Paper Summary

Direct link:

Issues of Heritage Language Maintenance Among Kenyan Bilingual Parents Who Are Immigrants: Immigrant Mothers' Perceptions

Sat, April 18, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Virtual Room


Heritage Language (HL) loss is rampant among immigrant populations (Fillmore, 2005;
Obeng, 2009). While the challenges of transmission of HLs have been widely documented
among immigrant communities in other diasporas (Park, 2013), how HL maintenance is
constrained or afforded for children from African immigrant families is nearly absent from the
current literature (Obeng, 2009). Drawing from the experiences of Kenyan immigrant mothers in
the U.S., this paper offered an analysis and explanation of the complexity of HL maintenance
among Kenyan immigrant children. In addition, the dispositions of Kenyan immigrant mothers
surrounding maintaining their children’s HLs while living in a society that uses English as the
predominant language were explored.

Theoretical Framing
I utilized Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit; Annamma et al., 2013) and
raciolinguistic ideologies (Flores & Rosa, 2015; Rosa & Flores, 2017) in response to the need for an intersectional lens to understand the experiences of Kenyan immigrant mothers towards their children’s HL maintenance. DisCrit enabled me to expose how Kenyan immigrant mothers home language practices and behaviors that they employed with their children, fitted outside racialized and ableist norms and therefore were viewed as deficient. While raciolinguistics helped reveal racial positioning of Kenyan HLs and how this positioning affected how Kenyan immigrant families and their children’s linguistic practices were viewed and heard.

Methods and Data Sources
I employed a case study, qualitative research approach (Cresswell, 2013; Bhattacharya, 2017). My rationale for choosing case study research was to gain insight, meaningful experiences, and the ability to explain how Kenyan immigrant mothers perceived maintaining their children’s heritage languages. Using purposive sampling (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), three Kenyan immigrant mothers were included in this study. Each mother was treated as an individual case. Data sources included three in-depth phenomenological interviews (Siedman, 2013) with each of the mothers. I engaged in iterative data collection and analysis that consisted of multiple rounds of coding and meaning making within and across cases (Bhattacharya, 2017).

Kenyan immigrant mothers reported numerous challenges contributing towards maintaining their children’s HLs, especially in spaces where their children’s languages, experiences, and cultures were unknown or excluded (e.g., in schools). However, amidst all these constraints, findings revealed complex negotiations involving these mothers wanting to maintain their HLs. As a result, Kenyan immigrant mothers resorted to doing what they could at home, continuing to support their children’s HL maintenance as well as supporting the wellness and success of their children. Specifically, Kenyan immigrant mothers reported strategies they used to maintain their children’s HLs and the different ways that they encouraged their children to navigate the Western, English-speaking context that neither acknowledged their HLs nor their ability to speak English.

Scholarly Significance
The significance of this study lies in its contribution to use critical theories to disrupt the normative center by emphasizing the voices of Kenyan immigrant mothers in maintaining their children’s heritage languages in primarily English dominant contexts.

Word Count: 493 (including the title)