Performing Bilingualism: An Ethnographic Analysis of Discursive Practices at a Day Labor Center in the Southwest
AuthorDuBord, Elise M.
AdvisorCarvalho, Ana Maria
Committee ChairCarvalho, Ana Maria
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis ethnographic research examines the social implications of the ethnolinguistic contact that occurs in the U.S.-Mexico border region at a day labor center in Tucson, Arizona. I discuss the multiple values of English and Spanish in this setting and how individuals interpret and negotiate these values in the construction and performance of identity. More specifically, I analyze how discourses of linguistic capital shape the organization of this community and influence the dynamics of employment negotiations. The research setting includes immigrant day laborers (primarily from Mexico and Central America), employers who contract workers, and bilingual volunteers who act as language brokers between workers and their employers; all of whom use language to interactively negotiate their social status as they construct identities vis-à-vis other members of the community. My analysis reveals a discourse that places a high level of linguistic capital on Spanish-English bilingualism in the economic market. Although I have not found evidence that this linguistic capital has a real exchange rate into dollars, my data demonstrates that immigrants rapidly acquire and contribute to this locally constructed discourse. I explore the techniques that workers use to exploit and promote their language abilities through ‘performances’ of bilingualism that are realized not only to secure employment, but also for social positioning within this community of practice. Language, then, is one of the many tools that both workers and employers use in the construction of interpersonal relationships and social hierarchies. In addition, I analyze gatekeeping encounters focusing on the rapid employment negotiations that occur between day laborers and their employers, building on previous research with regard to the concepts of rapport, co-membership, and the presentation of an institutional self. Finally, I propose a model for the study of intercultural communication and contact that reflects the dynamic nature of contact and the complexity of overlapping categories of identity. Identity formation is a multiplex and multidirectional social construction that necessitates pushing beyond binary models of intercultural communication. Identity construction is informed not only by face-to-face interlocutors, but also by the linguistic ecology of dominant and subordinate discourses and the imagined individual and collective interlocutors they evoke.