Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education



Loukia K. Sarroub

Date of this Version



Published (as Chapter 9) in Literacy in Times of Crisis: Practices and Perspectives, edited by Laurie MacGillivray (New York & London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 121–137. Copyright © 2010 Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


Literacy and immigration scholars have not considered how refugees and immigrants negotiate the subtle and important connections between marriage, literacy, and migration to the United States. This chapter attempts to move these understudied connections to the forefront and does so by examining the ways in which young Iraqi and Yemeni immigrant and refugee women and men strive to become literate and simultaneously search for husbands and wives. Investigating these social connections involved in finding the appropriate spouse inevitably brings researchers to the field of education, as those young immigrants considered find themselves in a crisis that brings educational, economic, political, and religious factors into play. And, in order to understand these interconnections we have to take seriously the issue of how transnationalism, the phenomenon of living locally with global connections, demonstrates both the local and global tensions of refugees and immigrants as they interact in shared cultural sites. Moreover, transnational literacy, as described in this chapter, is evoked as a means to sort through particular literacy practices that simultaneously foster status and knowledge and explain the youths’ sense of powerlessness and desperation as well as their perceptions of their success. The tension, between literacy as success and literacy as threat to marriage fosters crises of “glocal” proportions (see Robertson 1995; Sarroub, 2008). Measures taken by the young people to combat their own desperation by mobilizing literacy practices in the milieu of unfamiliar and often alien(ating) American cultural norms are the features that best express how glocalism can be understood. The working definition of literacy in the context of marriage and transnationalism is that of a social event that accounts for communication with and through print as well as talk and rituals. Thus, literacy is broadly conceived to encompass local activity such as reading and writing that can be tangibly documented in addition to the communication norms with which people convey meaning and communicate with others. “Situated” and “local” literacies are now commonplace names in the research literature (see Alvermann, Hinchman, Moore, Phelps, & Waff, 2006; Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000; Lewis, Moje, & Enciso, 2007; Rush, Eakle, & Berger, 2007), but they also serve as an important reminder that in everyday life, people often do not distinguish among different types of literacies, such as school vs. home, print vs. oral communication, in the same ways that scholars of literacy do in relation to achievement in schools. For example, in transnational contexts that mix the oral rituals of Muslim weddings with the print literacies of U.S. visa and citizenship forms, literacy takes on more ambiguous and fluid roles. Young people engage in the literacy practices necessary to achieve certain expected ends (such as travel to find a spouse) and sometimes, as in the case of some young Muslim women, being literate and educated reduces their chances of finding a spouse from the homeland.