Immigrant Girls from the Caribbean: Identities, Literacies, and the Academic and Social Construction of Selves

Open Access
Cole-Malott, Donna Marie
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
September 15, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Jeanine Staples , Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Jeanine Staples, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Ashley Nichol Patterson, Committee Member
  • Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, Committee Member
  • Melissa Wright, Outside Member
  • Literacies
  • Immigrant girls from the Caribbean
  • Black girls
  • New Literacies
  • Black feminism
  • Caribbean
  • Curriculum
  • Memory
  • Memory work
  • Girlhood
  • solidarity
  • Patriarchy
  • Sexuality
  • Black
  • Cultural Memory
  • Endarkened feminism
  • Social identities
  • Academic identities
This interdisciplinary dissertation focuses on the literate lives and lived experiences of immigrant girls from the Caribbean. It unpacks the ways in which they construct academic and social identities through literacies, and the implication of those identities on their lived experiences. The purpose of this study is to make visible these girls whose identities have been subsumed within that of a homogenous population. This project aims to bring their experiences front and center, and to understand the nuances of Black girlhood and Black girls’ literate lives. The question that guides this research is: what can the literacies of immigrant girls from the Caribbean tell us about the types of academic and social identities they are constructing? Using new literacies and critical Black feminism as frameworks, this dissertation looks at the ways in which immigrant girls from the Caribbean are making sense of their life-worlds from a cultural, racial, ethnic, gendered positionality. These frameworks are situated within the context of memory work—a feminist methodology that contends that our histories, experiences, and memories are all valid sources of knowledge. Embodied within this methodology is the potential for women’s liberation. Memory work as a methodology is collective, it is non-hierarchical, and it allows for the theorizing of experiences amongst marginalized communities of women and girls. Using memory work, critical Black feminism, and new literacies, I spent one year with adolescent immigrant girls from the Caribbean in a large northeastern city researching their literate lives to understand what those lives could tell me about who they are and the factors that shape their perceptions of self. A significant implication of my study revealed that the literacies of immigrant girls from the Caribbean are enacted in multiple literate spaces and through a variety of practices. Each individual space is strategically selected based on the academic need for recognition, validation, and community, as well as the desire for self-determination and self-definition. This dissertation also aims to highlight the interconnectedness of local and global communities and to consider that, embodied within each individual, is the collective knowledge of their lived experiences and the experience of those who came before them. It is my hope that, by studying their literacies, scholars and educators can all gain insight into the nuances of the experiences of Black girlhood. Future research in this area might focus on ways to create a critical curriculum that addresses the specific needs of immigrant girls from across the diaspora and Black girls more generally. For example, schools can consider implementing texts that challenge stereotypical representations of Black girlhood, immigrant girls, and Black people more generally. They might also consider ways to expose teachers to critical scholarship about race, gender, sexuality, and belonging. Additionally, schools can work to foster discussions about local and global communities in order to better situate teachers to understand the nuances of their students’ lived experiences.