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A revealing analysis of how interest groups shape conversations about refugees in Metro Detroit


Deindustrialized cities in the United States are at a particular crossroads when it comes to the contest over refugees. Do refugees represent opportunity or danger? These cities are in desperate need to stem population and resource loss, problems that an influx of refugees could seemingly help address. However, the cities are simultaneously dealing with local communities that are already feeling internally displaced by economic and technological flux. For these existing citizens, the prospect of incoming refugee populations can be perceived as a threat to financial, cultural, and personal security. 

Few U.S. locations provide a more vivid case study of this fight than Metro Detroit, where competing interest groups are waging war over the meaning of the figure of the refugee. This book dives deeply into the discourse on refugees occurring among  various institutions in Metro Detroit. The way in which local institutions talk about refugees gives us vital clues as to how they are negotiating competing pressures and how the city overall is negotiating competing imperatives. Indeed, this local discourse gives us a crucial glimpse into how U.S. cities are defining and redefining themselves today. The figure of the refugee becomes a slate on which groups with varied interests write their stories, aspirations, and fears. Consequently, we can figure out from local refugee discourses the ongoing question of what it means to be a Metro Detroiter—and by extension, what it means to be a revitalizing U.S. city in this age.

Rashmi Luthra is Professor Emerita of Public Communication and Culture Studies at the University of Michigan–Dearborn.

“For anyone interested in the frightful rise of xenophobia in America—especially the fear of Arabs and Muslims after 9/11—Destination Detroit is a must-read. Luthra demonstrates how right-wing voices legitimize anti-Muslim policies while refugee-support groups paint a picture of the helpless refugee needing rescue. But Luthra also shows there are spaces and places in the realms of allyship and art for contesting this Orientalist gaze.”

- Hemant Shah, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“In Destination Detroit, Rashmi Luthra presents us with a carefully researched case study of Detroit as a site of refugee arrival and the construction of a refugee discourse, which always draws on Orientalist discourses of the ‘third world other’ and the superiority or savior subjectivity of the local. Luthra illuminates how specific moments of tensions were used by actors to try to fan the winds of Islamophobia, and how some of these efforts were more successful than others given organization at the grassroots and previous histories of conviviality. This book is a must-read book for scholars across a wide range of disciplines, from Border Studies to Media Studies.”

- Angharad N. Valdivia, Institute of Communications Research and Latina Latino Studies Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Listen: Author Interview on Stateside | Feb 26, 2024