“Kull wahad la haalu”: Feelings of Isolation and Distress among Yemeni Immigrant Women in San Francisco’s Tenderloin

Abstract

Recently arrived Yemeni immigrant women in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood face a series of challenges as they go about living their everyday lives in a poor and crime-ridden neighborhood. They experience feelings of isolation and distress because of their limited English skills, their conservative Islamic dress that draws comments and unfriendly looks, and their household chores as mothers of often large families, which keep them busy at home. Despite living in close proximity to other Yemeni immigrants, these women feel profoundly lonely. In this study, based on interviews with 15 recently arrived Yemeni women, I show different “idioms of distress” that connect the women’s emotional states to experiences of physical space and the body. I also raise methodological and epistemological questions about conducting anthropological work in communities whose members experience profound isolation.