FROM MOUNTAINTOPS TO CITY STREETS: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATION OF LITERACY AND SOCIAL PROCESS AMONG THE HMONG OF PHILADELPHIA (LAOS)

GAIL WEINSTEIN-SHR, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Since 1975, approximately 60,000 Hmong refugees from Laos have been resettled in the United States. Once subsistence farmers in the hills of Southeast Asia, the Hmong have extremely strong clan structures, but little experience with literacy. The arrival of the Hmong in the United States provides an opportunity to learn about the interaction of two kinds of social resources as these survivors adapt to their new circumstances. Scholars from many fields have contributed to models that are useful in exploring this question. Certain historians, psychologists and educators have challenged the widely held notion that literacy is directly linked to individual or societal development. One result has been a new way of looking at literacy in terms of its functions and uses in the lives of specific people. Some anthropologists interested in social organization have shifted their focus away from static classificatory systems in rural societies to flexible networks of relationships that may or may not be activated in rural as well as urban settings. These ways of describing social reality have made it possible to look at interactive processes, and therefore at lives that are undergoing change. This study explores the relationship of literacy and social process by examining Hmong adaptation strategies ethnographically. Specifically, it investigates patterns of kinship structure and social uses of these structures, as well as the meanings and uses of literacy for the Hmong. The purpose is to gain insight into how these two social resources affect and modify each other, by examining how they interact to affect survival and adaptation of the Hmong in Philadelphia. Results of a community profile, as well as in-depth portraits of three individuals are used to explore the relationship of literacy and social process. Recommendations are made for educational policy and practice that encourage efficient use of external resources and transition to self-sufficiency for non-literate adults.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

WEINSTEIN-SHR, GAIL, "FROM MOUNTAINTOPS TO CITY STREETS: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATION OF LITERACY AND SOCIAL PROCESS AMONG THE HMONG OF PHILADELPHIA (LAOS)" (1986). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8703287.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI8703287

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