Amstadter, Logan M., ”“If you wanted me to speak your language then you should have stayed in your country”: a critical ethnography of linguistic identity and resiliency in the life of an Afghan refugee” (2018). EWU Masters Thesis Collection. 484. Full text
Nasreen and her family had not wanted to leave their native Afghanistan, but when the Taliban’s violence forced them to seek refuge in Iran, Nasreen found herself a teenager on the outskirts of Tehran. Discrimination, lack of opportunity, and an unwelcoming environment compelled her to make the dangerous overland journey from Iran to Turkey along with her husband, her brother, and her two sons. Now, they have asylum in the United States, where Nasreen is thriving—earning a degree at a community college and translating for other members of her community. Refusing to dwell on the past and enduringly optimistic about the future, Nasreen has demonstrated remarkable resilience despite the tremendously difficult circumstances of forced migration. Based on several interviews with Nasreen, I have come to believe that her decision to maintain her heritage language has been a stabilizing force in her life and a key component of her resilience as a refugee, as a stranger, and as a mother. Functioning as both a symbolic and actual means of transnational connection, Nasreen’s use of her ethnic language is how she remains connected to her family back in Iran, who she desperately hopes will someday join her in the United States. In a life that has stretched across four countries and been dominated
by circumstances beyond her control, her language choice is also how she claims agency over her identity. This stability, in turn, empowers Nasreen to cultivate a dual identity that allows her to acculturate into American society and maintain a cultural integrity that is coherent with her worldview and sense of self. Finally, Nasreen’s use of her mother tongue with her children—even though they refuse to speak it back—enables her to mother them in her most authentic way and to remain connected with them as they grow up in a culture vastly different from her own. This study will hopefully engender empathy and admiration for Nasreen and the millions of refugees like her who, despite immense adversity, somehow manage to thrive as strangers in a strange land, spirits intact.