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Reviewed by:
  • Accidental Immigrants and the Search for Home: Women, Cultural Identity, and Community by Carol E. Kelley
  • Nancy Dewey
Accidental Immigrants and the Search for Home: Women, Cultural Identity, and Community. By Carol E. Kelley. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013. 176 pp. Softbound, $27.95, Kindle, $9.99.

Anthropologist Carol Kelley eloquently and compassionately presents a well-researched study of four women whose lives changed dramatically after emigrating from their home countries for reasons of education, career, and/or marriage. Kelley situates these “accidental” immigrants—those who emigrate for reasons other than economics or politics—within the context of a more globalized society comprised of people, like these women, whose lifelong process of immigration affects their sense of individual and cultural identity and their notion of “home.” This study is quite apt given that the topic of immigration appears in news reports and other media regularly, and much of the world’s population consists of people who are either emigrants or who are living with/alongside those who have immigrated.

Kelley explores difficult-to-answer, yet eternal, questions, such as where is home and what gives home meaning; she does so by describing the distinct journeys of Anna, Barrett, Lisa, and Shirine from their original homelands [End Page 365] (New Zealand, United States, Canada, and Iran, respectively). These women eventually settle in Norway, Venezuela, Florida, and France (again, respectively), and they share details of why, how, and when as adults they came to accept changes in their lives. Kelley’s study is both anthropological and psychological in nature; from her perspective, “We are the sum of all of our experiences, a cumulative whole of an entire life’s worth of memories”; that is, all of the circumstances in our lives somehow lead us to where we are and who we become (111). And, just as importantly, this process never stops, especially for those who have to deal with a transcultural sense of self, an identity developed in one’s original home country and transported to and affected by one’s new, adopted home country. Kelley continues: “The emotional ‘learning curve’ involved in creating home and community in a new place is more like the movement of the tide: it is a continuous, ever-flowing presence that sometimes is as smooth as glass, peaceful and clear, and at other times swells with discord and contradiction. Ripples, however small, never completely disappear” (114–15). Kelley’s interviews with Anna, Barrett, Lisa, and Shirine chronicle and clarify the diverse experiences of these four educated women as they acclimated to their “final” destinations and, in doing so, create a lens through which to better understand globalized individuals and identities. And it is from these and other examples that Kelley develops her notion of dual belonging, that is, that immigrants simultaneously exist as people in their original countries of origin as well as in their adopted new homes.

Kelley’s text, however, is not without its limitations. She clearly wants to help the reader to see the patterns, differences, and similarities between and among these women. In approaching this work from an interdisciplinary perspective, it would have been useful to see a visual guide, perhaps a chronology or a map, that included the ages and locations of the four women who traveled from one place to another, the length of their sojourns, the people of significance in their lives, and the influences and factors that influenced their movements. The fact that Kelley chose to situate herself as an outsider, and to a certain degree as a chronicler, permits readers themselves to compare and contrast these women’s stories; in this way, the interviewees get to keep their own tales distinct from one another, allowing their individual identities to evolve throughout the course of the text. Evidently, each person interviewed came to terms with the life choices that brought her to a new environment and perhaps more fulfillment. Kelley does not address, however, certain important questions; for example, how did each interviewee’s original economic status and customs affect the quality of her life in later years, and how did material comforts and spiritual or religious traditions either outweigh or balance one another depending on...