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  • The Making of a Refugee: Children Adopting Refugee Identity in Cyprus
  • Spyros Spyrou
Tasoulla Hadjiyanni , The Making of a Refugee: Children Adopting Refugee Identity in Cyprus. Westport, Conn: Praeger. 2002. Pp. xiv + 245. $77.95.

This interesting book addresses a much neglected area of inquiry in both refugee studies and childhood studies. The author, a refugee herself, sets out to explore refugee identity in Cyprus. Rather than concentrate on those who experienced displacement first-hand, Hadjiyanni focuses instead on their children who were born after 1974. The book is an exploration of the "refugee consciousness" of these children which is to be distinguished from the parents' refugee identity that has been shaped directly by the experience of dislocation. At the same time, Hadjiyanni attempts to give these children a voice, to let them say what "refugeeness" means to them. In that sense, the book provides much needed insight into the identities and worlds of the young about whom we still know very little.

The author's main theoretical proposition is built around two concepts. First, the "title paradigm," i.e., the title earned by refugees as a result of displacement, and which she finds highly problematic because it "legitimizes the dominance of the receiving country on the one hand, while devaluing the retention/creation/production and re-production of a refugee identity on the other." And second, the "identity paradigm" which is her response to the title paradigm and which suggests that refugee identity is one of many identities individuals have and, they, therefore have the choice to adopt or disavow it. Her analysis aims to challenge earlier work which treated the "failure" of the children of refugees to assimilate as problematic or as linked to housing assistance.

The various chapters of the book focus on describing and analyzing refugee consciousness in a systematic fashion. In Chapter 2, the author examines refugeeness as an "identity in becoming" and as a shared identity grounded both in the past as well as in the experience of forced displacement and loss. This is where the author identifies the three categories of children in her sample: those who symbolically adopt a refugee identity; those who disavow it; and those who are confused. The children who adopt a refugee identity are those who identify with the experience of displacement and injustice, differentiate themselves from non-refugees, and empathize with the pain and suffering of other refugees. In Chapter 3, Hadjiyanni focuses on the ways by which these children are socialized about the past and introduces the notion of choice in place of the notion of return. She argues that what is important for refugees is to have the choice to go back—to visit their homes—not necessarily to relocate permanently; when [End Page 209] refugees are allowed to choose, they gain back their lost sense of humanity, which resulted from their forcible displacement. In the following chapter, she illustrates the primary role of the family in transferring refugee identity, which is purposeful, to children so that they will know where they came from, remember the occupied places and what happened to their parents, and struggle for return. In Chapter 5, titled "A Nurtured Identity Grounded in Loss," she turns to the more recent theoretical work in the sociology of childhood to illustrate the active role that children play in the construction of their own identities. Here is where Hadjiyanni provides us with a more nuanced understanding of identity construction. Her analysis of different types of losses (e.g., the loss of permanence, the loss of home ownership, etc) shows us how children actively select those images that suit them and turn them into their own. For the ethnographically-minded reader this chapter's many examples provide a richness that may appear excessive for readers who are more interested in her theoretical arguments. In the chapter that follows, Hadjiyanni theorizes the process of refugee consciousness construction: from parental attachment, to projection, to memory transfer, and finally to adoption of the refugee identity. This process, she claims, is a dynamic one which results in different degrees of refugee consciousness in different children and for the same individuals during their lifetime. In Chapter 7, the...


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pp. 209-211
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