Many Americans imagine refugees as threatening outsiders who will steal jobs or be a drain on the economy. But across the country, refugees are rebuilding and maintaining the American Dream. In City of Refugees, journalist Susan Hartman shows how an influx of refugees helped revive Utica, New York, an old upstate manufacturing town that was nearly destroyed by depopulation and arson.
Hartman follows 3 of these newcomers over the course of 8 years as they and their families adjust to new lives in America. There’s Sadia, a bright, spirited Somali Bantu teenager who rebels against her formidable mother; Ali, an Iraqi translator who creates a home with a divorced American woman but is still traumatized by war; and Mersiha, a hard-working and ebullient Bosnian who dreams of opening a café.
They are part of an extraordinary migration of refugees from Vietnam, Bosnia, Burma, Somalia, Iraq, and elsewhere, who have transformed Utica over the past four decades—opening small businesses, fixing up abandoned houses, and adding a spark of vitality to forlorn city streets.
Other Rust Belt cities have also welcomed refugees, hoping to jump-start their economies and attract a younger population. City of Refugees is a complex and poignant story of a small city but also of America—a country whose promise of safe harbor and opportunity is knotty and incomplete, but undeniably alive.