Syrian Refugee Women in the Diaspora: Sustaining Families through Literacies
Hijazi, Nabila A
Hijazi, Nabila A
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Literacy and composition studies scholars have sought to recast our understanding of literacy as not only fluid and mobile but also as embedded within a socio-historical context and in a host of larger issues, such as housing and employment. However, who is included in those contexts is still expanding? One set of voices, not always depicted well, is refugee women’s experiences which are usually framed within a dominant narrative of female fragility. Based on interviews done across languages, participant-observations, and analysis to examine the literacy practices and literacy learning experiences of Syrian refugee women in the Washington, D.C. region, my qualitative study extends this existing research in specific ways. First, by exploring the intersections of narrative, literacy, and refugee experience, more specifically gendered refugee experiences, I expand the scope of what counts as literacy and show how the types of literacy Syrian refugee women engage with resist Western definitions of literacy. My study focuses on a wide array of literacies, including non-school, non-print, and even translingual literacies, that Syrian refugee women practice as they negotiate their gendered identities in constructing the diasporic home. I show the ways and communication channels beyond reading and writing where literacy takes place: in listening, sharing, and retelling stories. Second, I show how these women—in embodying different literacy practices including functional, rural, and food and in reverting to domestic spaces and conservative gender roles—not only exert agency and protect their families but also allow for preservation and migration of literacies. By creating spaces for refugee women’s narratives and stories to emerge and for their experiences and voices to be valued, I add to the existing research in literacy and composition fields about the need to legitimize gendered refugee voices and to better serve the needs of these groups that were marginalized in their countries, through their journeys to asylum, and in the host countries where they resettle. Finally, I emphasize how the field of composition and rhetoric might learn from refugee women’s literacy practices and how these practices can be part of the composition classroom. I offer implications for pedagogy and offer suggestions to bridge the gap between the learning communities that exist within and outside academic institutions. I identify productive directions for future research about the importance of different literacies and migration of literacies across borders between countries and even across communities that exist in the same country or even the same physical location.