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Family literacy in a Chinese community in the United States: An ethnographic study

Min-hua Chen, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study was conducted in a Chinese community located in an academic community in the United States. Ethnographic data were collected from the Chinese community in general and subsequently a close study of ten families who had school aged children was conducted. As international graduate students or visiting scholars, the parents in the families had affiliations with institutions of higher education and lived in the United States temporarily. The purpose of this study was to document, analyze, and find the meanings of the Chinese families' home literacy practices, as well as their strengths and difficulties. Theories of literacy as social and cultural practices led to the study's focus on the social and cultural backgrounds of the parents and their use of home literacy as cultural practices for achieving social goals. This study addressed the following research questions: (1) What are the home literacy practices of a group of Chinese families living in a community in the American society; (2) What are the Chinese parents' perspectives about literacy, schooling, their roles in their children's literacy development, and how have these factors influenced the families' home literacy practices; (3) How have families experienced literacy learning in the American schools, and how have these experiences influenced the families' home literacy practices. This study was ethnographic in methodology. Data were obtained through interviews and participant observation. Analysis of the data showed that the parents, who grew up in Chinese society, formed their views of literacy in that particular sociocultural environment. Those views guided them in home literacy practices. These practices served as a process of cultural transmission. Through home literacy practices, the parents helped their children construct and maintain identity with Chinese culture, traditional social relations, and the values of literacy learning. Home literacy practices also helped the families make adaptations when they came to the United States. When the families came to this country, the host culture posed as challenges to the families' lives. The children's schools served especially as the representative of the new culture to the families. The school culture made a strong impact on the families' home literacy practices. Soon the parents found that what counted as literacy in this new sociocultural environment was different from their previous experiences. They used home literacy practices to help cope with the difficulties they faced. These practices enabled them and their children to negotiate between the Chinese and the American cultures, to help the children function in American schools, and to prepare them return to home country.

Subject Area

Literacy|Reading instruction|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Chen, Min-hua, "Family literacy in a Chinese community in the United States: An ethnographic study" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841851.