Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Rina Ghose

Committee Members

Marc V. Levine, Anna Mansson McGinty


Cultural Landscapes, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Immigration, Networks, Transnationalism


Following national trends, between 2000 and 2010, the city of Milwaukee's foreign-born African population doubled. Previous research attributes this population growth to various socio-economic and political factors on the African continent, the United State's implementation of the Diversity Visa Lottery (DVL) program, and perceived economic opportunities. Applying a mixed methods approach, I analyze the spatial distribution of foreign-born Africans in Milwaukee County to contextualize a case study of people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) worshipping at Milwaukee's International Lutheran Church of Zion (Zion Church). Using information gathered from participant observation, semi-structured interviews, census and demographic data, I deconstruct the densely scaled networks and cultural landscapes connecting the DRC and Milwaukee. By following the migration paths of DVL winners and refugees I demonstrate the vital role that thematic and territorial networks at Zion Church play in fostering transnational Congolese identities in Milwaukee. Transnational theory maintains that transnational migrants purposefully build active socio-cultural, political, and economic networks that cross the boundaries of a person's country of origin and host country; daily life occurs in both home and host countries as transnational networks shrink the perceived distance between places. Transnational networks also are influential in the creation of cultural landscapes. Cultural landscapes, either physical (e.g., a building or neighborhood) or conceptual (e.g., a cultural tradition), are organizational tools used by geographers to understand how groups build strong socio-spatial boundaries through their actions, beliefs, and culture. Despite being relatively hidden, Congolese worshippers at Zion Church are constructing intricate cultural landscapes at the building they worship in through the rituals of their church service, the expectations of community participation, and the processes of marriage. These different networks contribute to the formation of a group identity specific to worshippers at Zion Church. This research contributes to the growing body of literature on African migration to the United States. The mixed methods approach visually illustrates spatial distribution which in conjunction with ethnographic interviews, participant observation, and a textual analysis of cultural symbols, offers a rich description of the early processes of community building for an African community in a mid-sized American city.

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Geography Commons