“I'm tired. You clean and cook.”: Shifting gender identities and language socialization in a Lao -American community

Daryl Marie Gordon, University of Pennsylvania


Findings in this ethnographic study of the Philadelphia Lao-American community echo sociological research (Pessar 1995; Foner 1998, 1999; Zhou and Nordquist 1994) which documents gender identity shifts in immigrant families as women gain greater autonomy and equality in the household. While these changes may have profound effects on women's access to second language resources, this connection has received little research attention in the field of sociolinguistics. This study examines the experiences of Lao women in an urban, working class community, investigating the interplay between gender identity shifts and second language socialization. Research findings concern three main themes: changing gender identities in the U.S.; women's access to English language socialization; and the formation of language ideologies. Lao women have gained greater economic independence and decision-making power within the family as a result of access to wage labor and knowledge of American cultural attitudes, laws and public benefits. English acquisition is a significant avenue through which women gain access to information about American culture and available resources. Concerning the second research finding regarding women's access to second language socialization, several researchers (Goldstein 2001; Holmes 1999; and Rockhill 1993) have demonstrated that immigrant women have limited access to English language socialization, while men have greater opportunities for naturalistic second language acquisition through workforce participation. In this working class Lao-American community, however, neither male nor female workers report significant use of English, as their coworkers are primarily other Southeast-Asian refugees. However, domestic language events connected to care of children and the home, tasks more frequently performed by women, often required more contact with native English speakers. The third research finding demonstrates how changing gender identities contribute to the formation of language ideologies. While Lao women experience expanded opportunities for enacting their gendered identities in the U.S., Lao men often experience a narrowing of opportunities, having lost traditional sources of power and the ability to be the sole economic supporter of the family. The development of language ideologies, specifically the belief that men are more proficient English speakers than women, play an important part in men's attempt to mitigate this loss of status.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Womens studies|Folklore

Recommended Citation

Gordon, Daryl Marie, "“I'm tired. You clean and cook.”: Shifting gender identities and language socialization in a Lao -American community" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3109180.