English matters? Undocumented Mexican transmigration and the negotiation of language and identities in a global economy
KeywordsEducation, Bilingual and Multicultural.
Education, Sociology of.
Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies.
AdvisorMcCarty, Teresa L.
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.
AbstractDoes learning English help undocumented Mexican transmigrants get better jobs in the United States? In this transborder ethnography, I worked with three households of undocumented people in Tucson, Arizona and traveled to their hometowns in Mexico, to better understand the context of their migration. For these migrants, speaking English did not lead to better jobs. Some employers tried to prevent them from learning English. Others were fired for using English to complain about unpaid wages. One person who was fired was replaced by a monolingual Spanish speaker. Many Americans think that all immigrants must learn English, and this discourse is common, both in the political and educational arenas. However, this study demonstrates that alongside this social discourse, there is a parallel economic discourse, urging the production of docile workers. Docility means not speaking English. Despite these findings, the discourse of "learning English in order to find better work" is a persistent one among the undocumented. I traced its origins and found that it begins shortly after a migrant arrives in the U.S. If English did not lead to better jobs, why did migrants learn it? For some people, it was because English helped them perform the identity of a U.S. citizen. They used self-consciously constructed semiotic and linguistic performances to appear Chicano/a, and these performances lessened their anxiety about deportation. For others, English was a conflicted symbol. Although it was a symbol of wealth, and therefore desirable, using it in public could easily reveal one's legal status to the wrong interlocutor. There are significant obstacles to the use of English among undocumented Mexican transmigrants, and language use is essential for language mastery. This study encourages those who teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to understand the social structures that impact their students' language use. With implications for education, border, and immigration policy, this study sheds light on the lived experiences of undocumented migrants and brings language and language use into conversations about globalization. Understanding transmigrants' experiences and ideologies offers a new lens to theorizing social inequality and human agency, and ultimately, to creating more humane borders.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Language, Reading & Culture