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Title:Rewriting Hmong womanhood: literacy that mediates borders
Author(s):Simon, Kaia Lea
Director of Research:Prendergast, Catherine
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Prendergast, Catherine
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Koshy, Susan; Pritchard, Eric; Duffy, John
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:In “Rewriting Hmong Womanhood,” I argue that the revision of cultural gender roles for migrant women comes about through relocating literacies: moving family and home literacies across borders to public spaces such as schools, workplaces, and political realms while also using those same literacies to stay connected to their diasporic community. This dissertation addresses questions related to how literacy transforms cultural gender roles as it also speaks to the more broad changes that occur when widespread literacy is introduced to a migrant group. To make this case, I draw from an ethnographic study of twenty-three women who are daughters of the first generation of Hmong refugees relocated to the US after the Vietnam War. This study reveals the mechanisms by which migrant families, who many would assume have so-called “low literacy,” support high literate achievement for their daughters. These daughters then carry, apply, translate, and leverage these literate practices—relocating them, in other words—in order to establish unprecedented access to individual identities, a public presence, and economic upward mobility. The women I interviewed described the ways that literacy supported their desires to prioritize heritage cultural practices as it also inspired them to forge new paths for Hmong women. For example, several women described to me their desire to leave home to attend college, and the ways they leveraged their knowledge of institutional literacies to make it possible; at the same time, they leveraged their skills as child language brokers to always remain on the right side of complying with their parents’ wishes. By identifying such moments where they relocate family literacies across public and domestic borders, this dissertation chronicles microprocesses of social transformation as these women use literacy to enact their desires to neither fully rebel nor fully comply with traditional gender roles. Instead, literacy offers them the ability to find new ways: to rely on family literacies as they adopt new ones, always moving between heritage, tradition, and assimilation as they occupy public spaces previously denied to them. The result is a revision of gendered expectations for Hmong women in the US.
Issue Date:2017-04-12
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Kaia Simon
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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