Marathon bombers’ refugee roots shed light on trajectories

Silvia Domínguez, author of Getting Ahead (NYU Press, 2010), recently appeared on the Huffington Post with an excellent piece on the refugee roots of the Boston Marathon bombers. An excerpt appears below.

Dzhokhar was eight years old and Tamerlan was 15 when they arrived in the U.S. Both brothers became involved in sports, attended a mosque on Prospect Street, and enrolled in Cambridge Rindge and Latin School — perhaps the most culturally accepting secondary school in the nation. In this environment, Dzhokhar thrived. Emigrating at a young age, he attended schools with the same friends he grew up with, gradually lost his accent, and became a well-liked and respected student. On the other hand, Tamerlan emigrated as a teenager, arguably the most difficult age of transition for adolescents. Although he became an excellent boxer according to his trainers in Lowell, he never lost his accent and his English was difficult to understand, opening himself up to discrimination.

Refugees are often from areas where conflict is historically embedded and marked in ideology and injustice. The Tsarnaev family emigrated from the Chechen diaspora in Kyrgzstan, a region Stalin deported the Chechens to in 1943. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, Chechens engaged in a battle for independence from Russia that led to the Tsarnaevs’ petition for refugee status in the early 2000s. While Dzhokhar was only a child during this strife, Tamerlan experienced that civil conflict as an adolescent, shaping his identity as participant in the conflict. Once in the U.S., Tamerlan could not find kinship with American youth who are naïve about civil armed struggles. As he posted on Facebook, he did not understand Americans and had no friends. Americans often assumed that they were Russian, forcing the brothers to clarify that they were actually Chechen. Being confused with the offender, Russia, may have caused young Dzhokhar’s curiosity about his Chechen heritage, but it likely enraged Tamerlan in a cumulative alienating manner.

Read the full post here.