Literacy, Place, and Migration in Philadelphia among Ethnic Chinese

Michael J Rovito, Michele Masucci


This paper seeks to introduce the need for scholars interested in literacy, geography, and cultural studies to examine the role of English language literacy in shaping assimilation experiences of recent immigrant groups. We consider a case study of English language self-efficacy among ethnic Chinese immigrants in the Philadelphia metropolitan area to suggest how language, place, and economic participation are mutually constructed. We conducted interviews with 21 individuals to gain insights about how they perceived this relationship. We also considered the effects of English language self-efficacy on the geographic extent of their daily activities. Perhaps it is not surprising that those who reported stronger English language skills had larger activity spheres in the metropolitan region. Among those who did not note strong language skills, Philadelphia's historic Chinatown remained prominent as a place of economic participation and center for daily activities and cultural cohesion. We suggest that more attention to the role of literacy and language self-efficacy is warranted among geographers interested in migration studies, assimilation experiences, and workforce participation issues related to immigrant groups.

Publication of the Community Literacy Journal is made possible through the generous support of the English Department and the Writing and Rhetoric Program at Florida International University. The CLJ is a journal of the Conference on Community Writing.