Date of Award

8-2006

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Kristin M. LangeIlier

Second Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Nathan E. Stormer

Abstract

Food plays a large role in everyone's life, but this role is particularly complex when it comes to those who have immigrated from other countries. For them, food becomes a way of communing with their native cultures, specifically family and friends who still Live in those countries. Food creates particularly complex interactions with immigrant women, who are often expected to make choices of how much to assimilate into the new culture while trying to maintain a semblance of cultural identity. The performance of food plays a role for these women in four ways: as culturally embodied experience, as ritualized family culture, as place-making, and as empowerment for social change. This study presents phenomenological descriptions of in-depth interviews with six immigrant women from Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia) who are currently living in central Maine. The women's talk about food was then reduced into three emergent structures that provide a framework for understanding their discourse, and then interpreted using phenomenological and feminist methods. This combination of methods problematizes the emergent meanings from the women's discourse to place them in larger spheres of social, cultural, and political ideologies. The resulting structures placed particular emphasis on the phenomenological constructs of lived time and lived space as the two constructs negotiated the performance of their identity across borders. Specifically, the first structure is the performance of cultural identity through food, wherein the women describe the ever-present, but never defined idea of a cultural authentic, and the ways their ideas of authenticity influence their choices in everyday life as immigrant women. The second construct, the performance of home through food, explicates how food can be used not only as a mode of assimilation, but also a resistance against it, and it implicates the ways immigrant women engage food as a site of struggle over meanings. Finally, the third structure is doing food together as performance of cultural identity. This structure identifies the ways families (and others) gather around food as a means of linking up with one another, teaching table manners to children, and also teaching each other what it means to be Brazilian, Peruvian, or Mexican. Immigrant women from Latin America negotiate a multiplicity of identities across borders, some material, some emotional, as well as to define and re-define those borders. It is this performative challenge that makes it possible for them to embody a variety of identities simultaneously at any given time.

Share