Methodologies

While there are many social networking sites in existence today, we chose Facebook because of its popularity amongst the three immigrant and refugee groups that were the focus of our project. We concentrated in particular on Facebook groups and fan pages. Our initial search using the terms ““Somali/Somalia,” “Hmong/Hmoob,” and “Mexico/Mexican/Mexicana/Mexicano” came up with thousands of groups and fan pages encompassing an immense variety of topics—everything from homeland politics to music to language and dating. 

To create an overall map of Facebook use, we created a Facebook analysis worksheet that we filled out for each Facebook group and fan page. This way, we could keep track of the sites we looked at and what information they contained. These templates helped us to determine which sites were the most active and important to the research goals. We used the worksheets to track number of members, languages used, major themes discussed, examples of different types of media including, and the possible the geographic location(s) of the members.

Given the name of the project as well as the location of the IHRC, we first looked at Facebook groups that were set up within Minnesota. We soon discovered no geographical boundaries were possible given Facebook’s ability to transcend physical borders and given these groups' desire to connect to people around the world. This desire was particularly obvious in the Somali and Hmong communities.

During our research, many themes emerged including:

  • Education (motivation, students connecting with other students, area-specific schools, why some students do not attend college, access)
  • Gender and Sexuality (gay and lesbian group, men and women identities and stereotypes)
  • Language (preservation, hybridity)
  • Tradition and Culture (preservation, changes in America, conflicts between groups/cultures)
  • Jobs
  • Individual and Group Identity
  • Community (identity, connecting to people in different parts of the world)
  • Being Hmong/Somali/Mexican (degrees of being Hmong/Somali/Mexican, birth place/origins)
  • Life Philosophy
  • Duration of stay in America (and “host” societies)- generations (1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th generations)
  • Religion
  • Terrorism
  • Support Groups
  • Diasporic connections--Hmong/Somali/Mexicans in different parts of the world.
  • Relationships (Romance, Dating and Sex).
Given the huge amount of material that our worksheets put at our fingertips, we had choose a few key themes for each group. Most of these revolved around ethnic identification and pride, issues facing youth, and social change and adaptation as a result of migration. The relationship to real and imagined homelands also became apparent but was expressed in very different ways across the three groups. More details about the themes we selected for each group can be found on the “Overview” page for each section.

In conducting this research, we quickly realized how Facebook and other social media sites blur the line between public and private. Our decision to focus exclusively on Facbook groups and fan pages was motivated by our concern to respect the simultaneously public and private dimensions of users’ expressions. Some groups were quite explicit about wanting a broad public audience because they sought to raise awareness about political and social issues. However, other groups appeared to be communication among closer circles of friends; these might not have been intended for public viewing. 

The majority of the Facebook groups in the Minnesota 2.0 archive were set to “public,” meaning that they were accessible through search engines like Google but to join and participate in the groups necessitated a Facebook account. For those groups that were set as "private," members of the Minnesota 2.0 group sent a request to join. Regardless of a group’s status, however, each image in this archive has been “scrubbed” of directly identifying information: last names and personal photos have been blurred.

Members of the project team met weekly throughout the 2009-2010 academic year. A number of these meetings included guest scholars working in the field, including two of the members of the Somali Documentary Project, Abdi Roble and Doug Rutledge. Meetings were also a chance for the undergraduates to learn more about each other, not only about individual students’ backgrounds, but also about the reasons so many Somalis, Mexicans, and Hmong now live in Minnesota. In many cases, the students found that they shared similar stories, even though the circumstances of what brought them to Minnesota were extremely different.

Members of the research team also presented material from the project at a number of events:

  • The University of Minnesota's Office for Equity and Diversity Breakfast in November 2009

  • Three major scholarly conferences: The National Council of Public History, held in Portland, Oregon in March of 2010; the Candaian Historical Association held in Montreal, Canada in May of 2010; and the International Auto/Biography Association in Sussex, England in June and July of 2010

  • Undergraduate Research Symposium at the IHRC in Decemeber of 2009

  • World Language Day, University of Minnesota, in May of 2010

  • Various classes at the University of Minnesota

This web-based digital archive is one product of the Minnesota 2.0 research project. With its physical storage caverns now full to overflowing, the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) uses support from the Fesler-Lampert Chair in Public Humanities to create the webpage and CD of the Minnesota 2.0 archive. The archive will preserve and give access to future generations of researchers to the stories and points of view of immigrant and refugee youth in Minnesota, the U.S., and around the world. 

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