A Photo-Narrative of the Sociolinguistic and Sociocultural Identities of a Refugee Adolescent: Through His Eyes

A Photo-Narrative of the Sociolinguistic and Sociocultural Identities of a Refugee Adolescent: Through His Eyes

Alex P. Davies (Portland State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7473-6.ch012
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One's linguistic discourse is directly linked to his or her identity construction. The author conducted a qualitative study that investigated the sociolinguistic and sociocultural identities, both current and imagined, of a newly arrived adolescent of refugee status, named Yerodin, through a photo-narrative approach. Yerodin was unique in that he was 11 years old when he arrived to the United States but did not have any prior formalized schooling. Therefore, he was illiterate in both his first language of Swahili and second language of English. This study took place during a summer school program that sought to develop Yerodin and his siblings' literacy skills before the upcoming school year. Findings illustrated Yerodin's current identity as one who appreciated his experiences in the refugee camp prior to resettlement and as an English learner. Furthermore, Yerodin realized that English, his second language, and academics were key to accessing his desired communities of identity, including aspects of American culture and friendships with “American peers.”
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According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR; 2017a), the total number of persons of concern increased by 5.4 percent from 2016, worldwide. It should be noted that UNHCR has also referred to persons of concern as forcibly displaced from their homes due to “persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations” (UNHCR, 2016b, p. 2). The International Committee of the Red Cross (2010) considered a person who has been displaced as having left their home(s) due to violence or life threatening conditions but who, however, may still reside in their home country. Thus, the total population of persons of concern increased from 67.7 million in January 2017 to 71.44 million in December 2017 (UNHCR, 2017a). Of this figure, 19,941,347 individuals were considered to be refugees (UNHCR, 2017b). Even though the majority of refugees receive support from their new host country, a small portion of refugees will resettle to a third country (U.S. Department of State, 2015a). The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Article 1A(2)) defined a refugee as having:

A well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 2016).

Since 1975, more than 3 million refugees have resettled amongst all 50 states throughout the United States (U.S. Department of State, 2014). In May 2016, UNHCR (2016a) reported that 274,088 individuals held refugee status in the United States. In a published report by the U.S. Department of State (2017), the United States admitted 84,994 individuals with refugee status during the fiscal year of 2016. However, since the Trump administration took office, immigration to the United States saw an overall decline. This declination extended to individuals with refugee status at 53,716 during fiscal year of 2017 (U.S. Department of State, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Host Country: The country of which a person of refugee status has resettled.

English Learner (EL): A student who is learn English and whose first language is a language other than English.

L2 Imagined Identity: A desired identity that is constructed by a person’s L2 learning experiences but is not yet assumed by that individual.

Imagined Community: A community or group that a person seeks to gain access or membership.

Refugee: A person who has fled from his or her country or region of residence to escape a life-threatening conflict or persecution.

Newly Arrived Refugee: A person of refugee status who has recently resettled to a host country for less than one calendar year.

Identity: The characteristics and perceptions of self that a person holds of him or herself. This also includes the characteristics and perceptions of self that a person wants the world to see him or herself as.

L2 Imagined Community: A community or group that a person seeks to gain access or membership but does not yet have it due to his or her L2.

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