Kate Vieira Brings Immigrant Stories to Life

Last Thursday the WRD Department welcomed Kate Vieira, who spoke with students and faculty about her research on “Money and Bodies: How They Matter for Writing.”

viera-speaking

Vieira has conducted a great deal of research on literacy in immigrant communities and the families left behind. More recently, her focus has been on writing from the body, and how writing can aid physical, mental, and emotional healing. Her argument in her presentation for the DePaul community? That there are more connections between these strands of research than we might think—and that the root of this connection lies in the materiality of writing.

Writing is material—a labor, a doing, that shapes both the body and wider economic structures.

As the title of the presentation suggests, Vieira predicts that the future of writing is in money and bodies.

Some of those in attendance at the talk had read Vieira’s book American by Paper: How Documents Matter in Immigrant Literacies as part of a course on Global Englishes. Those audience members were probably not surprised at the ease with which Vieira wove between broad theories of language and literacy and the personal accounts of those she interviewed, something she does in her book as well.Book Cover: American By Paper by Kate Vieira

MA in WRD student Emily Power  observed that Vieira was not alone in her use of compelling narratives to understand literacy. Power drew connections between Vieira’s approach and that of Annette Vee, another recent speaker at DePaul:

I was interested in the way both Vieira and Vee grounded theory in the experiences of real people.

Vieira described her discussion with a mother who had very little formal education but had learned to use a computer—given to her by her son who had emigrated—to communicate with him. She also brought to life her discussion with another mother, who urged her four year old child to practice English with Vee in the hopes that better command of English would open up opportunities for her child down the road.

These families, Vieira explained, were “animated by migration” and “stored up” literacy and language resources in order to maintain meaningful human relationships.

Writing moves and it connects. It moves among people and through people and connects people to larger economic structures.

This power of writing and literacy to connect, Vieira argues, is important for language teachers to recognize. Her research illustrates the degree to which immigrants’ literacy goals involve economic solvency and meaningful human relationships—both of which are strained by globalization. Vieira urged language teachers—and DePaul MA students pursuing the graduate certificate in TESOL—to keep these goals in mind as they structure classes and write lessons.

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