demographic trajectory is the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of its inhabitants. Historically, diversity in Nashville was viewed as a simplistic dichotomy: either African American or "white" (Winders 2013). However, starting in the late 1970s, a small number of Kurdish and Laotian refugees were resettled in Davidson County (where Nashville is located), establishing small ethnic communities that were later augmented by subsequent waves of refugees and secondary migration. Since their initial arrival, both groups have grown into vibrant and visible segments of the MSA's population. Yet, the most salient addition to the metropolitan area's demography is the Latino population. Nashville emerged as a destination for Latin American immigrants in the 1990s, and within a generation, the Latino community has grown to account for 10 percent of Davidson County's population (Chaney 2015). These demographic changes to the MSA's proliferating ethnic diversity are reflected in the number of foreign-born residents, which doubled between 2000 and 2010 from 58,539 to 118,126 (Wilson and Singer 2011). In Davidson County alone, foreign-born residents account for more than 12 percent of the population (McDaniel 2016).

Somali refugees are an example of this ethnic diversity. As part of a resettlement program, they began arriving in Nashville in 1995 and 1996 and have remained an unexamined segment of the Nashville MSA. Over the past twenty years, there has been an almost uninterrupted flow up of Somali refugees to Davidson County. This continuous stream of refugees, coupled with the secondary migration of Somalis from other U.S. cities, has resulted in a critical mass of Somalis who have formed and maintained a healthy ethnic community that since the mid-2000s has enabled the establishment of many Somali businesses and places of worship that cater to the special needs, preferences, and languages of these refugees. Community leaders and social workers who engage with Tennessee's Somali community estimate that Davidson County is home to around 5,000 Somalis. An accurate enumeration of Somalis in Nashville is difficult to generate due to poor participation in the decennial census. However, a sizable community is evident on the city's landscape through the clustering of the ethnic business and religious establishments and noticeable concentrations of Somalis living along Murfreesboro Pike--a major thoroughfare that travels through southeast Davidson County--as well as two smaller concentrations found east of downtown and in an apartment complex next to the Nashville International Airport. …

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