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Im Tired. You Clean and Cook.

Shifting Gender Identities and Second Language Socialization

Temple University Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Drawing on a multisite ethnographic study that spans educational, domestic, and workplace contexts in the United States and Laos, this article investigates the interplay between gender identity shifts and second language socialization, documenting the process by which working-class Lao women and men redene gender identities in the United States. Lao women in the United States experience increased opportunities for enacting their gender identities through expanded leadership roles and wage labor, but Lao men experience a narrowing of opportunities because they have lost access to traditional sources of power. Language learning both inuences and is inuenced by these changing identities. The author considers the impact of gender identity shifts on access to second language resources, with particular focus on workplace and domestic language events as venues for second language socialization, and discusses implications for ethnographic research on gendered second language socialization. This study highlights the need for ESL practitioners to investigate and address the complexity of the everyday language events in which adult ESL learners are engaged and raises questions regarding how adult ESL classrooms can become spaces for discussing, interpreting, and responding to gendered lives in a new land and a new language.

hifts in gendered cultural practices within the Lao-American community were a familiar topic in the ESL class I taught at the Lao Assistance Center. In a discussion about the gendered division of household tasks, a female student remarked that in the United States, when a Lao wife returns from a long day at the factory, she might tell her husband, Im tired. You clean and cook. She perceived this comment as customary in the United States but unthinkable within a Lao cultural context. The tone of this conversation was light and humorous, with laughter from both male and female students. The deeply divisive nature

TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 38, No. 3, Autumn 2004

of these changes in gendered cultural practice would become apparent to me later, however, when a male student described how he experienced them. His wife now went out at night and had begun openly dating an American-born coworker. Although she told him that she was only following the American way, he mourned the loss of the relationship that he and his wife had in Laos, and he was frustrated and bewildered about the conduct of Lao women in the United States. He told me, She says shes independent. Shes American now. She can do what she wants. I say I dont like that. Sociological research on migration and gender (Foner, 1998, 1999; Haddad & Lam, 1994; Zhou & Nordquist, 1994) has documented similarly dramatic gender identity shifts within many immigrant and refugee communities. Pessars (1984) research with Dominican women in the United States illustrates that the shift to wage labor has resulted in womens greater autonomy and equality within the household (p. 44). Kibrias (1990) study demonstrates the effects of migration on gender identity and power in Vietnamese-American communities, revealing how the relative economic resources of men and women have shifted in the family. Because women in these communities earn money through wage labor and mens jobs are less stable and lower paid in the United States than they were in Vietnam, men cannot support the family with their wages alone, as they had in Vietnam. Ui (1991) calls attention to the Cambodian mens loss of traditional gender roles in the United States, demonstrating that although many tasks traditionally performed by women, such as housework and childcare, have endured in a new setting, Cambodian men have lost many of the traditional status markers. In the United States, they own no land, experience high rates of unemployment, and have no traditional leadership ofce to aspire to. Though one might expect such changes in gender identity to profoundly affect womens access to second language resources, research in TESOL and sociolinguistics has paid little attention to this connection. In fact, many studies have underscored the limitations that women encounter when accessing second language resources, and they have neglected the sociocultural changes that could expand immigrant womens opportunities for second language socialization. Rockhill (1993) offers a case in point. In that study, she documents how acquiring English literacy becomes caught up in the power dynamic between men and women (p. 156) and threatens gendered cultural practices in a Latino immigrant community. Rockhill shows that when women attempt to enter literacy classes, men respond with violence, and she explores how Latinas connement to the domestic sphere (p. 166) limits their opportunities to learn English. Although Rockhill calls attention to the social context of acquiring literacy in English and highlights the challenges faced by immigrant women, the Latinas in her study seem to

experience none of the emancipation discussed in other accounts of immigrant women. Tran and Nguyen (1994) conducted similar research within the Southeast Asian refugee community, and they echo Rockhills nding that women often have few opportunities to learn English. They show that women are less invested in acquiring English because their work is centered in the home, while men consider English necessary for their primary role as economic providers. Though they carefully document the social context of immigrant womens second language literacy, Rockhill (1993) and Tran and Nguyen (1994) neglect the dramatic changes in gender identity that the sociological research highlights. Additionally, these studies portray immigrant women inaccurately as oppressed and conned to the domestic sphere. This notion that immigrant women are oppressed became apparent to me when I mentioned my research topic to ESL teachers, who responded with stories of controlling husbands or boyfriends forcefully preventing women from studying English. Male violence and control do sometimes limit womens access to educational and linguistic resources, and such distressing cases deserve both activist and scholarly attention. TESOL professionals should not assume, however, that these cases reect the experience of all women hoping to acquire English. Such an assumption erases immigrant womens agency by failing to acknowledge their role in changing, modifying, and choosing to accept traditional gender identities in different contexts and by ignoring simultaneous shifts experienced by immigrant men (Bhachu, 1993). Husbands often undergo dramatic identity shifts as their wives enter the wage labor force or receive welfare benets that change the balance of power in the family. In addition to erasing immigrant womens agency, the ESL teachers assumptions promote the inaccurate belief that immigrant women need English language skills only for domestic settings. The study reported here investigated the interplay between gender identity shifts and second language socialization, showing how Lao women and men redene and restructure gender identities in the United States and how language learning both inuences and is inuenced by these changing identities. Watson-Gegeo (1988) suggests that ethnographic work in ESL has redened language learning as language socialization rather than language acquisition. This perspective implies that language is learned through social interaction and refocuses the researchers attention not only on how discrete language skills are acquired, but also on how the larger framework of identity and context enables or limits access to second language resources. My analytical framework is founded on poststructuralist theory, which conceptualizes identity as multiply constructed, contradictory, and uid and posits a mutually constitutive relationship between language and identity (Hall, 1996). This theoretical frame acknowledges that gender is

constructed along with other identity categories such as class, race, and linguistic and cultural background (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 1992). I therefore employ the term gender identity rather than the more static gender role because it conveys the dynamic potential for identity to shift according to context (Davies & Harre, 1990). This ethnographic study of gender identity demonstrates that some Lao women have gained greater economic independence and decision-making power within the family through their access to wage labor and their knowledge of American cultural attitudes, laws, and public benets that allow them to leave abusive or unsatisfactory marriages. English language gives these women access to information about American culture and available resources.

I entered the Lao community in 1994, when I conducted a familyschool discussion group in Philadelphias Southeast Asian community. Pha,1 one of the two Lao women proled in this article, participated in that discussion group. After I assisted Pha with an English language task, she invited me to her home and over baskets of steaming kau niau (sticky rice) and tam mak hung (green papaya salad), she told me stories about her homeland and her dreams and disappointments in the United States. Pha also introduced me to other Lao families, which made me a more familiar presence in the Lao-American community. My own female gender identity also became a salient issue: Because Lao culture frowns on unrelated men and women socializing together, my initial contacts through Pha were Lao women. When I later taught classes at the Lao Temple and a Lao cultural organization, my new identity as a teacher made it more acceptable for me to approach Lao men and talk with them about their experiences in the United States. Formal data collection took place between 1997 and 2000 in an urban, working-class, Lao-American community and in Laos. Ethnographic data collection took place in ve distinct phases. During the rst phase (November 1997May 1998), I observed and interviewed participants at the Lao Temple, a religious and cultural center in the Lao-American community. During the second phase ( June 1998August 1998), I intensively studied Lao language and literacy at the Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute. Phase 3 (September 1998May 1999) involved practitioner research in an ESL/citizenship class for Lao adults. Midway through this course, I selected ve principal participants. Identifying the

1 Names of persons and organizations are pseudonyms. All quoted material is used with permission of research participants.



principal participants began Phase 4 (December 1998September 1999), during which I conducted focused participant observations and interviews in the participants homes, workplaces, and religious institutions. Over the next year, the fth phase (October 1999October 2000), I conducted research in Laos, which allowed me to visit the families of two of the principal participants and to learn more about the cultural differences between Laos and the United States. I conducted audiotaped interviews with research participants in English or with the assistance of a bilingual Lao-English translator, which I translated and transcribed myself. These data collection methods provided a broad and wide-ranging data corpus that enabled me to triangulate data sources. The data corpus contained 35 interview transcripts (15 from the initial interviews with Lao community members and 20 interviews with principal participants); eld notes from participant observation in the Lao Temple, the ESL/ citizenship class, research in Laos, and in the principal participants homes, workplaces, and gathering places; documents from the ESL/ citizenship class, including class lists, lesson plans, student information sheets, student writings, needs assessments, student progress notes, and language use sheets; documents from the research sites, including Temple newsletters and mailings, pamphlets and memos from the Indochinese Assistance Association and the Lao Assistance Center, and letters received by principal participants from the welfare ofce, utility companies, childrens schools, and other institutions. I began the data analysis by searching the data corpus to identify emergent themes and generate empirical assertions and analytical categories (Erickson, 1986). Data were manually coded using colored labels. A written record was kept for each analytic category noting the dates of eld notes or interview transcripts along with a brief description or comment on the event.


Lao refugees were among the nearly one million Southeast Asians from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos who sought refuge in the United States after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. Because of its strategic border with Vietnam, Laos was bombed relentlessly by the United States between 1964 and 1973. The United States dropped a staggering 2,092,900 tons of bombs on Laos during this period, approximately twothirds of a ton for every, man, woman, and child in Laos (Tollefson, 1989, p. 25). Bombing effectively destroyed village life in Laos. The people ed their villages and the farms that had provided their livelihoods to seek refuge in caves or the jungle (Evans, 1998; Stuart-Fox, 1997; Takaki

1989). During this period, approximately 25% of the population became refugees within Laos (Savada, 1994). When the Pathet Lao took power after the war, many Laotians left the country. By the end of the refugee exodus in the 1990s, approximately 305,000 Laotians, more than 10% of the population, had emigrated (Guttal, 1993, p. 3). The refugee exodus has three main waves. The rst and second waves comprised highly educated elites from urban areas who had often worked closely with the U.S. military. Third-wave refugees, the focus of this study, were the largest group. These individuals came from rural areas; they had little money and almost no formal education (Kelly, 1986). Though all refugees experienced the trauma of leaving their homeland, third-wave refugees experienced the greatest hardships because they were the least familiar with Western culture, and their lives as subsistence farmers did not prepare them to live in the urban areas where they relocated. Third-wave immigrants to the United States comprised several ethnic groups, including the Hmong, from the highlands, and the Lowland Lao, the largest population in Laos. This study focuses on the Lowland Lao, whom I refer to as Lao. Third-wave refugees spent many years in Thai refugee camps before entering the United States. The participants in this study spent between 2 and 5 years in refugee camps. Although both mens and womens normal lives were disrupted in the refugee camps, mens roles shifted most dramatically. Womens traditional domestic labor continued in the camps because children needed care, food needed cooking, and clothes needed washing. Lao men, however, who had been subsistence farmers or soldiers, lacked any access to the traditional gender identities that had provided the framework for their lives (Hitchcox, 1993). When they entered the United States, Lao refugees attempted to adjust to an urban landscape that differed radically from the rural villages and rice farms in Laos. To complicate matters, Lao refugees entering Philadelphia encountered a grim labor market. During the 1970s, Philadelphia had lost 11.9% of its jobs. The manufacturing sector was hit hardest, losing 75% of jobs between 1955 and 1975. Like many northeastern cities, Philadelphia lost most of its industry after World War II, and with the loss of industry went stable, unionized jobs. Lao refugees entering the city in the 1980s found employment mainly in metalworking, woodworking, and garment production, nonunion jobs that pay piecework rates and provide no worker benets (Goode, 1994). The tenuous nature of employment for most Lao refugees is reected by their income levels. The median income for Lao households in 1990 was $19,671, well below both the national average and the average for immigrant groups. At that time, more than 40% of Lao households fell below the poverty line, and 44% of Lao households received public assistance (Portes & Rumbaut, 1990).

This article focuses on two principal participants, Pha and Viseth. When Pha entered the United States in 1986, she was 20 years old with a husband and three young children. Pha had received 6 years of formal education in her northern Lao village. During the course of this research, Pha received public assistance. Viseth was 21 when she entered the United States in 1982 and had received 2 years of formal education in Laos. She married a Lao man during her rst year in the United States and later had two children. Viseth worked full-time at Empire Foam, a factory that is proled later in this article. Both women were vibrant and active participants in the ESL class that I taught at the Lao Assistance Center. Pha, who had greater English prociency than her husband, took responsibility for English interactions on behalf of their household. Though Pha did not work outside the home, her interactions with social institutions, related to care for her children and the household, provided her with many opportunities to acquire natural English. Viseth could speak and understand very little English, and we communicated mostly in Lao. Her husband took responsibility for tasks requiring English use because he was more procient. Although Viseth worked full-time, she worked alongside other Lao immigrants and had few opportunities to acquire English. Several researchers (e.g., Goldstein, 2001; Holmes, 1993; & Rockhill, 1993) have examined the workplace as a venue for acquiring English naturalistically and have found that participating in the workforce affords immigrant men more opportunities to acquire English than it does immigrant women. In the working-class Lao-American community that I studied, however, neither men nor women reported a signicant need for English in their agricultural and nonunion factory jobs, where their coworkers are primarily other Southeast Asian refugees. Domestic tasks related to household maintenance and childrearing, tasks more frequently performed by women, often required more contact with native-English speakers and greater prociency in spoken and written English. To discover the gendered opportunities for language socialization, I interviewed Lao women and men in Philadelphia and found that they experienced radically shifting gender identities when they arrived in the United States. I also observed how they used language in the workplace and in the home. These data show that gendered opportunities for language socialization in this working-class Lao community differ in fundamental ways from such opportunities in other immigrant groups, demonstrating the importance of closely examining second language use in specic communities of practice.




Both men and women in this urban Lao community agreed that gender identities have shifted dramatically. As Lao women have acquired English and access to wage work, they have gained greater economic independence and authority in the family. However, although women perceived their access to American gendered cultural practices as enabling them to enact less restrictive gender identities, Lao men experienced these same changes as a loss of authority. Lao womens growing English prociency further erodes male authority because it facilitates womens interactions outside of the Lao community. In the following interview excerpt, Pha talks about how material and cultural resources in the United States make Lao women stronger:
How do women change so much [in the United States]? It doesnt make sense to me. Pha: Um, because in here, is have police, have friends, have, uh, communities, help them about make the, make the woman stronger. D: Huh, thats interesting. Pha: But in Laos, nothing to help them about make them stronger. Only tell her, patient and patient, you is a woman, you is a mother. You have to patient. You cannot do anything except patient. But in here . . . husband work, dont give me money, I can work, too. The companies want me to work, too, right? (Interview 4/21/95)2 D:

Here Pha claries how access to material resources affects womens lives and their ability to refuse the positioning of traditional gender identities. She mentions the importance of police, referring to her previous comment that Lao women learn that they can call the police if they are being beaten by their husbands or boyfriends, a resource not available to women in Laos. She also stresses the importance of friends, communities, and paid work that support women and make them stronger, enabling them to make new choices about how they realize their identities as women in the United States. Pha also describes how Lao women have actively changed Lao gendered cultural practices in the United States using their awareness of American law and their ability to leave a husband and support themselves. In the following quotation, she describes that although Lao men in the United States wanted to continue the Lao practice of polygamy, or taking a second wife, Lao women introduced changes:
2 Interviews were conducted in English. When an interviewee experienced difculty explaining a concept in English, I occasionally translated into Lao for clarication or sought the aid of a translator, often an interviewees friend or family member.



In heres, um, Laos, Laos people, is uh, man, right? Man is, uh, they want to do the same thing, but the woman whos live here long, about 2, 3 years, they know about Americans law. And if husbands go out, have girlfriend or have second wife, something like that, and the wifes at home, they know about husband do like that. They impatient, they go out, too. They have boyfriend, too. If husband say get divorced, they dont care. They get divorced. (Interview 4/21/95)


Lao women in the United States resist the traditional practice of polygamy not only through their awareness of American laws, but also through U.S. cultures less restrictive gender identities. Pha suggests that women might resist polygamy by having an extramarital affair or getting a divorce, options not easily available to women in Laos because of the traditional economic and cultural constraints. Although many Lao women appreciated the expanded gender identities available to them in the United States, they expressed concern about the increasing divorce rates within their community. When Lao men addressed gender shifts in the United States, they also attributed womens greater independence to womens wage labor and their access to American laws and cultural attitudes, but Lao men experienced this shift as a loss of authority within their families and community. In this interview with Nongsay and Sampeth, two Lao men who attended the Lao Temple, they discuss how Lao families and especially Lao women change after they have emigrated to the United States. Nongsay begins by stating his perception of gender identities in Laos: Women come second to men, and wives should listen to their husbands. However, as these men explain, and as they themselves have experienced, Lao women in the United States begin to question these identities:
Girls gotta be second, man be number one. Whatever man say, girl gotta do. Girl over there [in Laos] listen, like a wife. Sampeth: Thats why when they come here, they say, Why? Nongsay: Why, why, I have to listen to husband? Whatever husband say, wife gotta listen and do. Sampeth: Most of Lao people want their wife to stay home. Nongsay: Yeah, like wife always raise the kids and cook. Sampeth: But when they come here, they complain a lot. Nongsay: They come here, they be like a boss. Sampeth: Equality, supposed to be like that. Nongsay: No, they want to be on the top, thats why. Sampeth [laughing]: Women want to be top. Nongsay: Yeah! (Interview 5/31/98) Nongsay:



As Nongsay and Sampeth discuss the changes that occur as Lao men and women transition to new identities, they both emphasize mens ability to control womens actions in Laos and womens acceptance of that control (girl over there listen). Lao women in the United States resist this control and not only wish to be equal to men, but want to be top or to take the position of control from men. English represents both the language of the United States and the medium for accessing U.S. resources and institutions. English is the language Lao women might use to contact the police about an incident of domestic violence or to learn about American laws. The role that English plays in the gender identity shifts experienced in Lao families and the perception of English use by Lao men and women are important to explore. Womens acquisition of English is a complex process because it can erode mens sense of their own authority and change gender identities within the family.

The workplace and domestic spheres in the United States offer Lao women opportunities for second language socialization. Lao womens transition to wage labor in the United States has rendered their contributions to the family economy more visible and changed family decisionmaking practices. Although womens labor in Laos was similarly essential to the family economy, their work planting rice seedlings, hulling rice, and tending kitchen gardens was traditionally considered part of the family income. In the United States, however, Lao women receive income separately from the family in the form of a paycheck or welfare benet. Womens access to wages, either through welfare benets or wage work, changes the gender roles within the Lao family, as Phas earlier comments demonstrate. She describes how a womans access to material resources inuences the degree to which she can assert her inuence within a marriage: Women can leave an abusive marriage and resist the practice of polygamy because they can support themselves independently. Though Lao women have traditionally engaged in domestic labor, Lao women in the United States often negotiate with social institutions on the familys behalf, as these data show, and this advocacy represents a new context for these women. In Laos, especially in the rural areas, men would negotiate for the family with village and provincial authorities. Although the workplace has been heralded as a key site for second language acquisition, these data demonstrate that Lao women negotiating domestic events must use more complex English more frequently than they do in the workplace. Most working-class Lao men and women compete for a fairly small

pool of jobs, almost exclusively unskilled labor in warehouses, factories, and agriculture. The blue-collar jobs available to this studys participants did not require workers to speak or write English. Employers structured the jobs to obviate the need for English language skills, thereby enabling them to employ low-paid immigrant workers. Employers of Lao refugees noted in interviews that they valued job traits such as dependability, regular attendance, punctuality, and ability to perform a repetitive task with continued attention. Lao men and women often worked alongside other Southeast Asian refugees and Spanish-speaking immigrants, and a number of participants reported that they had learned Khmer, Vietnamese, or Spanish on the job to communicate with other workers. Acquiring these languages clearly indicates that they had limited contact with native speakers of English and that they did not see learning English as a useful or acknowledged job skill. For blue-collar Lao workers, English prociency was extraneous to their unskilled jobs but lack of it was a barrier to gaining better-paid employment.

Empire Foam, a factory where Viseth, a principal participant in my research, worked for 4 years, illustrates how superuous English prociency was in doing factory work. Empire employs approximately 100 workers; about half are Spanish speakers, from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and half are Lao workers, but the workforce also includes a few immigrant workers from other countries and a few nativeEnglish speakers. The factory has capitalized on the workers native languages by creating separate work environments for Spanish and Lao speakers. Spanish speakers work on the upper oor, and Lao speakers work on the lower oor. Each oor has a bilingual supervisor who also acts as a translator for the ofce staff, exclusively U.S.-born native-English speakers, and the factory line workers. Approximately 70% of the workers are women and 30% are men. Men usually operate the forklifts and large machines that cut or punch out sponges, or they do heavy lifting and transporting. Although a few women workers operate smaller machines, most work separating newly cut sponges from a large piece of foam and packing them into boxes. Employees who operate machines are paid a higher wage, and those who operate larger, more complicated machines received the highest wages; workers who do heavy labor are also paid more than those who do packing. Because men generally operate the machines, they are paid higher wages; women, who almost without exception packed the boxes, are shunted into lower paying jobs. Factory supervisors clearly conceptualize the jobs as gendered.

In the factory, Spanish-speaking and Lao-speaking employees work on different oors, an arrangement that actively encourages and supports native language use. The largest number of workers (exclusively women) separate individual sponges from the long pieces of foam. They work at very long tables: Six to eight women stand facing each other across the table. This physical layout encourages social interaction. When I participated in one womens work group, they spoke exclusively in Lao, chatting about family and events in the neighborhood and at the Lao Temple. When I interviewed Bill, the oor supervisor, he echoed my own observations that workers spoke only in their native languages. He described the English prociency of Lao workers as about 10 to 20% have good English (this group includes mostly second generation immigrants), 10 to 20% have okay English, and the rest, [their] English is pretty poor. Workers who do not share the same language may communicate using gestures (e.g., gesturing or pointing to a box) or limited English vocabulary focused on work needs (e.g., saying the one word box). Bill also mentioned that a few Lao women had learned some vocabulary words in Spanish because they frequently interacted with Spanish speakers. To communicate with a monolingual English-speaking supervisor, Lao speakers can easily nd a bilingual translator. When one Lao worker needed to communicate with her supervisor but was unable to express herself in English, her son, who also worked at Empire, translated her message. From the employers perspective, the work did not require English language prociency. Although supervisors may have criticized workers for their lack of English prociency, management did not see it as an important issue. Management seemed to conceptualize language diversity as a problem to be solved and once they found the right organization (e.g., native-speaking work groups), they did not consider it an impediment to work. Work at this factory also required minimal English literacy skills. For the groups of women lling boxes, one woman in each six to eight person crew must count the sponges, record the number on the box, and write her initials. Because only one woman within a crew is responsible for this task, a woman who cannot perform it can easily avoid it. Though workers do not need English literacy to work in the factory, they do need it to access information on safety or workers rights information. Safety signs in Spanish and English were posted throughout the factory, but there were no signs in Lao. Workers rights information in Spanish and English was posted on a bulletin board, but it was not translated for Lao workers. English is perhaps most useful for advocating for oneself in the factory. Viseth told me that she used her English skills to request a lifting belt, a wide leather belt that supports the back when doing heavy lifting,



when she began having back pain from lifting large pieces of foam. She communicated her request to her employer, who issued her a lifting belt. Empire Foam comprises a number of separate worlds: one for nativeEnglish-speaking workers in the ofce, one for bilingual or monolingual immigrants, one for Puerto Ricans, and one for Lao; one for women and one for men. Neither male nor female immigrant workers at Empire had access to naturalistic English acquisition, and they had few opportunities for advancement or promotion. Female workers were particularly disadvantaged because they earned the lowest salaries. Holmes (1993), Rockhill (1987; 1993), and other researchers have indicated that immigrant men have more opportunities to acquire a second language through their everyday interactions in the workplace, while immigrant women have fewer opportunities because they more often work in the home. Goldstein (1995, 2001) demonstrated that Portuguese men entering Canada with some prociency in English more easily obtained relatively high-paying jobs working with other English speakers, which helped them to acquire English naturally. Portuguese women had fewer opportunities to acquire English naturally because they worked primarily with other monolingual Portuguese speakers. For members of the working-class Lao community employed at Empire Foam, however, access to English language socialization in the workplace was limited for both female and male workers. Instead, domestic language events, dened as interactions with social institutions connected to care for children and the home, emerged as the most frequent opportunity for second language socialization.


Pha took responsibility for English domestic language events on behalf of her family, including interacting with school personnel, dealing with bills, and negotiating with the English-speaking landlord. Because Pha did not work outside the home and took responsibility for childcare, she had more opportunities to speak English than her husband, who worked full-time at a clam processing plant with other Southeast Asian refugees. Throughout the years that I knew Pha, she most frequently used English in interactions involving her sons welfare. I accompanied her to a number of her sons court hearings and visits to her son at the youth detention center, where he was placed after having been convicted of a crime. Phas interactions in these situations required her to understand many different varieties and registers of English. For example, going to court required her to talk with a lawyer, to understand the intricacies of



her sons case, to understand questions from the judge about the boys character and attendance at school, and to understand the frequent court delays in his case. Communicating with the guards and visitors at the youth detention center, most of whom were African American and many of whom spoke African-American Vernacular English, required Pha to understand a very different register. Pha and the other women were also more willing than men to ask a native-English speaker for help, another important factor that contributed to womens greater access to acquiring natural language. During this study, Pha asked me to help her complete a task that was beyond her level of English prociency. Asking for help can threaten face, so for a Lao woman to request help may be more culturally appropriate than for a Lao man. Gnthners (1992) study of Chinese students German acquisition substantiates this notion. Her study demonstrated that women were far more likely than men to ask native speakers for help on a language task; to save face, the men attempted to cope with these language problems themselves. For a Lao man to ask for help with language in a domestic matter would suggest that he cannot handle family affairs independently. Moreover, those most readily available to help him, such as ESL teachers or social workers, would likely be women and that would only increase the requests threat to face, making him even less likely to ask for assistance. Two domestic language events demonstrated Phas responsibility for English language interactions on behalf of her family. The rst is selling the family car, which required Pha to receive phone calls and negotiate with native-English speakers. When Phas husband decided to sell his car and posted an ad in the paper, Pha, who knows little about cars and cannot drive, assumed the responsibility for receiving the many phone calls in response to the ad because she was home during the day while her husband worked. To prepare for these calls, she studied the vocabulary about cars that she might use by looking up the words in a picture dictionary. Although Pha had studied the vocabulary, she had difculty with the idioms and phrases necessary to communicate effectively and sell the car. After class one evening, she asked me whether she could use the phrase, What do you bid?, which I had used in class the previous week, to begin negotiating the price with a potential buyer. When I explained that this phrase would imply that the car did not have a set price, she asked for a list of common phrases used in negotiation. As we made a list including, What are you asking for the car? The price is negotiable. The price is not rm. Im willing to take a little off the price, I realized the difculty of this exchange and the extent to which it challenged her English ability. Pha had taken on this task not because of her English prociency but because she did not work outside the home and was at

home during the day caring for her child. Although she might have preferred that her son or husband handle these calls, their work obligations precluded them from doing so. Hence, Phas presence at home did not limit her second language socialization but in fact increased it because she was the only person available during the day to perform English communication tasks. The second incident involved her efforts to retain the family apartment after the landlord declared bankruptcy. In October 1998 Pha told me that she had received a notice from her landlords lawyer that she did not fully understand. The letter notied her that her landlord had declared bankruptcy. Because the family had a month-to-month lease, the landlords bankruptcy meant that they might have to move out with only a months notice. Pha was worried about having to move because the rent was very inexpensive and her husband had done many repairs to improve the apartment. She had talked with the other tenants in her building, all Cambodian and Lao families, who indicated that they were planning to vacate their apartments immediately. Anticipating the need to move quickly, Pha had spent many days searching for another apartment but found them all too expensive. She asked me to contact the landlords lawyer to inquire whether she and the other tenants could stay in the apartment. The following excerpt from my eld notes describes the information I gathered in these calls:
I called the lawyer and Community Legal Services to inquire about her rights in this situation. Then I called to tell Pha of my conversation with Community Legal Services and to tell her that I had found out that she may not need to move at all and if she does, she could petition the court for more time. I talked with the landlords lawyer and found that a trustee had been appointed and he would soon be making an inspection of the house in order to assess the propertys value. After this assessment, he would decide a course of action: keep with present landlord, sell it, or abandon the property. When I told him that I was calling on behalf of a Lao family who didnt speak English well, he said he understood that was true of all families in house and that perhaps if they spoke more English, they could have negotiated a longer lease which would have provided them with more protection in this situation. (Gordon, eld notes, 10/27/98)

When I called Pha to tell her about these developments, our conversation demonstrated the complexity of the language necessary to convey this information. The situation required an understanding of complex sentences, hypotheticals, and specic vocabulary. For example, Pha had difculty understanding such complex sentences as The person at Community Legal Services said you may not have to move, and if you do, you could petition the court to stay longer. and The lawyer told me that the trustee will inspect the property and decide whether the landlord will

keep it, the trustee will keep it, or it will be abandoned. The lawyers comment that the families might have been able to negotiate a longer lease had they been able to speak English, though perhaps accurate, ignores the complex demands of this language situation, the time and effort necessary for successful second language acquisition, and the fact that a lease is an unfamiliar notion in rural Lao culture. This incident demonstrates Phas responsibility for dealing with this English language task as a result of her greater English prociency, her having the time to devote to this task, and her willingness to ask for help from a nativeEnglish speaker. This situation also indicates how the familys well-being depends on at least one family members ability to communicate in English or to obtain help from someone who can. The incidents involving selling the car and dealing with the bankrupt landlord demonstrate that some domestic tasks require English use and that these tasks increased Phas opportunity for second language socialization. These data contradict researchers assertions that womens presence in the home limits their ability to acquire English (Goldstein, 2001; Holmes, 1993; Rockhill, 1993). Phas responsibility for tasks related to the domestic sphere required her to use much more complex English than Viseths interactions did at Empire Foam. Though increased opportunity for second language socialization may not directly lead to greater second language prociency, examination of interview excerpts collected during 2 years of interviewing and closely observing the two women indicate that Phas language developed both syntactically and pragmatically while Viseths language demonstrated little change. Pierces (1995) work with immigrant women in Canada underscores the importance of considering both the language learners exposure to the target language and his or her investment in using these opportunities to communicate using the target language. The ndings reported in this article suggest the need for further study into how shifts in gender identity inuence second language socialization, especially for workingclass immigrants and refugees, groups that have received little attention in the eld of language and gender.

The ndings in this study have implications for research on gendered second language socialization within and outside ESL classrooms and on gendered topics and issues in ESL text and curriculum choices. Second language acquisition research does not typically examine language acquisition as a social phenomenon inuenced by mens and womens different positions vis--vis social, economic, and political changes.



Ethnography can augment research on learning a second language by providing holistic and detailed descriptions of the gendered social context. Closely exploring gendered language use in the home and the workplace provided complementary data for each context. Findings showed that domestic language events required more complex patterns of English use than the workplace did. Investigating the home context yielded insight into how English prociency and English use altered the gender roles within families and how men and women perceived these changes. Because identity is multiply constructed and uid, ethnographers and ESL practitioners need to investigate multiple contexts to gain a richer picture of second language socialization. Although this study focused on women, the research also demonstrated that Lao refugee mens gender identities shift dramatically during migration. Identity theorists have begun to investigate masculinity itself as a constructed identity category rather than as an accepted norm against which to analyze femininity. However, few studies have explored the connections between masculine identity and language use, and further research is needed in this area, particularly concerning men of diverse ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels (Pujolar i Cos, 1997; Teutsch-Dwyer, 2001). This study suggests that both researchers and ESL practitioners should explore multiple language needs, purposes, contexts, and topics among participants and language learners. ESL textbooks do not commonly cover the contexts in which this studys participants often required English, such as the legal system. On the other hand, ESL textbooks commonly cover contexts in which the participants more often communicated in their rst language, such as the workplace. This disconnect between language learners actual goals and the goals that textbook authors ascribe to them indicates that learners goals need to be assessed locally because these goals may differ between communities with differing socioeconomic backgrounds and bilingual support. This studys principal participants used English primarily to negotiate within social institutions. Phas experience using English to negotiate a new apartment and guide her son through the court system indicate how crucial these interactions are to a familys well-being. The complexity of these interactions suggests that these agencies need to provide bilingual support. The prevalence of these interactions indicates that ESL texts need to address not only the interactions language-learning aspect, but also to provide guidance for immigrants negotiating these complicated, and often confusing, systems. ESL textbooks (Wallerstein & Auerbach, 1987; Weinstein-Shr, 1992) and frameworks for curriculum development (Auerbach, 1992; 1995; Nash, Cason, Rhum, McGrail, & Gomez-Sanford,



1992; Weinstein, 1999), which focus on participatory activities and problem-posing methods, are a resource for ESL practitioners who wish to center classroom activities on the lives of their learners. In addition to addressing the real language needs and purposes of immigrants, the ndings regarding the dramatic changes occurring within immigrant families and communities present a challenge to ESL teachers and administrators: How can ESL classes become venues where immigrants and refugees can consider the shifts in gendered cultural practices that they experience in their families and communities? Norton (1997) discusses the tendency of many ESL teachers to perceive learners ethnic identity as predominant while ignoring the new cultural milieus inuence on their identity. She writes, Whereas immigrant learners experiences in their native country may be a signicant part of their identity, these experiences are constantly being mediated by their experiences in the new country, across multiple sites in the home, workplace, and community (p. 413). As this study shows, although Lao traditional gendered cultural practices are an important part of Lao womens identities, so too are these womens active negotiation and creation of identities through their experiences during migration, and in their workplaces, homes, and religious institutions in the United States. Many ESL texts consider the experiences of new immigrants and may discuss reactions to new foods and new settings. Yet ESL materials and classroom practices often fail to address the deeply felt cultural adjustments that long-term immigrants experience. ESL learners who attend classes for many years after having come to the United States are often experiencing cultural change on a very different level than those who are newly arrived. This article has closely examined the interplay between second language socialization and shifts in gender identity within a specic community of practice, a group of working-class Lao refugee women. Previous research in language and gender has demonstrated the importance of investigating the local construction of gender identities rather than generalizing across communities and contexts. Although one must use caution in extending the results of this research to other immigrant or refugee communities, this study raises questions and possibilities for future research in other communities and ESL classrooms: How do shifts in gender identities create new opportunities for women and men to access second language resources? How does second language socialization affect the formation of gender identity? How can ESL practitioners investigate cultural notions of masculinity and femininity in their classrooms? How can ESL learners document the process of shifting gender identities that affects their families and communities? I trust that future studies will investigate specic, local forms of gender, offering insight into how second language socialization inuences gender identities and

ideologies, thereby contributing to the undoing of a single unied tale of language and gender(Bucholtz, 1999, p. viii).
Daryl Gordon has worked with adult ESL learners since 1988, teaching in Laos, Mexico, and the United States. She is assistant director of Project SHINE at Temple Universitys Center for Intergenerational Learning and an adjunct professor in Temple Universitys TESOL program. She completed her doctoral work in educational linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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