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Shukriya’s Story: Negotiating Cultural Dissonance While Learning to Be Literate

  • Barbara Nykiel-HerbertEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)

Abstract

This case study examines the interplay between literacy acquisition and negotiation of ethnic and gender identity by a refugee child in the context of the competing cultures of a traditional Kurdish home and an American public school. Shukriya, a 9-year-old non-literate Kurdish refugee from Iraq, is subject to two conflicting sets of cultural norms and assumptions, particularly with regard to gender and educational expectations. Within her family, she takes a back seat to her brothers; Shukriya’s sense of identity is tied to her role as a future homemaker. At the same time, the school defines her in terms of deficits: a non-literate, non-numerate, non-English speaker in need of “cultural remediation” to become American. Placed in an intervention program for low-performing Middle-Eastern refugee students, Shukriya discovers that literacy is the currency of social status. She begins to use her emergent writing skills for self-promotion and, gradually, affirmation of her membership in both cultures. She re-asserts her identity as a Kurdish female while she also crafts a new identity for herself as a successful student, challenging some of the expectations of her home culture. The article showcases Shukriya’s path to literacy and bicultural competence by interpreting a selection of her writing—produced over the period of one school year—against the backdrop of a body of ethnographic data as well as the broader paradigms of the two cultures in contact.

Keywords

Refugees Cultural adaptation Literacy Identity Gender 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LingworksRenoUSA

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