Abstract: Not Born a Refugee: An Arts-Based Inquiry of Intersectional Experiences of Young Bhutanese Refugee Women on Identity, Community & Well-Being (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

378P Not Born a Refugee: An Arts-Based Inquiry of Intersectional Experiences of Young Bhutanese Refugee Women on Identity, Community & Well-Being

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Rebecca Phillips, MSW, MA, Graduate Research Assistant, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Arati Maleku, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Njeri Kagotho, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Binaya Subedi, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Ohio State University
Background: The Bhutanese refugees, an ethnically and linguistically Nepali minority group, was forced to flee Bhutan in the early 1990s. Most settled in refugee camps in Nepal, where, despite their cultural and historical ties to the country, they never received citizenship. Given the large-scale resettlement campaign in 2007, over 80,000 Bhutanese refugees currently reside in the US. Recent studies suggest alarming rates of anxiety symptoms, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide, and prevalence of substance misuse among the Bhutanese refugees. Young Bhutanese women are particularly vulnerable to socio-cultural constraints. In addition to assuming parentified roles and a myriad of hardships including adjusting to a new environment, these women are also facing questions about belonging and identity struggles in urban spaces; experience with persistent social isolation and discrimination; peer pressure; gender and family conflicts and financial hardships. The purpose of this study was to explore the mechanisms of identity reconstruction among young Bhutanese refugee women (N=30) to examine the intersecting identities of social location that impact their resettlement experiences, and the impact of these intersecting experience on their well-being.

Methods: Drawing from arts-based data gathered from a larger Community Based Participatory Research project that explored the role of cultural leadership in building community resilience among Bhutanese refugee women, this study explored the lived experience of young Bhutanese refugee women at the intersection of refugee status, gender, and identity. Using community mapping as a participatory tool, young Bhutanese refugee women(N=30) were engaged in exploring their identity, community, and well-being through an arts-based visual mapping technique. The purpose of the arts-based mapping exercise was to create a concrete output– a map, in paper format, followed by a series of focus group discussion with the young Bhutanese women. The participants were divided into six groups. Data collected from the visual drawings, maps and focus groups were analyzed using grounded theory methods through an intersectionality lens. Data were first coded for initial and focused codes using word clouds. The codes were analyzed for markers of difference and intersections, drawing categories and emerging themes.

Results: Findings of the study illustrate how identity is experienced within historical, cultural and social context. The resettlement experiences of young Bhutanese refugee women are complex, interrelated and permeate all aspects of their lives. The arts- based inquiry generated five distinct themes on identity, community and well-being: (1) Identity as relational and contextual (2) double diaspora identity (3) identity as conflictual and stress-inducing (4) refugee status and identity reconstruction (5) family, culture, intergenerational tensions, community life and mental well-being.

Implications: The study identifies unrecognized cultural assets, which can serve as protective factors to ease gender conflicts, promote mental well-being and build community resilience in the migration context. This study contributes to methodological as well as their epistemological bases. Findings show how arts-based inquiry perspectives, specifically, how visual maps and drawing methods can be a valid alternative to traditional research paradigm to work with hard-to-reach populations. The method of data analysis used in the study also contribute to the emerging methods of intersectional analysis.