St. Paul, Minn. – Anthropology major Nana C E Adubea (Dubie) Toa-Kwapong ’16 has received the 2016 Nancy “Penny” Schwartz Undergraduate Essay Award from the Association of Africanist Anthropology (AfAA), for her paper, “Alienation, (Re)integration or Something in Between: Return Migration to Accra, Ghana and Cultural Liminality.”

Another undergraduate paper Toa-Kwapong wrote, “Taking it Back to the Motherland: The Gendered Frictions of Return Migration to Accra, Ghana,” received an Honorable Mention for the Sylvia Forman Prize.

The Nancy “Penny” Schwartz Undergraduate Student Essay Award is given to the best undergraduate paper in Africanist anthropology based on originality of scholarship, creativity of insight, quality of writing, and a well-argued and innovative perspective on a current issue of concern to Africanist and African diaspora scholarship, or to the issues facing Africa more generally.

The AfAA recognized her innovative approach to the study of migration and return and the strength of her ethnographic fieldwork in her paper. The Award consists of a $100 cash prize.

Toa-Kwapong said receiving the award was an honor.

“It is a beautiful reminder of the many individuals to whom I owe a great debt for their unrelenting care and support throughout this process,” Toa-Kwapong said.  “I am so grateful to Macalester Professors Olga González and Dianna Shandy, to Anthropology alumni like Sara Saltman ‘15, Anissa Abdel-Jelil ‘15, Emily Lawson ‘15, Jonathan Goh ‘15, Andrea Grimaldi ‘16, and Sophie Keane ‘16, my family and friends, and the participants in this study who allowed me into their lives and shared their stories. They are the true honorees.”

Toa-Kwapong’s essay, “Alienation, (Re)integration or Something in Between: Return Migration to Accra, Ghana and Cultural Liminality” was drawn from her honors’ thesis, which looked at a growing group of professionals who are choosing to move back to Africa and selecting the West African nation of Ghana as their site of return.

“These returned ‘prodigals’ are changing the cultural, economic, and political landscapes of Ghana and the African continent,” she said.

“Some of these women and men were born and/or raised in Europe or North America, children and grandchildren of Africans who left the continent during the so-called exoduses of the mid-1960s to late 1980s – a period of socioeconomic turmoil that resulted in the emigration of thousands of artists, intellectuals, and professionals to the West. Some left the continent alone as young adults in the 1990s and 2000s to pursue tertiary educational opportunities. This paper looks at this demographic, who after living in the West for many years, decide to return to Africa, specifically to the nation of Ghana.”

Toa-Kwapong said when “migrants live abroad, many create or are given (by their parents or guardians) a mythical version of the homeland, around which they develop a dominant image of life there, often viewed through a comparative lens against life in the host country.”

“Living outside the ethnic homeland, many migrants combat a sense of rootlessness, developing an obsession with it,” she said.  “Upon return, their essentialized image is held up against the reality of life on the continent. Though they perceive themselves as homecomers upon return, many returnees find their claims to belonging challenged by local Ghanaians who perceive them as newcomers. While dealing with the feeling of not quite belonging, returnees are also faced with the challenge of socio-economic and political disillusionment and trying to find their place in the home society’s development project. The essay deals with this part of the returnee experience.”

Toa-Kwapong’s other paper, “Taking it Back to the Motherland: The Gendered Frictions of Return Migration to Accra, Ghana,” was selected for an honorable mention for this year’s Sylvia Forman Prize for an undergraduate student paper. The prize committee unanimously agreed that her paper “beautifully mixed ethnography and feminist theory to expand the scholarship on migration.” And even though “the competition was tough this year, your paper truly stood out.”

The Sylvia Forman Prize is named for the late Sylvia Helen Forman, one of the founders of the Association for Feminist Anthropology (AFA), whose dedication to both her students and feminist principles contributed to the growth of feminist anthropology.

Currently, Toa-Kwapong is working as a Diversity and Inclusion Intern at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) and thinking about graduate school, but she’s “still in the process of deciding which area of study to pursue.”

Nana C E Adubea (Dubie) Toa-Kwapong was one of Macalester’s Davis United World College Scholars.

September 8 2016

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