AT HOME OR AN “OTHER” IN THE U.S.: TAIWANESE IMMIGRANT WOMEN’S AMBIVALENCE, RESISTANCE, AND BORDER CROSSING

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AT HOME OR AN “OTHER” IN THE U.S.: TAIWANESE IMMIGRANT WOMEN’S AMBIVALENCE, RESISTANCE, AND BORDER CROSSING

ABSTRACT

This thesis presents the stories of five Taiwanese, immigrant, middle-class women and their border crossing, resistance, and ambivalence which evolved as they acquired English as a second language in the context of the United States. Rapeseeds were carried by the wind to many places and I adopt that image as a metaphor to symbolize how these women came to be in the

U.S. either by their choice or following their husbands. During this one-year qualitative research, I conducted ethnographic interviews to analyze individuals’ histories and their personal stories. I used narrative methodology to gain insight into the meanings of their life experiences, especially to understand the impact of the particular experience of uprootedness on their concepts of “home” and identity development as they transitioned from being dependent to independent while learning English in the U.S. These personal narratives illustrate the significance of sociohistoric circumstances influencing people. This study also reveals how social empowerment and acquisition of the English language reshaped these women’s relationships with their husbands, children and mothers. All of these women transformed from primarily dependent beings into not only independent but empowered women due to English language learning. This research analyzes how power, both gained and lost in the process of learning English as well as maintaining Mandarin, becomes a central feature of these women as they encounter challenges and gain independence and confidence. Acknowledging Chinese cultural heritage, I reveal the importance of Taiwan’s modern history beginning in 1895, and in particular how the Chinese civil war affected language practices, created identity crises, and led to the final home choices of Taiwan and the U.S. Furthermore, rather than “reporting” women’s perspectives and life experiences, this research goes beyond the superficial to identify any contradictions in the conversations. I adopt the Chinese fable of the Shield and the Spear as a metaphor to describe the inconsistencies in the narratives which indicate multi-layered negotiations of their identities. Finally, this study reflects on the insider/outsider status between myself as the researcher and the researched participants. I employ the methodology of reflexivity as I examine the shift in power relations during the long interview process and the interactions which empowered both myself and the participants, allowing us to discover and reshape our multiple identities in meaningful ways.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

LIST OF TABLES……………………………………………………………………………………………………….  xi

                         

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT……………………………………………………………………. xii

 

Chapter 1: Introduction……………………………………………………………………….. 1

A Brief History of Immigration: a Transforming Landscape…………………………………………. 2

The First Waves: European Immigration to the United States…………………………… 3

The Second Waves: Asian Immigration to the United States……………………………. 4                           The Significance of Taiwanese Immigration……………………………………………… 5

English Only? The Challenge of Language Acquisition……………………………………… 7

Purpose of This Research…………………………………………………………………….. 8                    Research Questions………………………………………………………………………….. 10

Chapter Descriptions………………………………………………………………………… 12

 

Chapter 2: Literature Review………………………………………………………………… . 15

The Dynamic Relationship between Language and Identity: Sociocultural Theory…….     15                     Language and Identity Formation in Terms of Poststructuralist Theories…………………  20

Postmodernism…………………………………………………………………………  20    Poststructuralism……………………………………………………………………….  21   A General View of Immigration……………………………………………………………  25    Women’s Roles and Experiences in Immigration………………………………………  28

New Immigrants—Taiwanese Immigrants…………………………………………….  30                          History of Taiwanese Immigration…………………………………………………….  31                          Three Categories of Taiwanese Immigrants in the U.S………………………………..  34                                      First category: Professionals………………………………………………………..  34

Second category: Investors…………………………………………………………  34

The Third group: Transnational families……………………………………………  35     Women’s stories in transnational families………………………………………  36

 

Chapter 3: Methodology……………………………………………………………………… 39  

Data Collection……………………………………………………………………………..  39

Ethnographic Feminist Interviews: An Overview………………………………………  39   The Details of Each Meeting……………………………………………………………  40   Selection of Study Participants…………………………………………………………  42   Rapport: Start to Build Trust with Participants………………………………………… 47  Data Gathering………………………………………………………………………………  49   Language in Interview—Mandarin…………………………………………………….. 49     Audiotaping…………………………………………………………………………….  50

Field Notes, Reflections………………………………………………………………… 50 Data Analysis……………………………………………………………………………….  51

Important Concepts: Narrative Research……………………………………………….  51

Data Analysis Stages……………………………………………………………………….  53

The First Stage of Analysis–Transcription of the Audiotapes in Mandarin……………  54

The Second Stage of Data Analysis—Typed into Traditional Mandarin………………  56 The Third Stage of Data Analysis—Summary Storylines………………………………  57 The Forth Stage of Analysis—Find Key Themes, Topics by Reading Transcriptions…  57 The Fifth Stage of Analysis—Connection, Differences in Each Woman………………  59

The Sixth Stage of Data Analysis—Conclusion………………………………………..  60 Important Concept to This Thesis: Truth and Reflexivity…………………………………  60

Truth……………………………………………………………………………………  60

Reflexivity……………………………………………………………………………..  61

 

Chapter 4: Profiles of the Five Taiwanese Women…………………………………………. 63  Personal Information……………………………………………………………………  64

Jane: An Uneasy Journey to Get a Master’s Degree…………………………………… 64                          Mei: Transnational Family, Living Separately from Her husband……………………..  66                          Lily: Intermarriage with an American………………………………………………….  69                          Kelly: A Book of Chinese History……………………………………………………… 73

Sharon: Influenced by Japan Colonization and Taiwanese Independence…………….  76

 

Chapter 5:Creating a “New Way of Life:” Lily, Sharon, Kelly, Mei and Jane 

as English  Learners in the U.S.…………………………………………………. 80  油麻菜籽 Rapeseeds, the Metaphor of Rapeseeds………………………………………… ..82                      Rapeseeds Fall in the U.S.: Their New Environment in the U.S………………………. ..84

Lily: I chose to leave Taiwan………………………………………………………. 85

Kelly: Stay with husband after finding a job in the U.S……………………………  86                                      Jane: Coming to the U.S. without knowing why……………………………………  87                                      Mei’s reason for staying: Son’s allergy kept me stay………………………………  89                                      Sharon’s story: America was not our first choice…………………………………..  91

The Rapeseeds: Where am I?……………………………………………………………………………………. 93

Their First Impressions and First Lives in the U.S……………………………………..  93                                      Sharon: Shock by the U.S…………………………………………………………..  93

Kelly: What a horrible life!……………………………………………………………………………. 93                                      Lily: America is so great!………………………………………………………………………………  95

Mei: Kids, kids, kids………………………………………………………………..  96

Jane: Do I have choice?…………………………………………………………………………………  96

Kelly: Hardships just began…………………………………………………………  97                                      Sharon: I was stuck at home………………………………………………………..  97                          Lacking Family Support………………………………………………………………..  98                                      I made tofu by myself………………………………………………………………  98                          Lacking Family Support………………………………………………………………..  99                                      Jane: I had no one to help me………………………………………………………. 99                          My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 100

One Person Two Cultures: English Language—Learning Experiences…………………… 103     The Role Language Plays in Learning Theories……………………………………….. 104      Language-Learning for Second Language Learners…………………………………… 105

Language-Learning and Use within Schools………………………………………………. 107

Mei, Lily, Sharon, Kelly and Jane’s Experiences Learning English in Taiwan……….. 107 Experiences Learning English in U.S. Schools………………………………………… 109

Americanization……………………………………………………………………. 109 My Reflections………………………………………………………………………… 111

Kelly’s beginning school experiences: Learn with children from a superintendent.. 112

Kelly’s college class experiences…………………………………………………… 113     My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 114

Jane’s school learning: I don’t want to be a mom and a servant only……………… 115

Jane’s horrible experiences with school…………………………………………… 117                   My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 118

Learning English: Experiences outside of School…………………………………………. 121                   Sharon’s First Temporary Job: I need to Go out to Learn English…………………….. 121

Learning English at an American Church: I begin to Talk in English!……………………… 123                          Jane’s Learning Experiences in an American Church: I went to Church for fun……… 124

Mei’s Story of Church Cooking Class: I Learned American Cultures………………… 125

Kelly’s Feelings toward American Church Classes: Too Easy………………………… 125                          Kelly: American Church Friends are My Teachers……………………………………. 126

My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 128

The Other Activities for Learning English…………………………………………….. 129

TV programs……………………………………………………………………….. 129

Learning another culture during children’s school activities………………………. 129                                      Public services: Libraries or dramas are fun……………………………………….. 130

My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 130              Workplaces, New Identities………………………………………………………………… 131                   Jane: Americans Treated Me Different………………………………………………… 131                        Jane’s Interview Experiences: This is What I am Afraid of…………………………… 135                         Lily’s Work Experiences: I could do Something Different……………………………. 137                                    Lily’s Work Environment: I was being Discriminated Against…………………… 138                               Lily’s Turning Point: I could Open My own Company……………………………. 140                  Mei’s Work: I am Lucky………………………………………………………………. 141

Kelly’s Working at the Chinese Restaurant: I passed through it All…………………… 143

 

Chapter 6: Complicated Power: English Language-learning and Identity Negotiation…. 146

The Development of Identity from the Perspective of Language Theories………………… 149              Identity Development from Feminist perspectives………………………………………… 150

Identity Crisis………………………………………………………………………….. 151  Power Relations……………………………………………………………………………. 152

Domestic Empowerment and Negotiations: Transforming the Woman’s Role…………… 154                   Sharon’s Journey: Empowerment and Partnership…………………………………….. 155                        Sharon: I Have to Stay Here for My Husband………………………………………… 156                         Sharon: Becoming a Major Decision Maker…………………………………………… 157

Sharon: I Refused to Let My Husband Become a Governor…………………………… 159              Jane’s Relationship with Her Husband Gradually Changed and Transformed………… 159                         School experience changed Jane’s relationship with her husband………………… 162

Her Reflections: I was So Stupid………………………………………………………. 164 My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 165 Mei’s Physical Separation from Her Husband: I am Very Strong Now……………….. 166 Mei’s Identity Develops: I Have to be Independent…………………………………… 168 Mei: I Want My Son to be a Doctor…………………………………………………… 168 Mei: If Dad is Here……………………………………………………………………. 170

My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 170

Mei: It is My Choice to Continue Staying Here……………………………………….. 171

Mei: Life is Going on!……………………………………………………………………………………….. 172

Kelly: Dependent Wife to a Strong Mother……………………………………………. 172                        Kelly’s Turning Point: I Have to be Strong after He Died…………………………….. 174                         Lily: My Changes Started after Getting Married………………………………………. 175                        Lily: I Want a Family…………………………………………………………………… 177                        My Reflections: Language Matters…………………………………………………….. 178

Negotiating Two Languages: The Relationships between Mothers and Children………… 181              Home Language Struggles—Mandarin v.s. English………………………………………..182                   Mei’s Story: I am a Busy, Sacrificed Mother………………………………………….. 184

My Reflections: Where is the Daughter?………………………………………………………………. 185

Mei: Sacrifice for My Son as much as I could………………………………………….186                          Mei’s Progress of Having her Power Back…………………………………………….. 187                          Mei: 甜蜜的負擔 My Children are My Bittersweet Burden…………………………… 190

My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 191

Sharon: My English was not Improved Because of Children………………………….. 192                          Lily: I was Teased by My Daughters…………………………………………………… 193                          My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 195

Kelly’s power Relations with Children: I am Proud of My Son who is a Doctor……… 197

Doctor, doctor……………………………………………………………………… 197

Kelly: I could Learn English from Children…………………………………………… 198

My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 200

Jane’s Relationship with Her Children: They Felt My English was Strange………….. 200

My Reflections…………………………………………………………………………. 202

My Story about Speaking Mandarin and Taiwanese…………………………………… 203                          My Dilemmas of Teaching Two Languages…………………………………………… 206  嫁出去的女兒潑出去的水: A Daughter Who Got Married, Became a Water which was

Poured……………………………………………………………………………………. 209

Sharon: I could not even See My Mother after She Died……………………………… 210                          Mei, Jane: I would like to Take Care of My Mother, but I couldn’t…………………… 212                          Kelly: Sending Money is My Only Way to Make Up to My Mother………………….. 213

 

Chapter 7: Where is Our Home? The Importance of the Past in Reshaping the 

     Final Choice of Home…………………………………………………………………………………………… 217

Timeline……………………………………………………………………………………. 221

Japanese Colonization of Taiwan, 1895-1945…………………………………………….. 223  Japanese Rule and the Japanese National Language (1895-1945)…………………….. 224

KMT Rule (1949-2000)……………………………………………………………………. 224

Two-Two-Eight Incident (1947)……………………………………………………….. 225

Chiang’s Rule of Taiwan and Mandarin as the National Language…………………… 226

Who Are They? Benshengren or Waishengren?………………………………………………………….. 227

Sharon’s Identity: The Japanese are not Bad Guys……………………………………. 229

My Reflections: Whose History is it?…………………………………………………………………… 232 Where is My Home?……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 237

Kelly’s Americanization……………………………………………………………….. 240

Americanization process…………………………………………………………… 240  Kelly: China and Taiwan are not My Roots…………………………………………… 242

Sharon: I am not a Taiwanese anymore? The Story of a Juice Can…………………… 243  大時代小人物 Everyday people in a Big World…………………………………………… 244   Mei’s Choice: Taiwan is My Home……………………………………………………. 246   Jane’s Ambivalence……………………………………………………………………. 247   Lily: Future Home? Perhaps China……………………………………………………. 248   My Reflections………………………………………………………………………… 250

 

Chapter 8: 自相矛盾 (Impenetrable Shield and All-piercing Spear) Reshape Multi-Layer

        Identities…………………………………………………………………………………. 252  The Negotiation in the Borderlands……………………………………………………….. 253   Sharon’s 矛盾 , Her Complex Attitudes toward the Home Language………………… 255

Sharon: America is Better……………………………………………………………… 255

Sharon: So, Who am I? American, Taiwanese, Chinese or Japanese?………………………. 257

Sharon: American Culture? No, Thanks………………………………………………. 259

Sharon: 其實我對台灣大陸沒有什麼區別。In Fact, I have no Difference between

Taiwan and Mainland China……………………………………………………….. 260   Sharon:  我們還是中國人: We are Still Chinese……………………………………… 261

Kelly: The Complexity of Identity Negotiation of American and Chinese……………. 262   Jane: I Have Educated Two Children Who Turned to Different Ethnic Identities……. 264

Mei: My Struggles of Teaching Two Languages……………………………………… 265   Mei: Children were more Important than Husband……………………………………. 266

Lily: America? Chinese? Taiwanese?…………………………………………………………………… 268

 

Chapter 9: Epilogue, Their Story/My Story/Our Story: Insider versus Outsider………… 271

My Research Involvement: My Reflexivity……………………………………………….. 273

Jane…………………………………………………………………………………….. 275   Mei…. …………………………………………………………………………………. 280   Kelly……………………………………………………………………………………. 282

The Interview Tidbits…………………………………………………………………… 284   The Consent Form with Sharon………………………………………………………… 287

Lily: a Powerful leader…………………………………………………………………. 291

Power Relations Shifted and My Personal Development Growth…………………………. 292

Empowerment……………………………………………………………………………… 295  Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………. 297 Appendix A: China and Taiwan Map………………………………………………………….. 303

 

Appendix B: IRB Approval 1………………………………………………………………….. 304

 

Appendix C: IRB Approval 2………………………………………………………………….. 306

 

Appendix D: Interview Questions Chinese Version…………………………………………… 308

 

Appendix E: Interview Questions English Version……………………………………………. 309

 

Appendix F: Data Analysis Sample 1………………………………………………………….. 310

 

Appendix G: Data Analysis Sample 2…………………………………………………………. 312

 

References…………………………………………………………………………………….. 313

LIST OF TABLES

 

Table 1       Personal Information of Five Participants……………………………………………63

 

Table 2       Personal Information and Background of Five Participants………..………………227

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1 Introduction

 

What is home? The place I was born? Where I grew up? Where my parents live? Where I live and work as an adult? Where I locate my community, my people? Who are “my people?” Is home a geographical space, a historical space, an emotional, sensory space? Home is always so crucial to immigrants and migrants...(Mohanty, 2003, p. 126)

This thesis relates the narratives of five Taiwanese, immigrant, middle-class women’s experiences regarding bordercrossing, resistance, and ambivalence as they acquire English language skills in the context of the U.S. I include myself as one with insider knowledge of this journey, and I spent a year sharing their joys, laughter, and tears. In the process of identity negotiation we (re)construct who we are and where we consider home in this new and different land, the United States of America.

As a researcher and as a Taiwanese woman living in the U.S., I am interested in how the English language affects Taiwanese immigrants and specifically Taiwanese immigrant women’s learning and life experiences while in the U.S. More specifically, this research investigates the power and influence of the English language in shaping immigrants’ identity development. In this research I used information and theoretical advances from the following disciplines: Education and Qualitative research; History of immigration into the U.S. from the late 18th centuries to the late twenty centuries; Applied Linguistics; and Women’s Studies.

To understand the relationship between English language learning and identity development, I focus on and study the life and learning experiences as these women share stories about their lives and, in particular, their struggles. They relate their experiences learning the English language and how this experience affected their final choice of which country they claim as their home (Ng, 1998). I, as the researcher, play a dual role in this research because throughout the data gathering and analysis process, I have myself been both an insider and an outsider. As an insider, I share the same ethnic groups with these Taiwanese women thus we have Chinese cultures in common. As an outsider, I was unlike those who were currently U.S. citizens and have resided in the U.S. more than ten years.

In order to fully understand and appreciate the historical context within which I conduct this study, in this chapter I first trace two trajectories of immigration, European immigration of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and Asian immigration of the late 20th century. Next, I provide an overview of the history of Taiwanese immigration to the United States. Third, I discuss how language acquisition provides unique challenges to immigrants and their identity formation. Finally, I conclude this chapter by outlining my research purpose, research questions, and chapter outlines.

A Brief History of Immigration: a Transforming Landscape

Immigration is regarded as one of the main issues in the U.S. and has become a major subject of study for scholars, many of whom have paid attention to the important role played by immigrants in building the U.S. into a powerful country (Martin & Midgley, 1994; Wierzbicka, 1994; Olsen, 1997; Rong and Presissle, 1998; Ng, 1998; Espin, 1999; Carnevale, 2000; Daniels, 2002; Gerdes, 2005; Portes & Rumbaut, 2006;).

The First Waves: European Immigration to the United States

U.S. immigration began in the 1600s (Daniels, 2002). America was not the first choice for many Europeans who began to migrate to other countries even before Columbus began his journeys to The Americas. The mass migration took three routes: south across the narrow straits of the Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar, south east across the Bosporus, and straight eastward across Eastern Europe.

Competition between Islam and Christian religious fervor influenced Europeans to migrate overseas in order to colonize other countries. From 1607 to 1776, about one million people arrived in the U.S., including six hundred thousand (600,000) Europeans and, via slavery, three hundred thousand (300,000) Africans. Most Europeans were English, so that initially American language and culture became an extension of English language and culture.

Also, beginning in the 1820s, the so-called “great hunger” forced the Irish to leave their country and migrate to various locales, with many of them choosing to come to America. The attraction of America as a prosperous land caused approximately 4.5 million Irish to migrate to the U.S.  Additionally, Germans, Swedes and Norwegians gradually migrated to the U.S.

In the 1920s, two out of three immigrants arriving in the U.S. were European males and most were youths.

The Second Waves: Asian Immigration to the United States

Historically, Chinese immigrants were regarded as inferior by European immigrants who had located in the U.S. earlier. In the eighteenth century, many Chinese people came to the U.S. specifically to build the railroad infrastructure. Most were men who were forced to leave their wives and children behind in China because of imposed restrictions (Chen, 1992; Song, 1992; Lowe, 1996; Tuan, 1999; Tung, 2000). In addition to railroad workers, an increasing number of Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. to work as cooks, servicemen, and restaurant owners, and, through their focused labor, helped spur economic growth in the U.S. Although Chinese immigrants were hard workers and had accomplished economic solvency, their social status cast them as second-class citizens and they could not attain equal rights with the European Americans (Chen, 1992; Ng, 1998; Tung, 2000).

The Immigration Act of 1965 was a significant breakthrough because it allowed Chinese people to immigrate with their families and to work and/or to receive access to higher education, which allowed Chinese immigrants to contribute their energies and professional and technological skills to the U.S. economy (Tung, 2000). As a result, more and more Chinese immigrants became employed by U.S. companies for their professional skills and thus were established as part of the elite class.

Starting in the 1980s, immigration sources shifted dramatically from European to Asian and third world countries, which caused a new trend. In the 1980s and 1990s, the top five countries of origin for immigrants were Mexico, the Philippines, China/Taiwan, South Korea, and Vietnam. More specifically, approximately 600,000 new immigrants from different countries arrived in the U.S. each year, with the total increasing each year (Portes & Rumbaut, 2006). In 2000, the foreign-born population reached 37 million people or 12.5% of the total U.S. population. This total reflects legal immigrants only; if illegal immigrants are included, this number would be even higher.

By 2005, the Chinese became the second largest population of immigrants in the U.S., largely attracted to America because of the country’s economic and political hegemony. It is important to clarify that, when referring to Chinese people, I include Taiwanese due to their shared culture and in spite of the complicated political situation between China and Taiwan. These new arrivals included both members of the working class, such as cooks, and professionals, like engineers or scientists who have been working hard in order to find a better and more secure living environment and to fulfill their American dreams. These Chinese immigrants have made as significant a contribution to U.S. economic and cultural success as did their predecessors who built the railroads and engaged in the dirty, heavy labor from the eighteenth century to contemporary times.

The Significance of Taiwanese Immigration

The Taiwanese specifically have immigrated as professionals with exceptionally high

labor skills – a new type of immigrant. In the 2000 U.S. Census, Taiwanese in the U.S. occupied 45.5% of the professional specialty occupations such as engineers or scientific researchers. In addition, 99% of Taiwanese who applied for the Temporary (H-1B workers) program in the U.S. are college-leveled (Office of Immigration Statistics, 2003). As a result, in the late 20th century Taiwanese immigrants began a new immigration wave to the U.S. These new “Chinese” immigrants from Taiwan differed from Mainland Chinese applicants in that they had typically achieved both a higher level of education and a higher level of fluency in the English language (Ng, 1998).

Motivation for these Taiwanese immigrants to migrate can be traced back to the history of relations between China and Taiwan in the 1940s. Continuous civil wars within China, coupled with Japan’s military invasion of China, changed the history of the Taiwanese people and their relationship to Mainland China. When Taiwan separated from China in 1949, but before it had claimed status as an independent country, the Taiwanese people still shared Chinese heritage[1] and roots. But the wars split the Taiwanese from the Mainland Chinese and caused Taiwan to become a separate political entity. As a direct result of unstable politics, increasing numbers of Taiwanese elite decided to study abroad and remain in the U.S. (Ng, 1998).

The Taiwanese immigrant population has received frequent scholarly attention (Chen,

1992; Ng, 1998; Fung, 2002); however, the majority of the research has concentrated on successful Taiwanese immigrant men and children, with only a few studies devoted to research concerning Taiwanese immigrant women. Their consistent absence from research focus can be attributed to the males being regarded as both main providers and decision makers for the household (Huang, 1997; Chee, 2003).

English Only? The Challenge of Language Acquisition

These new immigrants initially encounter language problems when they are required to adapt to the English-speaking environment immediately upon arrival in the U.S. Immigrants have been challenged by the English-dominant society because of linguistic barriers. The controversial debate of a recent Immigration Reform Bill especially reflects the white mainstream majority’s conflicted opinions regarding allowing foreign immigrants into the United States. Many who are in favor of restricting immigrants believe that the most recent immigration wave may threaten the status of mainstream Americans. Williams, an American journalist who opposes immigration, claimed, “Today, the annual tidal wave of over a million immigrants…is endangering our American way of life” (Williams, 2004, p. 10). The white dominant majority hopes to secure their own job opportunities and therefore their futures.

In addition, many Americans who are in favor of requiring immigrants to speak English well believe that universal English capability could help secure the U.S. homelands. The perspective of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt reflects the beliefs of many contemporary Americans when he declared, “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language; for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boardinghouse; and we have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people” (as cited in Olsen, 1997, p. 135). 

The English-only belief has led many immigrants to believe that they not only need to “speak” English, but that they also need to speak it well in order to be accepted within an English language-dominant society. Immigrants encounter difficulties due to the restrictions placed on use of their native language and sometimes experience identity crises as they seek to define who they are (Norton, 2000; Pavlenko, 2000).

Purpose of This Research

In this research, I address the lack of emphasis on the experiences of Taiwanese women in the scholarship. I interview five Taiwanese, middle-class, immigrant women concerning their experiences in the U.S. I ask them to tell me their personal narratives, to focus on their experiences learning English in the U.S., and especially on how their identities developed and were negotiated within a multicultural context. My intention is to investigate any relationship between identity developments and language learning practices at home, in workplaces, and in communities.

This research is necessary for several reasons. First, this thesis aims to record the marginalized voices of Taiwanese, immigrant, middle-class women. While this research examines the lives of Taiwanese women of Chinese descent, it differs from previous research concerning Chinese, immigrant women who have been depicted as unskilled and uneducated (Boyd, 1986; Chen, 1992; Zhou, 2000; Man, 2004). The Taiwanese, immigrant women in this research, when viewed through a positive lens, are found to be skilled and confident. Furthermore, I explore how these Taiwanese immigrant women maintain Chinese cultures and ideologies while residing in an English-speaking country.

Second, I utilize Mohanty’s (2003) feminist conception of the significance of “home,” in order to inform this examination of how Taiwanese immigrant women deal with their identities. Mohanty’s (2003) idea of home choice focuses on immigrant women in the U.S. and their ambivalence towards their home choice. It encouraged me to explore these Taiwanese immigrants in the U.S. who were born in China or Taiwan, but are now living in the United States. In fact, for Taiwanese women, identifying their geographical home is further complicated by the fact that they may have been born in China, relocated to Taiwan temporarily, and finally immigrated to the U.S. Furthermore, some were born in Taiwan, but their parents escaped from China during the Civil War of 1949. These factors have tremendous effects on how they regard themselves and how their notion of “home” influences their motivation to learn English.

Third, in order to examine the notion of “empowerment,” I explore the complex relationships between power, the English language, and identity development among Taiwanese immigrant women now resident in the U.S. Women’s Studies highlight the importance of the concept of empowerment, which encourages women’s voices, and allows women to gain and assert their power. Thus, this research investigates how Taiwanese immigrant women display power in the context of family relations, workplaces, and public places. I examine how these women have been empowered through the process of acquiring self-awareness and a growing knowledge of their own oppression, and discuss where they still need to gain empowerment.

Lastly, this research involves connecting my personal experiences to these women’s narratives. Throughout the ethnographic process that I employ in this dissertation, I trace my personal journey and I show how my own stories and feelings connect with the stories told by these women. In common with these women, I am also a mother with a son who is an American citizen, and sharing my experiences provided me with opportunities to reconstruct my “self.” The juxtaposition of retelling their stories and my stories led to the presence of multiple voices and ultimately produces a polyvocal text (Glesne, 1999).

Research Questions

My three central questions were as follows:

  1. How do Taiwanese, immigrant, women’s different experiences in learning English, both prior to arriving and while resident in the U.S., affect their identity development and motivation to learn English?
  2. How do Taiwanese, immigrant, women negotiate a multiplicity of identities while building their lives in multilingual contexts? Were they empowered in the process of creating their identity? How does power benefit or discourage them in terms of employment, access to English-dominant communities, and their identity development? 3. Which country do Taiwanese, immigrant, women regard as their home? And how does “time” as a factor influence their choice of home?  Which cultures most influence their home life?

In addition to these central questions, multiple sub central questions emerge. In central question 1, I investigate these women’s various learning experiences and how these different learning experiences affect their identity development. I further ask:

  • What motivated these five Taiwanese, immigrant, women to immigrate?
  • How do they have access to English-dominant communities in the U.S.?
  • What are their experiences learning English in the U.S. and prior to residing in Taiwan, and how were they influenced by these experiences?

Moreover, based on the central question 2, investigating the participants’ identity negotiation and the notion of empowerment, I explore:

  • How do these women negotiate their power within their relationships with their husbands and children during the process of learning English?
  • How do they negotiate their multiple identities including gender, race, ethnicity, religion and culture?

Finally, with central question 3, which investigates these women’s home choice, I further explore:

  • How do their birthplaces at various times affect their home choice?
  • How do these Taiwanese women regard their home language, Mandarin maintenance, or shifting to American language?
  • Is a conscious decision made to pass on a predominantly Chinese or American culture to the next generation as the main culture?

Finally, regarding the three central questions and what connects the researcher, as an outsider and insider to these five Taiwanese women, I explore:

(a) How do I, as the researcher, construct and (re)construct my identity development while both interpreting these Taiwanese immigrant women’s experiences and reflecting on my own personal narratives?

Chapter Descriptions

In chapter II I briefly review the related literature including the literature from three fields of study: Applied linguistics, Women’s Studies, and U.S. history. First, I look at the sociocultural theories advocated by Vygotsky (1978) who sought to address the importance of language to social relations. According to Vygotsky, second language learners’ experiences also affect their identity negotiations. In addition, I adopt poststructuralist theories identifying the importance of power relationships among language practices, identities, and social relations. Finally, I elaborate upon the history of immigration to the U.S. in modern times, particularly as it involves Taiwanese immigrants

Chapter III contains a brief description of the methodology for this thesis; I introduce how and why I adopted ethnographic feminist interviews as a data collection technique. I explain the process of selecting these particular five women and the research interactions with them. Finally, I present how I conduct the data analysis in order to have the material needed to discuss issues raised during my interviews with these five immigrant women.

Chapter IV contains profiles of these five participants wherein I introduce their backgrounds, how they came to the U.S., and catalogue their past and current roles in the context of family and employment.

Chapter V first describes these women’s newly crafted lives in the U.S. I adopt the rapeseeds, the seeds which are carried by the wind to many places, as a metaphor to symbolize how these women find themselves in the U.S., either. by choice or by following their husbands. I then examine their encounters, specifically cultural shock with the U.S. society, and how their lives changed by immigrating to the U.S.

Chapter VI is the analysis of identity development among these immigrant women whose identity crises stemmed from interactions with the white-mainstream American society. I review how they cope with difficulties. The intention is to understand how the complexity of power relations affects their identities within both community practices and their relationships with husbands, children and parents.

Chapter VII contains a further discussion of the importance of past history on present life styles, the influence of different periods and reins of governments, and how the Chinese civil war affected language practices in the U.S.

Chapter VIII, rather than “reporting” women’s perspectives and life experiences, goes deeper to analyze the contradictions in the conversations. I apply the Chinese fable of the Shield and the Spear as a metaphor and identify these women’s ambivalences and struggles as revealed in the women’s narratives.

Chapter IX, the final chapter, examines the power relations between myself, as the researcher, and the researched, as well as my interactions with the research and these women. I use the method of reflexivity as a framework to reflect and describe the ambivalence experienced by being both an insider and an outsider in the context of this research.

See the map of China and Taiwan in the appendix A.

AT HOME OR AN “OTHER” IN THE U.S.: TAIWANESE IMMIGRANT WOMEN’S AMBIVALENCE, RESISTANCE, AND BORDER CROSSING

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