Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in Teachers College Record, Volume 122 Number 13, 2020, pp. 1–24. doi:10.1177/016146812012201


Background/Context: Inclusion of African immigrant youth voices in educational and research discourses remains rare despite the steady growth of this population in the United States over the past four decades. Consequently, the multilingual abilities of these youth remain typically unnoticed or ignored in the classroom, and little is specifically known about their histories, cultures, expectations, and achievements.

Purpose: Using the narrative inquiry approach and the Natural, Institutional, Discursive, Affinity, Learner, and Solidarity (NIDALS) theoretical lens, we explore the lived experiences of one African immigrant high school student in the Midwestern United States.

Research Design: Using narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2006), we qualitatively explored the lived cultural, racial, and ethnic identities and self-images experienced by a Ghanaian-born female high school student, Akosua (pseudonym), as she navigated and resisted identities ascribed to her in the Midwestern U.S.

Findings: The student’s narratives speak to issues of culture, identity, and self-image, as well as her literate life in multiple languages and literacy contexts in and out of school. The findings reveal narratives of ascribed identities, racialization, and perceived language hierarchies in the participant’s daily life and indicate a need to challenge such narratives about African immigrant students and disrupt the reproduction of linguistic and racial inequality in the school system.

Recommendations: While school systems do follow state-sanctioned linguistic norms and ideologies, when educators draw on students’ experiences and funds of knowledge as resources already in the room in order to find ways of negotiating and disrupting language hierarchies and the ascribed identities they support, it allows all students, including multilinguals, to have their identity affirmed, even in school systems that have historically marginalized them. This, in turn, supports educational achievement, broadly realized, not only psychologically for all students but also economically and nationally for the country—a critical accomplishment in an era when educational quality in the U.S. is losing ground to foreign achievements.