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[Anna De Fina] Identity in Narrative A Study of I(BookFi.org)

Identity in Narrative
Studies in Narrative
Studies in Narrative (sin) comprise studies using narratives as approaches or
methodological tools to explore aspects of life, language, and literature as well
as studies that explore and contribute to the notion of narrative from
theoretical and epistemological perspectives. Volumes published in this series
draw on a variety of approaches and methodologies cross-fertilizing different
traditions and disciplines.
Series Editor
Michael Bamberg (Clark University)
Advisory editorial board
Susan Bell (Bowdoin College)
Jerome Bruner (New York University)
Jennifer Coates (University of Surrery Roehampton)
Michele L. Crossley (Edge-Hill University College)
Carol Gilligan (New York University)
Rom Harré (Linacre College, Oxford)
David Herman (North Carolina State University)
Janet Holmes (Victoria University of Wellington)
Charlotte Linde (Institute for Research Learning)
Dan McAdams (Northwestern University)
Allyssa McCabe (University of Massachusetts, Lowell)
Eric E. Peterson (University of Maine)
Catherine Kohler Riessman (Boston University
Ted Sarbin (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Deborah Schiffrin (Georgetown University)
Margaret Wetherell (Open University)
Volume 3
Identity in Narrative: A study of immigrant discourse
by Anna De Fina
Identity in Narrative
A Study of Immigrant Discourse
Anna De Fina
Georgetown University
John Benjamins Publishing Company
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements
of American National Standard for Information Sciences – Permanence
of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi z39.48-1984.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
De Fina, Anna
Indentity in narrative : a study of immigrant discourse / Anna De Fina.
p. cm. (Studies in Narrativity, issn 1568–2706 ; v. 3)
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
1. Mexican Americans--Ethnic identity. 2. Mexican Americans-Languages. 3. Mexican Americans--Social conditions. 4. Immigrants--United
States--Language. 5. Immigrants--United States--Social conditions. 6. Narration
(Rhetoric) 7. Discourse analisys. I. Title. II. Series.
E184 .M5D35 2003
isbn 90 272 2643 1 (Eur.) / 1 58811 432 5 (US) (Hb; alk. paper)
© 2003 – John Benjamins B.V.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm, or
any other means, without written permission from the publisher.
John Benjamins Publishing Co. · P.O. Box 36224 · 1020 me Amsterdam · The Netherlands
John Benjamins North America · P.O. Box 27519 · Philadelphia pa 19118-0519 · usa
To Inder, Emiliano and Silvio Jit
Table of contents
Introduction 1
Chapter 1
Identity in narrative: A discourse approach
1. Narrative genre and types of narratives 11
2. Identity and narrative 15
3. Local and global contexts 26
Chapter 2
The social phenomenon: Mexican migration to the U.S.
1. Mexican undocumented immigrants to the United States 31
1.1 Number and origin of Mexican undocumented workers
in the U.S. 32
1.2 Reasons for migrating and sociocultural characteristics
of Mexican immigrants 34
1.3 The migration process 35
2. The subjects of the study 36
2.1 Life in the United States 40
3. The Intertextual domain: Public discourse on immigration 42
4. Notes on methodology and data 45
4.1 The interviews 45
4.2 Data selection and transcription 48
Chapter 3
Identity as social orientation: Pronominal choice
1. Pronominal choice and speaker-orientation 52
2. Pronominal choice and cultural conceptions of the self 54
3. Personal and collective protagonists in narratives
of personal experience 56
 Table of contents
Pronominal distribution in story clauses 66
Pronominal switches and repair 70
Depersonalization in stories: From yo to uno and tu
Generalization of experience and story codas 84
Conclusions 89
Chapter 4
Identity as agency: Dialogue and action in narrative
1. Reported speech in narrative 93
2. Chronicles as a type of narrative 98
3. Crossing the border 101
4. Reported speech in the chronicles 104
5. Coding of reported speech acts 106
6. Analysis: Individual chronicles 112
6.1 Reported speech and power 116
6.2 Interactional positioning 122
7. Analysis: Collective chronicles 125
8. Discussion 134
9. Conclusions 138
Chapter 5
Identity as categorization: Identification strategies
1. Categories of identification: Ethnicity 141
2. Immigrants and social practices of categorization 143
3. Functions of orientation and detail in stories 146
4. Interactional world relevance of ethnic descriptions 150
5. Story world relevance of ethnic identifications 165
6. Irrelevant mentions? 169
7. Ethnic identities in interactional and story-world contexts 177
8. Conclusions 179
Chapter 6
Identity as social representation: Negotiating affiliations
1. Ethnicity: Some definitions 182
2. Identity as representation 184
3. Being Hispanic in different story worlds: The chronicles 185
4. Being Hispanic in different story worlds: Experiences
after settlement 202
5. Conclusions 215
Table of contents
Chapter 7
1. Social roles, agency and membership into communities 217
2. Storytelling, discourse, identity 220
3. Concluding remarks and perspectives for future research 223
Appendix 1
Interview log 225
Appendix 2
Transcription conventions 229
Index 249
This book could not have been possible without the help and collaboration of
Ismael Reyes. I am deeply grateful to him and to the Mexican men and women
who agreed to open their doors and often also their hearts to me. I am profoundly indebted to Deborah Schiffrin for her insightful comments and suggestions on the manuscript and for her encouragement and support. I would
also like to thank Ron Scollon and Heidi Hamilton for their invaluable comments on an earlier draft. Finally, I am indebted to Michael Bamberg, Mike
Baynham and Alexandra Georgakopoulou for stimulating discussions and insights on narrative that have greatly contributed to the development of my
own work.
La vida no es la que uno
vivió, sino la que uno
recuerda y cómo la recuerda
para contarla
[Life is not the one you live,
but the one you remember
as you remember it
when you tell it]
Gabriel García Márquez
The writing of this book was motivated by my involvement in three areas of
interest both in academic and personal life. The first one relates to the ways
and means through which language, and in particular narrative, displays its
power to voice experiences, to bring about shared understandings of life events,
to shape and transform individual and collective realities. The second one relates to migration as a social phenomenon and as a personal experience. I have
migrated more than once during my adult life and, although I am conscious
of the profound differences in motivations, economic backgrounds, origins,
adaptation routes, among those who carry out a journey that takes them away
from their countries to settle somewhere else, I am also convinced that there
are many commonalities, many patterns of behavior and experience that are
shared by all of them. Those commonalities constitute a firm basis for understanding and solidarity, and an occasion for reflection. Finally, the writing of
this book was also spurred by a deep interest in Mexico, since the many years I
spent in that country stimulated in me a great admiration for the richness and
complexity of the Mexican people and of Mexican cultural traditions.
The book is based on interviews and ethnographic observation carried
out between September 1996 and June 1997 with 14 Mexican economic immigrants living in Langley Park, Maryland, who were mostly undocumented
at the time. The work responds to two primary objectives: investigating the
constitution, representation and negotiation of identities among Mexican economic migrants to the United States, and showing in what ways narrative discourse constitutes a privileged locus for the study of identities. The focus of
the analysis is on the connections between the local expression of identities in
narrative discourse and the social processes that surround migration.
There are two preliminary questions that I would like to discuss in the following pages. The first one is: why study immigrants? The second one is: What
are the advantages of small-scale discourse analytic studies as opposed to quantitatively based investigations, in order to gain an understanding of migration
and the processes of self definition and redefinition that immigrants live?
Let us start with the first question: The importance of studying immigrants
and immigration hardly needs stressing given the social relevance of the phenomenon. A great number of new immigrants enter the U.S. every year and of
these immigrants, many are undocumented Mexicans (Dillon 1997). The presence of Mexican undocumented workers in the U.S., already estimated between
1.8 and 3.6 millions in the seventies,1 has currently reached, according to the
national press, a number between 3 and 4 million of individuals.2 Quantifications of the immigration flux vary, but figures are high enough to give an idea
of the relevance of a phenomenon, largely unknown, but also unmistakably
part of American everyday life. Mexican immigrants, especially undocumented
ones, become more numerous every year and as the divide between the wealth
of the U.S. and the poverty of its neighbors increases, so does the number of
those who are pushed across the border by the dream of a better life.
However, immigration is not only important because of its numerical significance. It is also important because of its economic, social, and psychological
impact. The constant debate over this topic in the mass media, in the political
arena, in academic circles, and at dinner tables, is a symptom of the centrality
of the role of immigration and immigrants in the political and social landscape
of the country. On the other hand, the continuous attempts, particularly in the
South Western states, to limit and regulate the rights of immigrant workers3
show how deeply divided politicians and common citizens are on the extent
to which recent immigrants can be considered a true part of society. In fact,
the constant increase in the number of Hispanic immigrants in particular and
their recent attainment of the status of largest and fastest growing minority in
the U.S.,4 has raised and continues to raise great anxiety among mainstream
Americans since often these immigrants are seen as taking over the country
and imposing their own life style, language, and customs. In many cases being Hispanic is equated with poor performance at school, drug abuse, poverty
and violence. Images and stereotypes abound, but information on immigrants
is scarce and although a wealth of literature on social and political aspects of
immigration exist, very little is known about who immigrants are, what they
think and what they feel, why they come to the U.S., how they see themselves.
This is particularly true of undocumented Mexican immigrants who are active
and present in innumerable work sites across the country and who lend their
workforce for low skilled jobs in areas such as construction and painting, landscaping, catering and food serving, agriculture and house cleaning in a large
number of American cities and rural areas. Their language, food, music are
gaining increasing popularity, but their voice is rarely heard. Although visible
in the work place, they lead their life in anonymity and isolation. Thus another
reason to study immigrant realities, particularly immigrant identities, is the
need to provide insights into aspects of a phenomenon that is amply debated
but largely under-analyzed.
A focus on immigrants and their identity can also help defeat overgeneralization and stereotyping and show the complexity of immigrant realities and
experiences. Stereotypes are in fact often the result of a lack of knowledge about
immigrants. Anthropologist Rosaldo (1993) stresses the relationship between
stereotyping and ignorance and argues for the importance of listening to what
people say about themselves. Proposing an analysis of Chicano narratives, he
underlines that this kind of research is a response to our ignorance of members’ self-perceptions and our inability to answer questions about them. The
same can be said about undocumented immigrants and many other minority
groups that are often ignored or largely misunderstood.
The second question proposed at the beginning of this introduction was:
Why should we rely on small scale qualitative studies such as the one proposed
here in order to gain a deeper understanding of immigration and of the processes of self definition and redefinition that accompany it? I argue that a qualitative perspective, particularly one based on discourse and narrative, is much
more insightful than quantitative methodologies because it helps bring to the
surface and understand aspects of the representation of the self that are not
apparent through statistics, questionnaires or sample interviews.
Qualitative studies on Mexican immigrants are scarce not only in the field
of discourse studies, but also in other research areas. Although sociological
and economic aspects of Mexican immigration have constituted and continue to constitute the focus of many sociological, economic, social psychological, anthropological studies (see Cornelius & Marcelli 2001; Durand 1991;
Gaxiola 1991; Heer 1990; Wayne, Chavez, & Castro 1982; Bustamante 1979;
Wayne 1978a, 1978b; Gamio 1969a, 1969b) questions related to self and otherperception, and self and other-representation, are relatively neglected.5 But immigration as a process crucially involves a continuous definition and redefinition of one’s identity and of one’s membership into larger communities. Life
stories analysts and social psychologists see it as one of the landmark events in
the life of individuals and groups. Thus, it is hardly possible to come to terms
with immigrant realities without understanding these “subjective” processes.
In an investigation of socio-psychological responses to migration among Mexican immigrants, de la Mora (1983), argued that although many studies on the
topic suggest that the factors influencing the outcome of the process are both
subjective and objective, most mainstream analyses have exclusively focused on
objective conditions such as unemployment, inequality in income distribution,
patterns of population growth, educational levels, work-force qualifications,
and so on. This emphasis has resulted in a lack of understanding of the impact
of subjective factors related to migration on the life of individuals and groups.
The importance of developing knowledge on the self-perception and identity formation among immigrants has been recognized by anthropologists
studying new immigrant populations (see for example Chavez 1992, 1994; Rosaldo 1993). They argue that such knowledge may for example, lead to a better
understanding of the factors that help immigrants integrate or that, alternatively, prompt their isolation within the host society. A comprehensive study on
Mexican immigrants in Southern California (Wayne, Chavez, & Castro 1982)
suggested, for example, that the integration of first generation Mexican immigrants into American society is minimal, as they tend to see themselves as
outsiders to that society even after many years of residence in the U.S. More
recent qualitatively based analyses challenge this kind of accepted wisdom and
suggest in contrast that generalizations on the way new immigrants adjust to
life in the U.S. are ill founded, since too little is known about their lives and
the repertoire of identities that they might be developing. Lamphere (1992),
for example, in the introduction to a collection of papers about the interrelationships between newcomers (including Mexicans) and established residents
in U.S. cities, argues that stereotypical images about the way immigrants relate
to other ethnic groups are inadequate to describe new urban realities. Similarly, in a study based on interviews about community membership among undocumented Mexican immigrants in the San Diego area, Chavez (1992) challenges the assumption that the strong links with their country of origin hinders
Mexican immigrants’ development of a new sense of community in the U.S.
. . . while many Mexicans retain ties with their home families and communities, this does not necessarily undermine their experience in their new communities, experiences that may isolate them from the larger society or lead
to change, sometimes well thought of and other times unconscious, in their
orientation from sojourners to settlers. (p. 56)
In this process, immigrants may be developing “multiple senses of community
In sum, qualitative studies of immigrant communities are important both
to assess and evaluate the ways immigrants fit into the host society, and to
provide knowledge about communities that are often the object of stereotyping and misjudgment. In this book I argue for the importance of the analysis of identity among Mexican immigrants, but I also show how such analysis
inevitably leads to its expression in discourse. I also argue that narrative discourse is particularly illuminating of ways in which immigrants represent the
migration process and themselves in it. Thus, my objective is not only to describe aspects of the identity of Mexican immigrants, but also to advocate for
a discourse-based approach to identity. Language is central to the expression
of identity because it is not a reflection of our apprehension of reality; it is
not a “conduit” (Reddy 1979) for thought, but rather a constitutive aspect of
our experience of the world. We cannot understand and share experience if we
do not express it linguistically. The way we express our experiences is as part
of those experiences as the material and psychological processes that prompted
our telling of them. Storytelling, as other discourse activities, is seen here as situated discursive practice (Fairclough 1989) in the sense that it both obeys and
creates social rules, understandings, and roles. It obeys social rules that dictate
how narratives should be constructed, by whom and to whom they should be
told,6 what is tellable, and how.7 Furthermore, storytelling, like other discursive
practices, rests on socially shared meanings, conceptions and ideologies (van
Dijk 1998), establishing a constant dialogue (Bakhtin 1981) with them, but also
generating new meanings and new behaviors. Among the central functions of
storytelling is, as I will argue, that of presenting and representing identity. In
this framework narrating is a way of talking about the self, but also a way of
practicing certain types of identity in specific interactional contexts.
The recognition of the structuring power of discourse and of discourse
organization is, therefore, at the heart of the enterprise of studying identity
through discourse analysis. The choice of narratives as the focus of analysis
and the centrality of narrative in the expression and negotiation of identity
will be thoroughly discussed in Chapter 1. Here I just want to note that the focus on the micro-analysis of naturally occurring talk and the emphasis on the
local mechanisms through which identity is expressed and negotiated in narrative, derive from the conviction, shared by many interactional sociolinguists,
that it is mainly through the analysis of data in painstaking detail and the consideration of the contextualization cues that speakers use to convey specific
meanings (Gumperz 1982, 1992) that it is possible to generate hypotheses on
how members of a community represent and negotiate their belonging to social
categories.8 According to interactional sociolinguists and other interactionally
oriented scholars, in order to understand how language contextualizes social
realities, it is important to combine a close focus on the details of texts “with
a broader conception of meaning” (Basso 1992: 268). Detailed discourse analysis is like a magnifying glass in that it illuminates the way linguistic items and
strategies employed by individuals are part of a repertory of resources shared
by communities. It is through the study of situated discourse instances that
cultural and social meanings become apparent to the analyst.9
But why study narratives in particular? Narrative is one of the privileged
forms used by humans to elaborate experience. This is why narratives have
been widely studied as windows into the analysis of human communities and
individuals in fields as diverse as anthropology (Lévi Strauss 1963), ethnography and folklore (Hymes 1981; Bauman 1986; Rosaldo 1986), social history
(Griffin 1993), psychology (Rosenwald & Ochberg 1992; Bruner 1990; Polkinghorne 1988; Mishler 1986); sociology (Somers & Gibson 1994). One reason
for this popularity is their methodological richness. Narratives have been used
as data in many fields of the social sciences and narrative analysis has constituted the methodological tool of a revolution in qualitative research that
has become generally identified as the ‘narrative turn’. This generalized interest greatly owes to the characteristics of narratives as texts. Narratives are
highly spontaneous and at the same time highly organized texts both in the way
they are structured, and in the way they are inserted in conversation (Labov &
Waletzky 1967/1997; Labov 1972; Jefferson 1978); for this reason they can be
recognized and analyzed as a specific and highly constrained discourse genre.
Furthermore, they are a discourse genre that invites and promotes involvement
and participation. Labov’s appreciation of the highly spontaneous character
of narratives led him to use them as a central tool for his study of the vernacular language, since he thought that when people narrate their experience,
they get involved and become less self conscious of the way they speak. After
him, researchers have begun to use narratives as an alternative to more traditional methods of elicitation such as questionnaires and formal interviews. In
the present study the spontaneity and involvement that the telling of narratives
created within the interview context were an invaluable aid. I was interested in
how immigrants make sense of their immigration experience and I asked them
questions on how they felt, what they thought about it, how migration had
changed them. But a direct reconstruction and reflection on the personal experience of immigration is difficult to elicit. I anticipated that immigrants would
have difficulties of various kinds in talking about, or reflecting on their experiences explicitly, while I thought that they would more easily tell stories, whether
asked to do so or not. This turned out to be true, since stories and other kinds
of narratives emerged throughout the interviews as spontaneous answers to
questions, as illustrations of argumentative points, and as recollections of past
experience. Narratives were then a central tool for me as a researcher in that
they allowed me to study important aspects of the identity construction in this
group, and for the immigrants as interviewees because they allowed them to
talk more freely about their experiences.
Another important aspect of narratives as resources for studying groups
and communities is their ability to serve as locuses for the keying of experience. Goffman uses this term to refer to “all strips of depicted personal experience made available for participation to an audience” (1974: 53). In storytelling
many linguistic devices, such as tense, reported speech or pronoun switching,
allow narrators to replay their experiences for an audience as if these were taking place before their eyes. In that sense, although narratives might occur as a
response to a question by the interviewer or they might be directly elicited,
they still largely respond to the expressive needs of the narrator and therefore are more likely to reveal her/his point of view on events and experiences
than other kinds of talk. Furthermore, narratives are in many cases negotiated,
thus their significance is established interactively by the participants in a speech
event. Therefore, they allow for different participants in an interaction to express their evaluation of events (Goodwin 1986). This aspect of storytelling was
important to my study since the telling of narratives constituted an occasion for
the discussion of the meaning of personal experience to members of the community. Participants in interviews expressed collective values and beliefs either
through evaluation of narratives told by others, or through co-construction of
narratives with others. Thus, while answers to questions were most of the time
individual, narratives invited more participation and negotiation of meaning
from participants.
As I have argued, discourse, and narrative in particular, represent the point
of intersection between the expression of individual feelings and representations and the reflection upon and construction of societal processes, ideologies
and roles. The latter become alive in the arena of talk in a unique way. By analyzing narratives we analyze not only individual stories and experiences, but
also collective social representations and ideologies.
Overview of the volume
The internal organization of the book mirrors my ideas, detailed in Chapter 1,
about the relationships between narrative discourse and identity. Except for
Chapter 2, in which I give background information on Mexican undocumented
immigrants and on the group of immigrant workers interviewed for this study
and I discuss some methodological choices, the rest of the book is centered on
the analysis and discussion of different aspects of the presentation and negoti-
ation of identity in narrative discourse. I argue that identity is not necessarily
expressed at one and the same level since it can be displayed or given off, but
it can also be openly negotiated. The degree of openness may vary, in the sense
that choices as to self-presentation can be more or less explicit depending on
the general interactional function of the narrative itself and the storytelling
context. Identities emerge in my analysis through the establishment of connections between linguistic choices, interactional worlds and story worlds. My
proposal is that in order to study identity, we need to look at these different
aspects and at its different ways of emergence in discourse.
I focus on the analysis of two basic aspects of the construction and expression of identity: the projection of the self into specific social roles, and
the expression of membership into groups and communities. The first aspect,
the projection of social roles, is analyzed through the consideration of ways of
presenting the self in relation to others, and of ways of presenting the self in relation to social experiences. I look at the role of the self with respect to others as
expressed in social orientation, while I analyze the role of the self with respect to
social experiences as agency. The linguistic phenomena and strategies on which
I focus are pronominal choices and voicing. Both pronominal choices and voicing operate at a level where identity is displayed more than openly discussed.
Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to this level of contextualization/expression of
identity. In Chapter 3, I analyze pronominal choice and other linguistic strategies that index social and cultural meanings related to broad conceptions of the
persona. In Chapter 4, I focus on voicing. The analysis is centered on the use of
constructed dialogue to report events and actions in the particular story worlds
connected with the border crossing. The focus is on the narrators’ presentation
of his/her role as figure in the story world in that the narrators’ choices in terms
of reporting forms, types of acts reported, and attribution of those acts to story
characters, is seen as signaling different degrees of agency and participation in
the narrated action.
The second level of analysis of identity deals more, even though not exclusively, with the explicit construction of self in relation to the member’s community or to external groups. Basic to membership construction is self and
other categorization, which is studied through identification strategies. When
self and other categorization is at stake, identity is more often negotiated than
displayed and in order to analyze it we need to resort to implicit and explicit
references to belief systems and ideologies. This level of analysis is taken up
in Chapters 5 and 6. Chapter 5 discusses the categorization of self and others. Crucial to such categorization are narrative strategies used to introduce
characters in stories. I argue that the analysis of story orientations reveals that
immigrants use ethnicity as a central identification category for self and others
in their stories and that ethnic identification reflects and constitutes different
levels of context, from the local negotiation of positions about self and others
and the creation of participation frameworks in particular interactions, to the
articulation of values and beliefs shared in the community and the contextualization of cultural and social norms. Chapter 6 focuses more closely on the narrators’ articulation of social representations and beliefs through storytelling, by
looking at the application of the ethnic category “Hispanic” to self and others
in different story worlds. This chapter focuses on the comparison of the construction and definition of identity in different story worlds, showing how self
and other representations are based on schematic relationships between actions and identities that are often encoded in stories. However, I also discuss
how even the same categories for self and other description may acquire different senses depending on the story world depicted and/or on the interactional
world,10 and how narrators may display conflicting stances towards apparently
uncontroversial definitions of the self.
Both dimensions of identity are studied interactionally in the sense that
the analysis does not look at story world organization as such, but at the connections that speakers establish between their narratives and the discourse in
which they are inserted. However, interactional construction and negotiation
is not taken as exhausting the contextual nature of narrative. The dialogue established by narrators cannot be exclusively reduced to the exchange with audiences, since participants are also engaged in dialogue with mainstream discourses about immigrants and immigration. In that sense again, the analysis
of narratives needs to take into account how local contexts interact with wider
contexts such as ideologies, belief systems, and the intertextual dimension.
To conclude, this book proposes an analysis of the narrative construction
of identity by undocumented Mexican immigrants, but also an approach to the
study of identity through narrative. The focus of the analysis is not on the projection of individual selves, but on the dimension of group identity and therefore particular attention is devoted to the processes and strategies of identity
construction that seem to be common among members of the group interviewed, and on the nexus between the local expression of identity by particular
narrators and the more global processes of collective representation that frame
and interact with such local expressions.
Chapter 1
Identity in narrative
A discourse approach
In this chapter I discuss narrative, identity and their relationships. I attempt
to show why narrative is central to the study of identity and which properties
of narrative as a genre make it particularly apt to become the locus of expression, construction and enactment of identity, but also a privileged genre for
its analysis. In the first section, I present my definition of narrative and review
some theoretical models that are basic to understand both narrative structure
and function. In the following section, I examine some theoretical approaches
to identity and to its analysis in narrative discourse. I then present my own
approach to the analysis of identity in narrative. I discuss different levels and
modes of expression of identity in narrative, review linguistic and textual phenomena that relate to these different levels, and discuss the methodological
tools and analytical levels that I used to analyze identity as a collective phenomenon. In the last section, I go back to the theoretical question of the relationship between identity, discourse and context and explain how my approach
to narrative identity is informed by a view of discourse as social practice.
Narrative genre and types of narratives
The first question that I want to address is the definition of narrative as a genre
and the kinds of narratives that form the object of my analysis. Among the
criteria proposed to distinguish narrative from non-narrative texts, one dimension is, in my view, essential to the characterization of a text as narrative.
Such dimension is temporal ordering, or sequentiality. Essentially, narratives
are texts that recount events in a sequential order. Even when sequentiality is
conceived in terms of casual connections, there is a temporal aspect to it since
events that generate other events are presented as preceding them temporally.
Chapter 1
The idea of temporal ordering as a defining property of narrative is one of the
tenets of literary narratology (Bal 1985; Genette 1980), a discipline that has had
great influence on linguistic studies of narrative. Prince (1982: 4), for example
describes narrative as “the representation of at least two real or fictive events
or situations in a time sequence, neither of which presupposes or entails the
other.” The temporal dimension is viewed by many scholars as inextricably tied
with narrative, both in the sense that time itself cannot be conceived outside its
expression through narrative (Ricoeur 1984), and in the sense that it is through
the weaving of events in time that narratives realize their meaning making and
interpretive functions (Brockmeyer 2000). Linguists who have studied narrative also give prominence to time as a principle governing the organization of
narrative. In his groundbreaking work, Labov (1972: 359) incorporated time in
his definition of narrative as the recapitulation of past experience, and Ochs
& Capps (2001: 2) recently characterized personal narrative as “a way of using
language or another symbolic system to imbue life events with a temporal and
logic order.”
Aside from temporal ordering, which is usually accepted as basic to narrative, other criteria have been proposed as distinctive features for narrative, but
these are not as universal, or as applicable to all kinds of narrative texts. In fact,
most definitions of narrative either apply to specific narrative genres, but not to
others, or describe prototypical cases only. The prototype of a narrative, both
in literary and conversational domains, is the story. Stories can be described
not only as narratives that have a sequential and temporal ordering, but also
as texts that include some kind of rupture or disturbance in the normal course
of events, some kind of unexpected action that provokes a reaction and/or an
adjustment. Thus linguistic, literary and psychological models of stories recognize the existence of textual components representing a basic action structure
and progression in these types of texts. Labov (1972) and Labov & Waletzki
(1967/1997) conceived of typical stories as composed of a number of sections:
1. An abstract that summarizes what the story is about
2. An orientation that gives indications about the setting of the story and its
3. A complicating action that presents the main action of the story
4. An evaluation through which the narrator gives the point of the story
5. A result that represents the resolution to the complicating action
6. A coda that signals the closing of the story and bridges the gap with the
Identity in narrative
Ochs & Capps (2001: 173) argue that storylines are articulated in ways that
present explanations of events and propose the following story components:
Unexpected event
Psychological/physiological responses
Object/state change
Unplanned action
In their model, while settings lay the background for understanding unexpected events, the latter may set in motion a response, a change of state, a
random action, or an attempt to deal with them.
In both these linguistic models the axis around which stories revolve is a
complicating event. Research on psychological responses to stories confirms
the prototypical character of stories that have the kind of structure outlined
above. Brewer (1985: 170), who attempted to devise universal properties of
stories, hypothesized that readers enjoy narratives if they produce “surprise
and resolution, suspense and resolution, or curiosity and resolution.” To support his hypothesis, he reports results of a study conducted with Lichtenstein
(Brewer & Lichtenstein 1980) in which readers who were asked to rate narratives on the degree to which they were stories or non-stories, did not consider
texts without an “initiating event” or an “outcome” to be stories. Thus the way
we conceive of stories usually reflects a general expectation about their structure: stories may be told for many reasons including to enjoy, inform, argue,
and express feelings, but they are expected to convey a sense of suspense or
surprise and a closure of some kind.
This expectation is related to a further criterion used to distinguish stories
from non-stories: tellability. According to Polanyi (1985), for example, stories
are usually conceived as texts that evolve around events that are ‘tellable’, i.e.
interesting, surprising, or unexpected in some way. Thus the idea of tellability
is tied to the presence of a complicating action in the story and so examples
of highly tellable stories both in everyday talk and in literature are those that
present dramatic events, out of the ordinary occurrences, unexpected developments or resolutions. Finally, both Labov (1972) and Polanyi (1979 and 1985)
mentioned the importance for prototypical stories to have a point, i.e. to convey the narrator’s interpretation and point of view on characters, events, or
state of affairs. Labov talked about evaluation as a main component of stories and a section destined to carry out the function of responding to a possible: “So what?” coming from a listener. Polanyi expressed a similar view when
Chapter 1
she argued that conversational stories need to have a point in order to be successful. To summarize: Prototypical narratives, or stories, are narratives that
tell past events, revolve around unexpected episodes, ruptures or disturbances
of normal states of affairs or social rules, and convey a specific message and
interpretation about those events and/or the characters involved in them.
However, research in recent years has increasingly pointed to the variability
of the texts that belong to the narrative genre and to the existence of many types
of narratives that do not fit the description given above. Narratives dramatically
vary according to structure, content type, social function, and interactional organization. Thus, while stories are usually conversational events whose topics
are not pre-established, many other types of narratives develop around topics
that have been previously stipulated, such as court narratives or elicited accounts of personal or social events. While stories have a specific point, other
kinds of narratives, such as autobiographies or historical chronicles, do not
have one single point. While stories depict discrete events, habitual narratives
tell events that used to take place over and over again. While many stories are
told to amuse and entertain, others are told to inform, to accuse, to argue, only
to mention some of their possible functions.
Besides differing in topics, functions, internal structure, narratives greatly
differ in terms of the interactional structures that they create and/or reflect.
Shuman (1986), Blum-Kulka (1993), M. H. Goodwin (1990a, b), C. Goodwin
(1986), Ervin-Tripp & Küntai (1997), Schegloff (1997), Ochs & Capps (2001),
among others, have shown that storytelling as an activity may involve a variety
of participation formats reflecting the power and social relationships among
interactants. From monologic narratives, to polyphonic ones, from spontaneous narratives to elicited ones, from finished to unfinished tellings, from
tellings that take place once to retellings, from disputed to undisputed tales,
the interactional formats that narratives create and in which they are inserted
are innumerable. For all these reasons, although we may look at stories as prototypes and as a basic genre from which the others are derived, characterizing
narratives in terms of stories is reductive and may lead to neglect storytelling
as a process and to focus exclusively on stories as products.
In this book, I use as data two types of narratives: Stories of personal experience and accounts of the border crossing that I call chronicles. While stories
of personal experience exhibit the characteristics of prototypical narratives as
described above, border crossing chronicles are usually longer narratives told
by the informants in response to a question on how they managed to get to
the United States and are centered around the telling of the journey between
Mexico and the United States, or simply around the crossing. I describe the
Identity in narrative
characteristics of these narratives in more detail in Chapter 4 where I compare
them to stories of personal experience.
. Identity and narrative
Identity is an extremely complex construct and simple definitions of what the
term refers to are difficult to find as there is no neutral way to characterize
it. Definitions of identity, especially within social psychology, often refer to a
sense of belonging to social categories. According to Tajfel (1981: 255), for example, identity is ‘that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from
his knowledge of his membership in a social group (or groups) together with
the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.” Linguists
and linguistic anthropologists focus on the role of language in the process.
Thus Kroskrity (2000) talks about identity as “the linguistic construction of
membership in one or more social groups or categories” (p. 111), and stresses
the fact that although identity is not necessarily expressed through linguistic means, language plays a central role in its construction. These definitions
reflect some of the terms of the current debate on identity since while Tajfel
describes identity as ‘self-concept’, Kroskrity talks about it as a ‘construction’.
Thus, on the one hand we have a description that implies something stable
and definite like a concept, but on the other hand we have the characterization of a process. Furthermore, while Tajfel ascribes identity to an individual,
Kroskrity does not attribute the process to any specific agent. Another point
of contention that is apparent in these two definitions and that elicits opposing views in contemporary debate over identity, is the contrast between a process firmly situated in the individual and a process grounded within social interactions and institutions in which and with which individuals and groups
are engaged.
Post-structuralist and social constructivist positions developed in the 60’s
and 70’s have profoundly influenced recent reflections on identity in linguistics. Francophone post-structuralist thinkers have contributed to modern conceptions of identity through their reflections on ‘the subject’ in language,
pointing to the irreducible link between the constitution of subjectivity itself and language. Benveniste’s equation between the subject and the subject
of speech (Benveniste 1971 [orig. 1966]) and Derrida’s claim that the subject
is ‘inscribed in language, is a function of language’ (Derrida 2000: 91 [orig.
1972]) both point in this direction. Another tenet of post-structuralist thinking has been the idea that subjectivity only exists as an effect of social practices
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and cultural templates. Such is the sense of Althusser’s claim that the subject is
an ideological effect since individuals become subjects only by virtue of their
‘interpellation’ through ideology (Althusser 1971). This is also the direction of
Foucault’s theory that social practices are responsible for creating specific social
subjects (Foucault 1984).
Social constructionist theorists in the social sciences, on the other hand,
have contributed to a notion of identity based on the premise that social realities are constructed and not given (Berger & Luckman 1967: 84) and therefore
need to be regarded as accomplishments to which human beings arrive through
social work (Zimmermann & Wieder 1970). These ideas have been instrumental to the recent turn in identity studies away from a notion of identity as the
prerogative of a subject and a function of her/his beliefs and feelings, and a conception of subjectivity itself as a stable and coherent ensemble of characteristics
defining groups or persons. Postmodern ideas about identity reject the notion
of the ‘subject’ as a Cartesian unit encompassing rationality and freedom of
choices. They have led to the substitution of the single term, ‘identity’ with alternative formulations, such as its plural ‘identities’ – reflecting the notion that
individuals and groups have access to a repertoire of choices socially available
to them – or the term ‘identification’ – referring to a construction and a process never completed that requires discursive work (Hall 2000: 16). This turn
has had important consequences for discourse studies since researchers have
turned to the investigation of ways in which fragmented and ‘polyphonous’
(Barrett 1999) identities coexist within the same individual, ways in which
identities change and evolve according to situations, interlocutors and contexts,
ways in which identities are created, imposed, enjoined, or repressed through
social institutions and interactions.
With respect to narrative studies, this new focus on identity as a social
construction has taken a number of different routes. Among them we can distinguish two dominant paradigms: On the one hand the tradition centered
on autobiography and based on psychological theories of identity, and on the
other hand, the conversation analytic and ethnomethodological tradition. In
the first approach, the relationship between narrative and the expression of
identity has been widely conceived in terms of the relationship between the self
and the act of narrating, positing the act of narrating as an act of constitution
of identity. A great deal of work on autobiography has followed this route and
many scholars in psychology have been interested in the connection between
‘the self ’ and narrative. Bruner (1990) noticed that between the 70’s and the
80’s psychologists increasingly started to see the self as a storyteller. As a result,
narrative studies have grown exponentially, adopting as their methodological
Identity in narrative
tool the investigation of the narrative construction of the self by individuals
and groups. Bruner was among the first scholars to embrace a view of the self
not as a static and fixed entity, but a social construction that emerges mainly
in narrative form. Another psychologist, Polkinghorne (1991), suggested that
narrativization is a process basic to the constitution of the self in that it allows humans to make sense of experience and to grasp the self as a whole. He
argued that narrative helps build a sense of self by providing temporal organization, which in turn produces coherent self-understanding. In his view, narrative configuration takes place through emplotment, “a procedure configuring
temporal elements into a whole by grasping them together and directing them
towards a conclusion or sequence of disconnected events into a unified story
with a point or theme” (1991: 141). In a similar vein, the philosopher Kerby has
argued that:
Narratives are a primary embodiment of our understanding of the world,
of experience, and ultimately of ourselves. Narrative emplotment appears to
yield a form of understanding of human experience, both individual and collective, that is not amenable to other forms of exposition or analysis. (1991: 3)
For these authors then, narrative is central in the encoding of human experience because it is based on temporal sequence and because experience itself
becomes intelligible to humans only when they narrate it. Studies of autobiographical narrative (see for example; Rosenwald & Ochberg 1992; Gergen &
Gergen 1988; Bruner 1991, 1993; McAdams 1993; Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, &
Zilber 1998; Mishler 1999; Brockmeier & Cardbaugh 2001) have stressed the
postmodernist conception of the self as “a reflexive construction” (Brockmeier
2000: 53) and as a process in flux. According to this approach, stories reflect an
inner reality, but also shape it and therefore identity cannot be seen as a product
or a given, but needs to be seen as an ever changing process. Recent developments in this field have stressed the role of interaction in autobiographical selfconstruction through the concept of ‘positioning’: a process of identity construction involving both the storyteller and the audience (see Wortham 2001;
Bamberg 1997; Davies & Harré 1990; Harré & Van Langenhove 1999). However, many scholars working within this tradition have focused on the concept of ‘self ’ as the expression of individual, mainly monologic, processes of
construction and reconstruction of personal experience.
At the opposite end, the tradition of narrative studies inspired by Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis looks at identity mainly as emerging
in interactional circumstances, thus a process in itself, constituted in ‘performance’, negotiated and enacted, not internalized in any way, and with no sub-
Chapter 1
stantial existence outside the local interactional context. Bauman’s (2000: 1)
description of identity applies to this approach:
In this perspective identity is an emergent construction, the situated outcome of a rhetorical and interpretive process in which interactants make situationally motivated selections from socially constituted repertoires of identificational and affiliational resources and craft these semiotic resources into
identity claims for presentation to others.
Within this paradigm, identity is defined in terms of members’ orientation to
the context at hand, and as a process activated in relation to different contexts of interaction. A basic construct to analyze processes of identification
in such approach has been the study of categorization processes, since people are not seen as having an identity, but rather as being “cast into a category
with associated characteristics or features” (Antaki & Widdicombe 1998: 3). Categories defining people’s identity are seen as locally occasioned and made relevant through specific orientations displayed by interactants in interactional
contexts and negotiated with their interlocutors. This approach to identity has
spurred some interesting developments in narrative studies as well. Following
remarks by conversation analysts on the importance of incorporating interactional contexts and members’ orientations within the study of narrative, (see
for example Schegloff 1997; Goodwin 1997) scholars in this tradition have criticized the prevalence of narrative studies centered on monologic stories produced within interviews. They have focused instead on the co-construction
and negotiation of identities as accomplishments within talk-in-interaction.
These accounts underscore the role of interviewers (Lucius-Hoene & Deppermann 2000; McKenzie 1999) or other interactants (Kyratzkis 1999) in the cocontruction of the identity displayed by narrators and emphasize that identity
is a strategic construct sensitive to local occasioning and circumstances.
This brief summary of positions on identity is useful to point to some conflicts in the theoretical-methodological choices of scholars who study the intersection between identity and narrative language. The first one opposes a
focus on the individual as the receptor and articulator of social meanings or of
conflicting personal images, to the focus on context as the shaping force determining individual identities. The second one opposes the study and analysis of
‘naturally occurring’ narratives to the study of elicited or ‘solicited’ narratives.
The emphasis of this book is on group identity and on the expression of
identity as a process shaped and at the same time shaping collective social and
discursive practices. In this sense, identity is not primarily conceived as the expression of an individual’s definition of self, since the ‘self ’ is “never more than
Identity in narrative
a part in a social relation, and the subject is, as they say, social even in his or
her solitude” (Hanks 1990: 7). The approach taken here stresses the fact that
narrators construct and articulate a variety of meanings that go beyond the
manifestation of their individual selves to encompass their multiple ties to social groups and practices. Narrating is seen as a discursive practice, i.e. a form
of social practice centered on discourse (Fairclough 1989) that both reflects social beliefs and relationships and contributes to negotiate and modify them.
Through narratives people create and negotiate understandings of social realities, but they also continuously modify the social relationships that exist among
them and also, potentially, with others who are not present in the interaction.
The relationship between narrative and identity is seen here as operating
at different levels:
a. At one level, identity can be related to narrators’ adherence to cultural ways
of telling through the articulation of linguistic and rhetorical resources.
Narrators draw on, and creatively build upon, shared narrative resources
such as story schemata, rhetorical and performance devices, styles, that
identify them as members of specific communities
b. At another level, identity can be related to the negotiation of social roles
(both local and global) that conform or oppose the ones attributed to narrators by communities and individuals. Narrators use stories as stages for
the enactment, reflection or negation of social relationships and concretely
contribute to perpetrate or modify them
c. Yet at another level, identity can be related to the expression, discussion
and negotiation of membership into communities. Central to such process
is the categorization of self and others and the negotiation of beliefs and
stances that help narrators identify themselves as members of groups or
distinguish themselves from members of other groups
The first aspect of narrative identity has to do with specific ways of telling
related to the use of shared linguistic, rhetorical and interactional narrative
resources. Groups defined in terms of nationality, gender, or ethnicity have
been shown to use narrative resources in specific ways that set them aside
from other groups. Scholars that have carried out systematic comparisons between groups of speakers belonging to different nationalities for example, have
been able to demonstrate that differences between national groups exist in
terms of story topics and of storytelling strategies. Tannen (1980 and 1989)
showed differences in the choice of evaluation devices and use of detail between Greeks and Americans; Blum-Kulka (1993) reported differences between
Americans and Israelis in the type of narratives that were told, in their topics,
Chapter 1
and in the participation frameworks enacted when the narratives were told.
Still other scholars attempted to show how ethnically defined groups exhibit
specific patterns in telling strategies, topics, or narrative organization. For example, Michaels (1981) investigated differences in topic organization between
Caucasians and African Americans children and reported that black children
use a topic-associating style that is different from the hierarchical organization of narratives told by white children. Similarly, Heath (1983) found important dissimilarities in the way narratives were organized among the population
of two towns in the U.S. and related them to specific socialization processes.
Johnstone (1990), who studied the cultural content of narratives told by Midwestern Americans, found differences between men and women in the type
of worlds evoked and the way protagonists were depicted in narratives. More
recent studies have proposed other aspects that may differentiate groups (defined by gender or ethnicity) in the way they tell narratives, such as the degree
of discourse integration of stories (Sawin 1999), and the choice of language or
language varieties (Holmes 1997; Barrett 1999; Bukholtz 1999).
Adherence to cultural ways of telling has also been interpreted as the adoption of particular telling styles. Bauman (1986 and 2000) and Hymes (1981)
studied narratives as cultural speech acts with specific performance rules respectively in South Western communities and among Native Americans. Other
scholars (Maryns & Blommaert 2001) have analyzed how shifts in narrative
style connect the same speaker to polyphonous identities related to different
ethnic or national groups. Anthropologists and linguists have also argued that
linguistic devices used in narratives can only be understood against the background of wider cultural frameworks for the organization of experience in specific speech communities. Scollon & Scollon (1981), for example, described
Athabaskan narratives as having both a rhythmic organization that is different
from Western narratives, and a content that reflects values and beliefs related
to Athabaskan philosophy. All these studies show how speakers use the narrative resources available to them in ways that are in some sense ‘typical’ of their
The second level of identity construction that I have identified is the negotiation of personal and social roles that takes place through narratives. Researchers investigating the representation of self in story worlds have pointed
to different kinds of positions that narrators attribute to themselves as figures
in the story-world by looking at linguistic choices indexing social or personal
roles in both story and in interactional worlds. Schiffrin (1996, 2000), for example, discusses how stories told by Jewish women about relatives reflect and
shape their stances with respect to their identities as women and family mem-
Identity in narrative
bers. O’Connor (1994) shows how narratives allow prisoners to position themselves in non agentive terms towards their past actions, and to propose a new
sense of self. Hamilton suggests (1998) that personal narratives told by patients contribute to their collective construction of an identity as “survivors”
and fighters. Studies investigating gendered identities have also greatly contributed to the analysis of agency and role representation in stories and in storytelling. Ochs and Taylor (1995) demonstrate how narratives become occasions
for the reproduction and replay of family roles, Capps (1999) illustrates how
women are constructed as agoraphobic through narratives, Holmes (forthcoming) shows how both men and women manage anecdotes to project and build
individual and collective work-related roles. Finally, research in anthropological linguistics shows how narrators emplot important social events in ways
that help strengthen or underscore the roles that they impersonate within their
communities (Briggs 1997).
The third level at which narratives can become a locus for the enactment
and reflection of identities is the expression and negotiation of membership
into communities. Such sense of belonging is expressed through processes of
categorization and labeling and is often defined by the adherence to values,
beliefs and behaviors. Stories provide a powerful occasion for narrators to classify and evaluate characters and their actions against implicit or explicit norms
and values. Since stories typically deal with violations of expected courses of actions, narrators are able to present moral stances that confirm or refute generally held positions and values and therefore to evaluate themselves and/or others as members of groups holding or rejecting moral values and social norms.
Polanyi (1985) underscores this aspect of storytelling arguing that the analysis
of the evaluation of unexpected events in stories provides important insights
into the values and beliefs of specific groups or cultures. She proposes a “cultural reading” of the stories that she collected, and illustrates how their topics
and the evaluations of events and characters in them, reflects values widespread
at all levels of American society. Ochs & Capps also (2001) discuss the fact that
experiences are framed within the limits of stereotypes and socially accepted
conventions through cultural templates or conventional images of people and
events. Life-story analysts also illustrate the connection between stories and
beliefs. Linde (1993), for example argues that individual life stories are constructed according to coherence principles which, in turn, reflect systems of
beliefs held by members of certain social groups. Luborsky (1990) shows how
personal life stories, far from constituting raw data, are highly processed according to situational, professional and cultural norms such as narrative sequencing, metaphors used to represent experience, and cultural “templates”
Chapter 1
representing overarching personal meanings. These devices in turn reflect ways
of thinking about the individual and human life that are shared by a given community. Values and beliefs are related to characters in stories and these are evaluated according to categories such as the morality or immorality, normality or
abnormality, adequacy or inadequacy of their actions. Thus narratives allow
narrators to relate identities with acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
However, when we look at narratives as a kind of discourse practice it becomes clear that narratives do not merely “evaluate” actions and identities, they
also contribute to change or maintain them. It has been stressed how narratives
are important in the diffusion and strengthening of social prejudice (see van
Dijk 1987). Narrators create, circulate and contest images about in-groups and
out-groups by stressing similarities and differences, by building interpretations
on common contexts of experience. Many studies underline the role of narratives in negotiating attitudes towards social categories such as race (Bukholtz
1999), gender (Kiesling, forthcoming) ethnicity (De Fina 2000) and their centrality in the creation of expectations and or myths about social experiences
and stress how it is often through them that individuals and groups construct
their group memberships.
To summarize the arguments developed in this section, story telling is a
type of discourse practice that involves the reflection, negotiation and constitution of identities at three levels:
a. Through styles of telling that derive from common uses of narrative resources
b. Through the projection, representation, and re-elaboration of social roles
and relationships
c. Through the negotiation of membership into communities that are seen as
holding common beliefs and values and behaving in specific ways
In this book I focus on the latter two levels: the representation and elaboration of social roles, and the presentation and negotiation of membership into
communities. However, I also explore the extent to which common uses of linguistic resources may allow us to speak of a style of telling about the self that is
either culturally specific or typical of this particular group of speakers. I study
identity in relation to social roles through the investigation of linguistic choices
and strategies that reflect ways of presenting the self in relation to others, and
ways of presenting the self in relation to social experiences. For the analysis of
the presentation of the self in relation to others I look at social orientation. For
the analysis of the projection/construction of roles with respect to social experience, I look at agency as the represented degree of activity and initiative that
Identity in narrative
narrators attribute to themselves as characters in particular story worlds. The
focus of the analysis is on the linguistic mechanisms and strategies that help
speakers construct these of roles. Specifically, I focus on pronominal choice
and voicing devices. Through pronominal choices narrators express personalized or depersonalized views of experience and construct themselves in stories
as socially or personally oriented individuals. Through use of voicing devices
(reported dialogue and reported actions within it) narrators convey degrees
of initiative that they attribute to themselves and others within crucial experiences such as the border crossing. At the same time, I explore the extent to
which common uses of narrative resources among members of this group of
speakers points to the existence of shared ways of telling and of constructing
personal experience.
I analyze the second level of identity construction: the negotiation of membership into particular social groups, through the study of categorization and
identification strategies used by narrators to introduce themselves and others in narratives. The questions asked are: What are the salient categories for
self and other description for this particular community? What relationships
do narrators establish between identities, actions and reactions? Stories where
categorization is prominent are typically argumentative in that they re-present
and evaluate adherence to or violation of social norms and the analysis of identity at this level leads more directly than in other types of narratives, to implicit
mental representations and ideologies.
Thus, the expression of particular identities is tied in my analysis to the use
of linguistic elements and communicative and rhetorical strategies both in the
representation of characters within worlds of experience and in its negotiation
with interlocutors. Such linguistic phenomena and strategies belong to different (although interdependent) levels of analysis: lexical, textual/pragmatic, and
interactional. The lexical level refers to the use of specific words or expressions.
The textual pragmatic level refers to textual logical and argumentative relationships both explicit and implicit. The interactional level refers to the devices and
strategies used by narrators to index their stances and attitudes both towards
their own texts and other interlocutors. Among the discursive mechanisms and
strategies and the linguistic elements that I have focused on in the analysis are
the following:
Chapter 1
Lexical level
a. Pronouns, verbs and syntactic constructions indicating different degrees of
responsibility, engagement and activity both in relation to the story-world
and the storytelling world
b. Definite descriptions, referential terms, pronouns used to identify self and
Textual/Pragmatic level
Different types of implicatures, implicit propositions, and presuppositions
Relationships of consequence, cause or effect
Oppositions between terms, actions or descriptions
Relations between identifying descriptions and actions
Cohesive devices and coherence relationships between textual segments
and between the text and the discourse surrounding it
Argumentative relations between parts of the text
Interactional level
a. Devices and strategies encoding shifts between the story world and the
interactional world
b. Performance devices such as reported speech, tone, tempo, rhythm, repetition, conveying implicit stances towards characters or events
c. Devices and strategies indicating involvement or distancing with respect to
interlocutors and-or narrated events
Focus on linguistic phenomena does not imply that identities are directly related to linguistic choices. Rather, identities emerge through the interplay between linguistic choices, rhetorical and performance strategies in the representation of particular story worlds, and the negotiation of such representations
in the interactional world. Negotiations involving not only narrators and interviewers but also other participants in the interaction, often show how the
construction of particular identities is subject to conflicts and reformulations.
Identities are “achieved” not given, and therefore their discursive construction
should be seen as a process in which narrators and listeners are constantly engaged. The analysis of identity as discursive work requires therefore consideration of the discursive mechanisms through which narrators convey, negotiate, contest, discuss, certain identities, of the ways in which such identities
are negotiated with other interactants, and of the relationships between iden-
Identity in narrative
tities and particular contexts of experience, represented in and through story
worlds. Thus, in the present study, for example, I show how depersonalization
in the representation of experience does not merely result from the choice of
individual or collective pronouns in the representation of story characters, but
also from differences between the pronominal choices suggested by the interviewer in her questions (singular you) and the pronominal choices adopted
by the narrators in the telling (plural us). Similarly, the analysis considers for
example, how particular descriptions for the identification of self or others as
characters in the story world are negotiated with the interviewer or with other
interactants, but also problematized through the use of performance devices
that allow narrators to convey implicit stances towards their characters. Thus,
for instance, narrators may identify themselves as Hispanic in story worlds,
but may at the same time convey conflicting attitudes towards such categorization through the use of performance devices such as voice, tempo, laughter, etc. They may also convey conflicting and contradictory identities as they
shift from one self-description to another in connection with different worlds
of experience. These shifts are apparent when we relate changes in pronominal choices or identification devices to differences in the story worlds evoked.
As story worlds represent different life domains, narrators ascribe, contest and
negotiate varying inventories of identities.
Besides recognizing the existence of different levels of expression and construction of identity in narrative, we need to also acknowledge the existence of
a variety of modes of emergence of identities within discourse. Identity can be
given off, conveyed, enacted, performed, discussed, contested by narrators. For
example, when narrators use particular linguistic devices such as first person
singular or plural pronouns to refer to themselves, employ or switch between
linguistic codes, choose certain styles such as topic association or “franqueza”
(Farr 2000), they may convey, or give off, their identities simply by adhering
to telling norms and styles that are shared by other members of their communities. On the other hand, when narrators use particular accents, impersonate,
ventriloquate (Bakhtin 1986), imitate, different voices, or employ other kinds
of devices that allow them to express footings (Goffman 1981), they may be
“performing” identities. Finally, when narrators adopt identificational strategies for themselves and others as characters in the story-world and/or as participants in the interactional world, or when they critically present characters as
breaking social rules, they may be openly accepting, contesting and discussing
identities. These ways of impersonating, presenting, re-presenting identity are
not necessarily exclusive of each other, but appear to different degrees according to the objectives, topics and moments of the interactional contexts and call
Chapter 1
for different tools of analysis. For example, identities that are conveyed or given
off can be related to representational choices such as the choice of pronouns
or type of verbs to depict the action in the story world. On the other hand,
identities that are negotiated and discussed can be related to the argumentative
attribution of certain actions to characters and to the use of explicit external
evaluation devices in stories.
Contexts are crucial not only for the kinds of identities presented, but also
for the ways these are presented. In the case of storytelling taking place within
interviews, the level of explicit negotiation of identities is important because
tellers are often invited to reflect on who they are and how they are defined
by society, and therefore they use stories to accomplish socially acceptable selfpresentations. Interview contexts encourage, for example, both long monologic tellings in which little negotiation takes place and most of the identity
work is done by the narrator, and the telling of argumentative stories told to
support images of the in-group or the out-group. For undocumented immigrants storytelling within interviews represents an important occasion for the
negotiation of their presentation of self, since their opportunities to be heard
by social actors who don’t belong to their group are limited. Interviews also
represent interactional events where interviewers and interviewees often try to
make sense of social reality through explicit analysis of social circumstances
and roles. This does not imply that identities are always openly discussed since
narratives told in interviews are also often performed or arise spontaneously
in connection with points that are being discussed, but simply that narrators
rely more heavily than in in-group conversation on explicit discussions about
their identity. In conclusion, the choice of an interview context as a site for the
investigation of identity makes relevant the analysis of explicit, argumentative
modes in the presentation of self, and of their negotiation with an interviewer
who, although sympathetic, is not a member of the group. The question of the
interviewer’s role in the kinds of identities that emerge in this context is also,
therefore, highly salient.
. Local and global contexts
The arguments discussed in the previous sections converge on the idea that
identities are situated in historical, social, and interactional contexts. Looking
at identity in social constructionist terms, I have argued that identities are the
result of ‘discursive work’ (Hall 2000), and that there can be no single identity,
but a constellation of identities often conflicting with each other, a repertoire
Identity in narrative
that is available to individuals and from which they draw when presenting and
representing who they are. I have also discussed the fact that selection within
the repertoire of possible identities within and outside story worlds crucially
depends on the context. But which context is pertinent for the construction
and analysis of specific identities? Social constructionist approaches stress the
plurality of identities that may be displayed and their context sensitivity, but
often leave open the question of how local and global identities interact with
each other and what kinds of contexts are pertinent for their analysis. Identities
constructed through narratives may be related to a multiplicity of contexts.
The local context situates narratives within the interaction at hand. Conversation analysts have pointed to the fact that narratives are told by speakers to
audiences and that narrators introduce or close their stories following the constraints imposed by other interactants (Jefferson 1978; Polanyi 1985) through
clear displays of relevance and adequacy of their content to the rest of the
interaction. They have shown how these texts develop according to the presence or absence of audience reactions (Goodwin 1986; Duranti 1986; Polanyi
1985) and are built based on evaluation of audience expectations (Sacks 1992a,
b). By the same token, identities are locally produced since narrators position themselves and enact specific identities that are at least partly the product of ongoing negotiation processes and therefore create or refute particular alignments and participation frameworks with other speakers and listeners
(Goodwin 1986; Goodwin 1993). At the local level of interactional positioning
(Bamberg 1997) narrators may engage, for example, in discursive work aimed
at projecting their moral identity as collaborative, or mature, or knowledgeable individuals. At another local level, they may stress their dependence on the
sympathy of the listener, or conversely, their independence and individuality.
Participants, including interviewers (Wortham 2001), may in turn be oriented
towards the construction or contestation of such identities. Furthermore, as
we have seen, narrative structure and development, story content, and therefore also the identities enacted in specific interactions, display clear links with
the interactional practices in which they are inserted and with the roles of the
participants in them. The identity work done through stories told in interviews
may differ dramatically from that of stories told in conversation because of the
distance in the relationship between interactants. Similarly, stories told within
other discursive practices such as sermons (Ochs & Capps 2001) or educational
discussions (Moita Lopes, forthcoming) may differ as the identities that speakers and audiences produce and reproduce crucially relate to the circumstances
of production. In other words, identities are bound to interactional contexts
through their connections with participant frameworks and speech events.
Chapter 1
At another level, the context of narrative identities is given by much wider
social circumstances which constitute the broad framework for the attribution
to self and others of membership into ethnic, social, economic categories. Yet
at another level, the story world in which both interactional frameworks and
worlds of experience are re-presented provides a further, represented, context.
Although it is true that the expression and negotiation of identities may
connect these different contexts, it is also true that the analysis of ways in which
contexts interact with identities is necessarily selective and interpretive. Focus
on local identity displays may take the analyst deeper and deeper into the dynamics of a specific interaction and of the participation framework of an event,
while focus on the narrators’ management of represented identities may take
her further and further away from the local context and deeper into the relationship between self representation and experience of the world. As a result,
the analysis of identities may rely more or less heavily on the local or global
context as explanatory constructs. Reliance on the local context to explain and
frame identities is typical of ethnomethodologically and C.A. oriented social
constructionist approaches (see Antaki & Widdicombe 1998). These methodologies posit that the pertinent level of analysis is the local construction of
identities as signaled by the orientation of interactants. In the analyses inspired by those approaches, global identities only become pertinent as they
are signaled, enacted, or negotiated in the interactional context since identities are constructed and accomplished in the process by speakers and other
However, a reduction of the context to sequentially and locally accomplished actions does not allow a full appreciation of the links between locally
expressed identities and global phenomena of identity formation, since their
complex relationships are mediated through wider discursive and social practices that may not necessarily be apparent in individual interactions, or signaled by speakers’ orientation towards them. Thus, for example, the frequent
switches between yo (I) and nosotros (we) exhibited by Mexican immigrants
when describing themselves as actors in story worlds, may go unnoticed within
the local interaction, but acquire significance when analyzed at a more general level as a strategy of positioning vis a vis life experiences that constitute a
threat to their integrity and sense of self. Similarly, the recourse to specific ethnic identifications to refer to oneself or others in story orientations, may evoke
no specific reaction among participants and no orientation signaling their significance. However, an analysis of a number of stories and background information on the role of ethnicity in American society and in immigrant life, may
shed light on the significance of those story identifications for Mexican im-
Identity in narrative
migrants. Thus, it is argued in this book that the analysis of group identity in
stories cannot rely exclusively on the local context, but needs to take into account its complex relationships with the wider context of social and discursive
practices and their dynamic connections with the discourse of specific actors.
Storytelling is a discursive practice marked by its insertion within certain
conditions of production and reception. The sociologist Bourdieu (1982) explains context dependence in terms of markedness. Using as an example the
words in a language, he says: “The dictionary word has no social existence: in
practice it only exists as immersed in certain situations” (p. 16). In the same
way as words become socially charged as soon as they are uttered, so do utterances and longer stretches of talk since they are inserted within social and
interactional practices, and therefore within other contexts. One way in which
we may connect specific discourse instances to macro social circumstances is
through analysis of the “conditions of production and reception” of discourses
(see Pecheux 1969; Pecheux & Fuchs 1975). These are not something external to discourses, but something that shapes them. Conditions of production
include the institutional framework, the ideological apparatus within which
certain discourses are produced, mental representations, the political situation
and force relationships among social groups, intended effects and strategies.
The former are not simply ‘circumstances’ that exert constraints on discourse,
rather, they constitute it and characterize it (Gardin 1976). These wider social
factors are contextualized in storytelling through the use of linguistic elements
and strategies that connect, for example, specific instances of discourse to wider
ideologies and mental representations, social behaviors and social relations.
Again, an understanding of the role that narratives have in conversation and
of the meanings that are transmitted and negotiated through them would not
be possible without reference for example to implicit and explicit beliefs and
values held by most members in the community, even if they have not been
brought to bear in the particular interaction, or participants do not orient to
them. The analysis of stories, and particularly the analysis of identities in stories, cannot avoid incorporating an analysis of ideologies (van Dijk 1998) and
beliefs. Thus, in this book, the ways in which identities are related to actions
in stories is connected to schematic representations about self and others that
appear to be shared by group members, and implicit evaluations of actions are
studied against common moral stances. These representations and stances are
often discussed in the interviews and constitute a frame of reference for the
evaluation of characters.
Another way in which local contexts connect local identity displays with
wider group relations and mental representations is through intertextuality
Chapter 1
(see Kristeva 1980 and Bakhtin 1986). Beyond the interaction at hand narrators establish intertextual connections not only with other stories such as other
narratives about migration, but also with other “discourses”, such as dominant
images about immigrants circulated through institutions and media. While responding to interlocutors, narrators also respond to discourses that are not
necessarily uttered in their presence, but that are being socially circulated. In
brief, texts produced in specific circumstances are also part of a discursive chain
that links together texts produced at different moments and by different people.
Thus, when immigrants present certain images of themselves or apply definitions to others, they are often reacting to what the media, or other social actors
say about them. Their stories are often designed to counter negative images
or to incorporate commonly held prejudice about competing groups. Interactional negotiations about identity cannot be explained without reference to
these external voices.
Because the focus of my work is on the connection between local expression of identities and group representations about identities, the local context
is taken as an explanatory and constitutive frame for the expression of identities
in so far as it connects to wider social contexts. For this reason, not much attention is paid to the personal dynamics between interviewer and interviewees,
or among interviewees, which belong to the level of interactional positioning.
Furthermore, phenomena are seen as significant if they show patterns that occur in different stories precisely because the emphasis is on shared processes of
construction and representation.
In Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6, I explore the connections between local and
global identities in detail. However, I devote the next chapter to the description
of some aspects of the migration of Mexican workers (particularly of undocumented ones) to the United States and to a presentation of the subjects, data
and methodology of this study.
Chapter 2
The social phenomenon
Mexican migration to the U.S.
In this chapter, I discuss some aspects of what I have called “the conditions of
production” of the narrative discourse of the Mexican immigrants who were
interviewed for this study. I present an overview of the social phenomenon
of Mexican undocumented migration to the United States looking at its size,
origins, and motives in order to explain the position of undocumented immigrants within U.S. society. I introduce my informants and their specific social
economic background, and give some information on the nature of the discourses on migration circulated by the media and in the political arena since,
as I argue, these discourses constitute an intertextual domain with which immigrants (and the interviewer) establish connections in their narratives and
arguments. Finally, I explain some of my choices in terms of fieldwork, data
collection procedures and analysis.
Mexican undocumented immigrants to the United States
The migration of millions of workers from Mexico to the United States has
been a recurrent phenomenon in the history of the two countries and a focus
of concern, debate, and conflict on both sides of the border. Mexican workers
started migrating to the United States to work in the agricultural sector in the
19th century, shortly after the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Peace Treaty
(1848), which sanctioned for Mexico the loss of a great part of its Northern
territories. The flux of workers has never stopped since then.
Scholars of Mexican migration (Chavez 1992; Gaxiola 1991; Rouse 1991)
suggest that because of the geographical proximity of the two countries and
because of this long history of migration, Mexican workers have a different attitude to moving into the U.S. than migrants from other countries. First, they
Chapter 2
see the possibility of crossing the border as an opportunity that has been exploited again and again by generations of people in their own family or village,
as something that has a long historical tradition, and as a resource that is always
present in moments of economic difficulty. Secondly, and as a consequence of
this, they see themselves as forming part of a transnational labor market, not
as labor force whose place of employment is restricted to their own national
Another interesting aspect, also related to the historical and traditional
character of Mexican migration, is the fact that migration is largely a social
process, much more so than an individual one. Mexicans hear about life in the
United States from returning migrants, they usually discuss their decision to
migrate with members of their family or friends, and they often leave for their
journey in groups.
The geographical proximity of the two countries also facilitates migration,
since Mexicans, unlike other Latin Americans, only need to cross one border in
order to get to their destinations, and many of them cross it more than once in
their lifetime. Migration to the United States is, in sum, a widespread process in
the history of Mexico as a country and part of the shared experiences of people
from particular villages, cities, and states within it.
. Number and origin of Mexican undocumented workers in the U.S.
It is difficult to estimate what proportion of the Mexican immigrants who work
in the United States are undocumented. Estimates vary greatly and often are
based on conjecture. Gaxiola (1991) reviewed a number of studies conducted
both in the United States and in Mexico on the volume of the undocumented
population between 1970 and 1980, and reported that estimates varied between
3 and 13 millions of undocumented workers in general, with varying proportions of Mexicans. Her review points to the fact that data on the presence of
undocumented workers are in many cases unreliable since they often respond
to the political aims of those who provide them.
A study conducted by Lesko and Associates in 1975 that had been requested
by Chapman, then INS commissioner, estimated for example that the number
of illegal Mexican workers in the United States was 5,204,000. This estimate was
widely criticized because of the unreliability of the methods used to calculate it
(Heer 1990). Research conducted between 1977 and 1979 by the Mexican Centro Nacional de Información y Estadística del Trabajo (CENIET) (published in
1982) provided more reliable data. The research was conducted among Mexicans who were being expelled from the United States, and Mexicans who were
The social phenomenon
back in Mexico, but had recently been living in the United States. The study
concluded that the number of undocumented Mexican workers in the United
States could be estimated at 990,719. Heer (1990: 51), who surveyed 10 studies
on the presence of Mexican undocumented workers between 1973 and 1980,
proposed a figure of 1,781,000 for 1980.
The figures are probably higher today, since immigration seems to have increased in the eighties at both global (Papail & Arroyo 1996: 16–17) and local
levels. If we look at reports of immigration in individual states like California,
the immigration from Mexico to the United States has constantly increased in
the last thirty years (Wayne, Chavez, & Castro 1982: 13). According to Chavez
(1994: 52), in the eighties it was calculated that between 200,000 and 300,000
undocumented workers from all countries stay in the U.S. each year. The number of immigrants crossing the border is also directly related to the economic
situation in both countries and the variations in the real salaries (Hanson &
Spilimbergo 1997: 7). Thus, given the dramatic fall in the real salaries of Mexican workers in the nineties, it is also reasonable to suppose that the flux of
immigrants from Mexico has increased in the same period.
Studies of Mexican migration (Gamio 1969a, b; Bustamante 1979; Morales
1981; Gaxiola 1991) also agree on the fact that most of the Mexican undocumented workers traditionally have come, and still come, from a limited number
of states of the Mexican Republic, namely: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Chihuaua, Zacatecas, Michoacan. Other states where migration is a significant phenomenon
are Durango, San Luis Potosí, Baja California. This means that the existence of
a tradition of migration is a strong factor in the diffusion and establishment of
the process.
Most of these states are not Border States but occupy the central region of
the country. It is also interesting to stress that they are not the poorest states in
Mexico. This shows how the decision to migrate is not only determined by economic factors, but also by the presence of relatives and friends on the other side
of the border, and the existence of a local tradition. On the other hand, surveys
of Mexican undocumented population in the United States agree on the fact
that most of the undocumented workers choose as their destination the SouthWestern United States. Heer (1990: 53–54) reports data from the 1980 Census,
according to which it was calculated that 67% of all undocumented Mexican
workers were in California, while another 13% were in Texas. Thus, these two
states constituted together the destination of 80% of all undocumented workers in the U.S. He also quotes the CENIET (1982) study as confirming these
data for documented and undocumented workers, since it reported that the
states where most of the Mexicans residing in the U.S. were found were respec-
Chapter 2
tively: California (49.2%), Texas (22%), Illinois (8.6%), New Mexico (2.0%),
Colorado (1.9%) and Arizona (1.8%).
. Reasons for migrating and sociocultural characteristics
of Mexican immigrants
According to the CENIET study (1982), about 78% of the undocumented
workers interviewed had a job in Mexico before emigrating. This seems to corroborate the hypothesis proposed by different authors that one of the main
reasons for migrating is not unemployment, but the desire to improve one’s
economic situation and the need to get a better salary. Many undocumented
workers report, in fact, that their salaries in Mexico are insufficient to provide
for their basic needs, while in the United States their income is more substantial. Even though they sometimes earn less than the minimum wage, they can
still send money to their family back home. Wayne (1978a) reported a difference of up to 13 to 1 in the salary earned by an immigrant in the United States
and in Mexico.
Chavez (1992: 29–33) also quotes other reasons for migrating reported by
the undocumented workers he interviewed in California. Among them are
the desire to follow “the immigrant dream” of getting a better life socially
and economically, overcoming family conflicts, or wanting to satisfy a need
for adventure. On the whole, nonetheless, most authors agree that the main
motive for migrating is, in the case of Mexican undocumented workers, economic need (Gamio 1969a; North & Houston 1976; Morales 1981; Gaxiola
1991; Chavez 1992).
What is the social profile of Mexican undocumented migrants? In a study
conducted by the Consejo Nacional de Población (CONAPO) (1987: 73–77),
which surveyed 9,631 Mexicans who were sent back to Mexico from border
cities because of lack of proper documentation, it was found that the larger
groups of immigrants were composed of people between 15 and 29 years of
age, steadily decreasing after that age. According to the same study, more men
migrate than women, hardly surprising information if we think that women
whose age is between 15 and 29 are in their childbearing years, and therefore
have less mobility than men.
According to Morales (1981), who bases her conclusion on a survey of several studies of Mexican undocumented migration, another characteristic of
migrant workers is that their level of education is low. The majority of the
workers interviewed in the CONAPO (1987) study had completed only elementary school. Chavez (1992) also found that most of the workers he inter-
The social phenomenon
viewed at different campsites around San Diego had little education. Gaxiola
(1991) reports that 45% of the 200 hundred undocumented workers detained
at the border that she interviewed in Laredo, Texas, had completed elementary
school, while another 20% had completed between 3 and 4 years of primary
Data on the occupation of migrant workers in the United States are more
difficult to compare, since most studies have been conducted in the South of
the United States and their results do not necessarily represent the situation in
other areas. Different studies found that the majority of the Mexican undocumented workers are employed in the agricultural sector (Bustamante 1979;
North & Houston 1976; CONAPO 1987). The CONAPO study also found
that the most common occupation after agriculture was industry. According
to Wayne, Chavez, & Castro (1982: 29), in Southern California Mexican immigrants can be found holding unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in virtually every
sector of the region’s economy. These authors also suggest that although agriculture was still an important area of employment for Mexican workers, there
was a trend towards moving from agriculture to different types of jobs and that
most workers were employed in small firms.
These studies confirm that Mexican undocumented workers are employed
as unskilled workers in most sectors, that their earnings are low, and their work
conditions often worse than the ones that American workers would accept. It
is nonetheless likely that the sectors of employment will vary with the areas to
which these workers migrate.
To summarize, most studies agree on the fact that undocumented workers
are mostly young, between 20 and 29 years old, that their educational level is
low, and that they are mostly occupied as unskilled workers.
. The migration process
We have already seen that migration is usually a social process, in the sense
that it often involves contact with people who are (or were) in the United
States, and it is also often based on an established local tradition. Another aspect of the migration process that has been underscored by many authors is its
temporal nature.
According to Morales (1981: 182–183), the majority of the Mexican workers interviewed in those studies stayed in the United States for less than one
year. This is due, according to the author, to the cyclic nature of agricultural
work. These conclusions are again largely based on the situation of Mexican
immigrants in the South of the U.S. The case of those who manage to reach the
Chapter 2
northern areas of the country and get a job in the industrial sector is different.
The trip back to Mexico is more expensive and difficult, therefore they probably stay longer there and some of them even bring their families. Not much is
known on the percentage of Mexican undocumented workers who stay in the
United States, but it is generally accepted that their proportion is smaller than
the proportion of those who come and go. This has led to a vision of Mexican
undocumented workers as homing pigeons who do not develop any ties with
the host country. Chavez (1994) strongly argues against this vision saying that
many Mexicans stay in the United States and that the migration process has an
inevitable effect on the people who undertake it, whether they go back to their
country or not, since they ultimately develop multiple senses of community
. The subjects of the study
The data for this study come from sociolinguistic interviews with 14 Mexican immigrants living in Langley Park, Maryland. Most of them came from
the same village in Mexico, lived in houses that were not too far apart, and
often visited each other on weekends. Twelve of the fourteen people that I interviewed were born in El Oro, Estado de México, while two of them (César
and Sixto1 ), were born respectively in Mexico City and San Luis Potosi. Their
age varied, but most of them were young since 9 were in their twenties, 3 were
in their thirties, and 2 were in their fifties.
The immigrants belonged to 4 different households, or ‘domestic groups’
(Chavez 1992: 129). Chavez describes domestic groups as houses where people live together but do not necessarily constitute a family. This arrangement is
common among immigrants for two reasons: first, because newly arrived immigrants often are housed by friends or relatives who are already living in the
country, and secondly, because it allows them to share expenses related to rent
and utilities.
Domestic groups have different types of compositions; in the case of the
immigrants I interviewed, there were 4 domestic groups which were all formed
either by members of the same extended family, or by relatives and friends.
Leo, for example, lived with his wife and brother. Silvia lived in an apartment
with 7 other guests: Omar, her brother, Raquel and Lourdes, her cousins, who
in turn were sisters, and 4 other young people who were unrelated to them. So
the domestic groups that I visited were combinations of family members living
together, and family members and friends.
The social phenomenon
Among these immigrants, the general level of education was higher than
the one reported in other studies since more than half the people I interviewed
had studied beyond elementary school; in fact 2 had started university before
coming to the United States, 2 had completed high school and 4 had studied a technical career after high school, while another 2 had started, but not
completed, high school.
This higher level of education reflected the fact that most of my informants
did not belong to the poorest layers of society and could be classified as middle
class or lower middle class. Among the women: Silvia had worked as a computer specialist in a firm in Mexico, Laura as a receptionist, Raquel as an employee of the court house, María had been owner of a restaurant, while Virginia had not worked outside the house. Willi had worked at the Nissan plant
in Mexico City, Cesar had worked as a waiter, Oscar had been employed as a
shop assistant. Not all these informants had been employed before coming to
the United States; in fact Leo had never worked because he had left Mexico
when he was very young, and Juan attended school before he came to the U.S.
with his mother. Ciro told me that he and his wife were not well off in Mexico
and that they did not own a house, but that they were not poor. He said that he
had worked for the Secretary of Agriculture in his village, but did not specify
the nature of his job. His wife had never worked outside the house, while his
brother, Antonio, was a baker. Sixto did not mention his previous occupation.
The jobs that they obtained in the United States were much less varied: 2 of
the girls worked part time in a dry cleaners’, and part time for house cleaning
agencies at the time when I interviewed them. Another one also had a cleaning
job. María was unemployed when I met her, but told me that she had had all
kinds of jobs, from cleaning to painting. Virginia was a housewife. All the men
worked either in landscaping or painting. Some of them (Sixto, Ciro, Leo, and
Sergio) had previously been employed in the agricultural sector.
The time that these immigrants had spent in the United States varied from
a minimum of seven months, which was Omar’s case, to a maximum of 8 years,
which was Ciro’s case. However, the migration patterns varied between men
and women. For example, coming and going was an established pattern for
men, but not for women. Of the women that I interviewed only María told me
that she had come twice, the second time to bring her own children with her.
For the other women there had only been one trip from Mexico and they did
not plan to go and come back. They planned to spend a period of time in the
United States and then to go back definitively to their country.
In the case of the men that I interviewed, 5 had crossed the border more
than once; 4 of these, were also the oldest ones: Ciro, Antonio, Sixto, and Willi.
Chapter 2
Leo, who also had followed a pattern of multiple migration, was younger than
the rest, but he had left Mexico when he was only 15 years old and he had
crossed the border more than once. He was also the only one who had formed
a family with a non-Mexican. He was married to a Porto Rican. The rest of the
men who were married, were married to Mexicans. Sixto had met and married Maria in the U.S., while Ciro was the only one who had brought his wife,
Virginia, and his children to the U.S. with him, but for many years he had
been divided between his work in the U.S. and his family in Mexico. Willi and
Antonio had wives and children in Mexico, but did not plan to bring them.
The other men were not married. Of the women, María had brought her children with her, but left her older ones in Mexico. Virginia had joined Ciro and
brought along her two children. Raquel had a child in Mexico who lived with
her mother. The other two girls were not married.
The reasons that the immigrants mentioned for coming to the United
States were mainly economic. Those who did have a job in Mexico declared
that they could not get enough money to provide for their basic needs. The
most recent migrants mentioned the economic crisis that hit Mexico at the
end of President Salinas’ term in 1994 as a major reason for migrating. Some
of them had experienced unemployment: Willi, for example, had been laid off
by the company where he worked. Others had faced economic hardship: María,
for instance, had been compelled to close the restaurant she owned.
It was also clear from what the immigrants said, that migration from El Oro
was not a new phenomenon. Many of my informants told me that people from
El Oro had always migrated, if not abroad, at least within Mexico because the
village offers very little. El Oro is a town in the Northwest of Estado de México.
It was a mining village until the beginning of the century, but nowadays it has
no industries or alternative sources of work so that most people either work in
services, in the agricultural sector, or in craftsmanship (Mondragón Martínez
1989). However, unemployment is quite high and many young people look for
work elsewhere.
Another reason that was often mentioned together with the economic motive, was a need for change, a desire of adventure, a dream of getting a fresh start
in life. Both Ciro and Leo, for example, told me that when they were young they
often talked with their friends about trying their luck in the U.S., which they
had seen as a kind of Promised Land. Juan said that he felt that he was a problem child and that he needed to change environment and do something different. Maria told me that she had originally left Mexico because she wanted to
visit Canada. But, such motives were never mentioned as the primary ones for
migration. All the people I interviewed stressed the fact that they had come to
The social phenomenon
work and that they needed more money than they could get in Mexico. When
Silvia told me about her previous job as a computer specialist in Mexico she
added: “Well, it is a badly paid job and I worked 10 hours a day. And what
made me leave it was that my mother was sick and she needed money. So the
economic problem, more than anything else, is what makes one come to this
Most of the immigrants I interviewed were undocumented. I did not discuss this topic openly with them because I felt that they would resent being
asked whether they were legal or not. Nonetheless, some of them implied that
they had no papers when they discussed the fear that their irregular situation
produced in them, and for others I could reach this conclusion because of details that had come out in the interviews. The only person who told me that
he had legal papers was Ciro, who said he had obtained them when he was
working in California.
Migration was seen by most of the people I interviewed as a temporary
situation. The immigrants, except for one, declared that they planned to go
back to Mexico at some point. But some of them also mentioned the fact that
they would stay in the United States if they could become legal. Those who had
children were flexible on their future choices. For example Ciro and his wife
mentioned that their plans would depend on their children. For those who said
that they wanted to go back to Mexico, the reasons were many. Among them
there were the belief that U.S. society has no firm family values and cannot
assure happiness, and a feeling of rejection and isolation with respect to North
American society. There was also a fear of seeing the children becoming prone
on violence or addicted to drugs.
It is nonetheless important to say that many of the people that I interviewed
were relatively recent immigrants with a strong attachment to their families and
country, and strong ties in Mexico. The idea of going back to Mexico was for
some of them related to specific projects that they had in mind. For example,
Laura wanted to make some money to help her mother build her own house.
Also Silvia wanted to earn money for an operation that her mother needed to
undergo. Raquel was planning to start a business in Mexico and ensure a better
future for her child. Sergio was trying to earn enough money to finance his
studies in Mexico.
These plans and ideas for returning to Mexico evolve in the course of the
immigration process, so that many of the immigrants who initially plan to go
back, may actually end up staying in the U.S. In the case of the group of people
I interviewed, three of them have now gone back to Mexico: Omar, Virginia
and Raquel. The rest of the immigrants are still in the United States. Although
Chapter 2
some of them told me that they were planning to go back within the year, many
years have passed since I started my data collection and they have not done so.
Thus, many immigrants who do not plan to stay in the United States end up
settling there.
Looking at the group as a whole, it seems that the immigrants that I interviewed are in some ways similar to other groups that have been studied, but in
other ways different. They are similar in terms of age (since most of them are
young), motivations for coming, and origin. The city of El Oro, is in Estado
de México, a state in the Center of Mexico that is very close to Michoacan, a
traditional migration area.
In other respects, these immigrants are different from other groups previously studied. For example, they mostly come from a lower middle class background, thus they were less poor in their country than most undocumented
workers surveyed in California. The fact that they tend to be more educated
could be related to the more recent economic events in the history of Mexico
that have led to a steady impoverishment of the middle class, and to a widening
of the gap between rich and poor. Such social phenomena must have affected
the immigration process so that more immigrants with the same characteristics
must have come to the U.S. in recent years.
. Life in the United States
During my interviews and visits to the area where the immigrants lived, I gathered notes on their way of life and their social environment. The area where
they live has a mixed population composed mostly of Latin Americans and
African Americans. All my informants lived in buildings inhabited by other
Latin Americans, but they did not seem to have much contact with their neighbors. These apartments were usually crowded since many people shared a limited space. I was usually taken to a living room with a T.V. where the interview
took place. During most of the interviews the TV was kept on even if nobody
was watching it. The T.V. seemed to have such a central role in the physical
space where immigrants lived because watching T.V. was among the few diversions in a life mainly devoted to working. T.V. rooms were also the rooms
where the people who lived in the same apartment spent time together. The
programs that they watched were always in Spanish since the Mexicans I met
spoke very little or no English.
The language question was always present in our discussions since not
being able to speak English increased the feelings of isolation that these immigrants had. Some of them told me that they managed to communicate al-
The social phenomenon
though they did not consider themselves fluent in English. Ciro, for example,
had learned some English, since he had been in the country longer than the
others, but the anxiety related to the lack of competence in this language was
one of the topics that came out more often in our conversations. When I asked
why they did not learn English, most people told me that they had neither
time nor money to study. Occasions to practice the language at work were limited for them since they usually worked with other Spanish speakers or with
other foreigners. Moreover, their contacts with English speaking people were
reduced. Nonetheless, they were conscious and worried about the fact that their
lack of competence in English was an obstacle in the search for better working
When asked about the area where they lived, immigrants often complained
about drug selling and insecurity in the streets: that is why they often preferred
to spend their free time home or away from their area. When I asked them
how they spent their week-ends, many told me that they watched T.V., or got
together with friends or relatives to have lunch or a drink. Men also played
soccer and some of the younger informants told me that they often went to the
National Mall to see the museums.
There was a general feeling that ability to relate to each other and willingness to spend time with other people had in many ways suffered. Many complained about the fact that life in the U.S. made people more isolated, that even
persons who had been friends in Mexico had become somewhat estranged in
the United States. Loneliness and lack of freedom were two topics that were
also often brought out in conversation.
All the immigrants that I interviewed worked for long hours during the
week and often during the weekend as well. They all stressed that they had
come to the United States in order to work and make money. Silvia, Raquel and
Susana for example, had two part time jobs, so they came home to have lunch
at about three o’clock, and then they went out to work until night again. They
were all engaged in jobs that they had never had in Mexico, but few complained
about it. They stressed the fact that these jobs were often physically exhausting,
but for some of the immigrants this was not a problem. Some of them liked
to work outside in painting or landscaping, but they felt that it was difficult
for them to progress without obtaining legal papers. They felt in many ways as
second-class citizens, as people who were exploited but whose rights were not
acknowledged. They told me that they all had to pay taxes but could receive
no benefits. They said that they contributed with their work to the wealth of
the host country and that they all had jobs that Americans do not want to do;
nonetheless they felt that they were treated as unwanted guests.
Chapter 2
The moral issue of being undocumented emerged in open and implicit
ways at many points during the interviews. As we will see in the next section,
Mexican workers know that they are seen as parasites both by Americans and
by other, more stable, immigrant groups. They are acutely conscious of the fact
that their status as undocumented workers puts them materially in a position
to be thrown out, and morally in a position to be blamed for unemployment of
national workers and use of the host country’s resources. They often are directly
accused of criminal behavior and of lowering education standards in the U.S.
The need to counter this kind of discourse underlies many of the linguistic and
argumentative choices that immigrants made during the interviews with me, in
that immigrants constantly defended themselves against possible accusations
of the kind sketched above.
The problem of the lack of personal freedom was also deeply felt. Immigrants were always afraid of the police, although they also mentioned that there
had been no attempt on the part of the authorities to prosecute them. María
told me, for example, that she felt constrained and oppressed in the U.S. and
that when she had gone back to Mexico she had felt as if finally free to breathe.
To describe the way she felt about her personal freedom María used a very interesting metaphor: She said that when she entered her own country she felt as if
she were “coming out of a ball of dough.” In this metaphor her life in the States
is represented as seclusion within an oppressive and constricted space. Many
complained about the fact that life was monotonous in the United States, and
that there was not much more than work and that this kind of life was only
good materially, not spiritually.
Nonetheless, immigrants also were critical of their own county’s corruption and lack of opportunities and praised both the fact that they could get a
chance of working in the United States, and the fact that they perceived people and authorities to be more honest there. Ciro, for example, told me that
he marveled at the respect for individual life that he had seen in the States and
that respect was totally absent in Mexico.
. The Intertextual domain: Public discourse on immigration
As I have argued before, the narrative discourse that emerged in the interviews
needs to be seen as connected in complex ways to a wider intertext mainly
composed of the discourses on immigration of public institutions such as the
media, government agencies, and political parties. I use the terms ‘intertext’ to
refer to the range of discourses that connect in more or less direct ways to a
The social phenomenon
present instance of discourse, and ‘intertextuality’ to the property that texts
have of referring to each other. Such notions derive from Bakhtin’s (1986)
insights on the dialogic character of discourse and are related to Fairclough’s
(1992) and Wodak and Reisigl (1999) notions of interdiscursivity.2
Besides public discourse on immigration there are of course the discourses
produced and circulated in other domains such as the job place and the area
where the immigrants lived. The influence of public discourse on the construction and negotiation of the immigrants’ identity is, however, much stronger
than the influence exerted by other discourse domains because of the power relationships involved in the institutional practices that support and generate discourse. Immigrants are attentive and receptive to public discourse about them
because they know that the opinions and evaluations that public discourse may
convey about them may lead to concrete and tangible action for or against them
and conversely, that public opinion may swing as new measures on immigration are implemented. Thus, for example, immigrants mention how the border’s permeability changes according to political circumstances and how crossing may become easier or harder at different moments in time. The movement
around the border reflects the unpredictable ups and downs of economic tides,
and changes in policy are supported and justified through public discourse.
Thus, when economic growth benefits from cheap labor and authorities allow
a greater influx of undocumented workers, a greater stress is placed in public discourse on the contribution of immigrants to the welfare of the country.
However, when economic crises or unemployment call for restrictions on immigration, public discourse on the ills of immigration becomes more active
and vociferous.
Although immigration finds advocates and foes at all levels of public administration and opinion making in the U.S., it is not inaccurate to say that
discourse about undocumented migration is generally negative. This opinion
is supported by studies of political debates and of the press on the theme of
immigration. In a study of the metaphors used by leading Californian newspapers to describe undocumented immigrants and immigration during the debate over Proposition 187 3 in the nineties, Santa Ana (1999) concluded that
independently of the positive, negative, or neutral position of the authors with
regards to immigration itself, the prevailing metaphors used to represent the
phenomenon had negative connotations. Immigrants were described as animals, as an illness on the body of the nation, as a destructive flux of water.
According to this author “the absence of positive dominant metaphors for immigrants supports the thesis that the public discourse on immigrants is racist”
(1999: 218).
Chapter 2
While pro-immigrant positions in newspapers and political discourse find
ground in the historical composition of the U.S. and in popular constructs that
are consistent with prevailing ideologies about group relations such as the idea
of the ‘melting pot’, the idea of the need to offer equal opportunities to all citizens, the image of the hard working outsider that makes it to the top of the
social pyramid, the defense of undocumented immigration rests on ideological constructs that are highly unpopular in the U.S. Among them the principle
of the defense of the poor and the weak, the principle of social solidarity, and
the image of a State that has among its functions the protection of its weaker
citizens. Illegal immigrants are invariably classified as ‘parasites’, people who
exploit services that are financed through ‘tax dollars’ paid by the legitimate
citizens, and as individuals who break the law. All these characteristics are antagonistic to a Protestant ethics centered on individual effort and earning what
is deserved.4 As a consequence, undocumented immigrants are constantly put
in the position where they have to defend and justify themselves. This is particularly true of Mexican undocumented immigrants. In a recent analysis of
press coverage about immigration, Chavez (2001) underscores the generalized
nature of negative attitudes towards Mexicans. According to this author:
Discourse on Mexican immigration does not follow the overall pattern found
for immigration generally. Since 1965, the ten national magazines examined
here have used both affirmative and alarmist imagery in their discourse on immigration. In contrast, the striking pattern that emerges from an examination
of the magazine covers that reference Mexican immigration is that the imagery
has been overwhelming alarmist. (p. 215)
Mexicans are described as ‘invaders’, ‘aliens’, and ‘criminals’ whose behavior is
‘out of control.’ Their growing number is also a focus of concern since mainstream discourse raises fears of internal ‘colonization’ by a foreign culture.
These themes and metaphors, reflect the worst anti-immigrant rhetoric found
in the press over the last twenty years (Mehan 1987), and in recent times have
formed the hardcore of ideological campaigns leading to measures such as the
approval of Proposition 187, or to campaigns such as the English-only movement seeking to reduce the use of Spanish in schools. This negative public discourse constitutes the implicit point of reference of much of the argumentative
discourse produced by the Mexican immigrants interviewed for this study, but
also of their narratives about self and others.
The social phenomenon
. Notes on methodology and data
. The interviews
The data for this research come from 16 interviews with 14 Mexican immigrants. As discussed in Section 2, the group of people that participated in the
interviews was relatively homogeneous and closely connected. Members of the
group were either friends, or relatives, or at least knew each other. The interviews were conducted between September 1996 and June of 1997 in Langley
Park, Maryland. They varied in length from a minimum of 45 minutes to a
maximum of approximately two hours. Some of the interviews were individual ones, while others involved more than one participant. Some people were
interviewed more than once, for example, when they had participated in a collective interview and it was felt that they had not had sufficient chance to tell
their own story.
As mentioned before, among the immigrants, only one had obtained his
papers when he was working in California, many years before the interview.
This fact is very important to explain the methodological choices related to
data collection. Immigrants agreed to be interviewed because a member of the
community who was well known and trusted by the people interviewed introduced me. Before starting the interviews, I had made contact, through a
common friend, with a young Mexican man, called Ismael,5 who was himself
an immigrant and who had become very interested in the topic of this research,
and had offered to introduce me to people from his village, all of whom lived in
Maryland. Thus, I had the opportunity to visit these immigrants’ homes several
times in some cases, to observe and discuss their life style, and the conditions
in which they lived and worked. I was introduced to them as a friend and was
treated as a friend. I told the immigrants that I was conducting research on the
life of Mexican immigrants, but did not explain that my focus was on narrative.
The questions that were asked followed a protocol eliciting socioeconomic
data such as place of origin, age, schooling, work experience, and then went
on to more personal questions about the motives for migration, how the immigrants had reached the United States, and their impressions about differences and similarities with their own country, life style in the U.S., and life in
the neighborhood (see Appendix 1). But the log was not rigidly followed and
the interviews largely developed according to the interviewees’ reactions to my
I always tried to elicit personal stories about the immigration experience
through a question that was based on Labov’s danger of death question (Labov
Chapter 2
1981). I asked: “Is there an experience that you had here in the United States
that has particularly struck you?” That question elicited narratives in many
cases, but not always.
Ismael took part in all the interviews and became involved in the research
in a very active way. His presence and his collaboration were precious to me for
many reasons. First, his participation as an insider in the community helped
relax the atmosphere and gave the interview a less formal tone. Second, the interviews often became more spontaneous interactions because the immigrants
were talking not only to me but also often addressed him. Ismael did not take a
very active role asking questions since he seemed to prefer leaving that role to
me, but he intervened in the interviews in many other ways. He provided comments or clarifications, and the interviewees, who often elicited agreements or
disagreements, addressed him, asked him questions, and enjoyed having him
as an audience when they told stories. Third, Ismael was a constant source of
information on different aspects of the life of immigrants and discussed the
interviews with me.
The Mexicans I interviewed also showed a warm and spontaneous interest
in my project. As I mentioned, they were not told in detail that the focus of
the study was narrative, but they were told that I was working on an academic
project on immigrant life. Many of them expressed an interest in being heard
and in telling their story. Sometimes talking about their experience seemed to
be a relief to them, since most immigrants feel lonely and cherish a chance to
discuss their experiences with somebody.
Another important factor in the relationship that I developed with the people I interviewed was my familiarity with Mexico and Mexican culture. This
created a bond between us, and contributed to the disappearance of any diffidence that they might have had towards me at the beginning. I was asked a
lot of questions about myself, my family, what I thought of Mexico, the way I
felt about living in the United States, and so in many ways the interviews were
interactional exchanges and not formal events.
The informality of the interview does not, however, erase the social distance between interviewer and interviewee, and the fact that immigrants were
asked about their perception of the immigration experience and their role
within it, was also an element of the context that permeated the interviews.
Immigrants were discussing about themselves with a stranger that in many respects represented and voiced generalized concerns and opinions about them.
The impact of these circumstances on the interview cannot be underestimated
since the construction of identity that takes place within this interactional
frame is often related to the perception of the interviewer as an observer and a
The social phenomenon
judge, and therefore a potential holder of generalized opinions about who immigrants are and how they live. This context needs to be taken as a frame to understand the strategies that immigrants use to present themselves and negotiate
their identity, but also their silences or avoidance on particular topics.
In general it can be said that the methodology followed in the data collection and analysis was largely inspired by ethnographic principles, to the extent
that it was possible given the fact that I was not a member of the immigrants’
community, and that there was no public common place where the Mexicans
would meet and I would be able to spend time with them. I could visit people,
talk to them and gather information from different sources, I could discuss my
insights with one member of the community, but I was a foreigner and a person
from a different social class. Nonetheless, I drew on ethnography in many ways.
First, I based the study on interviews with ordinary people. Ethnography
emphasizes the role of ordinary people as a resource through which to understand a particular group’s experience. As Spradley (1979) points out “An
ethnographer seeks out ordinary people with ordinary knowledge and builds
on their common experience” (p. 25).
Second, I drew on the ethnographic view of the observer not as a ‘bias’,
but as a source of understanding; an approach that rejects the idea that the researcher needs to try to look at the object of research as something that can be
separated from his own subjective understanding of it. The information that I
gathered about the situation and ways of thinking of immigrants was obtained
through a process in which we all participated and exchanged ideas and points
of views. I was not merely observing the immigrants, but was bringing my own
experience as an immigrant and my own perception of life in the United States
to the interviews. Such perceptions and understandings were often elicited by
the immigrants themselves and certainly had an influence on the questions I
asked, the topics I pursued, my reactions to the stories I heard. My being Italian, and my having lived in Mexico, contributed to a certain level of understanding with the interviewees. On the other hand, my being from a different
social class separated me from them. The interviews were not merely occasions in which I was trying to elicit opinions and stories, they were also themselves part of a process which involved (for me and the people interviewed)
making sense of the immigration experience. However, trying to eliminate the
influence of the observer on the data would imply believing that data can be
observed independently from the observer. Such an opinion is, in my view,
My experience as an immigrant, and my experience living in Mexico were
part of my analysis since they oriented me in the interpretation of the data.
Chapter 2
For example, they contributed to drawing my attention to the question of social orientation in narratives; a point that I felt sharply separated Americans
and Mexicans.
A further influence of the ethnographic approach to data analysis was the
adoption of a methodology in which the formation of hypotheses was largely
data driven. Although I approached the research with questions and ideas on
how Mexican immigrants would talk about themselves, and with a theoretical
framework that allowed me to analyze narrative data, most of my work was
guided by a close analysis of the verbal exchanges that occurred in the interactions with the immigrants. Those analyses helped me formulate hypotheses
on the function of specific linguistic elements and on the meaning of linguistic
choices. Those hypotheses in turn made me go back to my initial theoretical
stance about the relationship between narrative as discourse and identity with
a new understanding.
. Data selection and transcription
After the interviews were completed I transcribed them in their entirety
because although the focus of this analysis is on narrative, narratives are
seen as texts that emerge within the context of the interview and cannot be
isolated from it.
The narrative data on which I worked are of two kinds: chronicles of the
border crossing and stories. While I define stories in Labovian terms6 as narratives that present temporal juncture, a specific evaluation point and a structure
including at least one complicating action, I define chronicles as narratives that
relate chronologically a series of events, have as their objective the description
of how those events took place and do not have a single evaluative point. I will
return to this point in detail in Chapter 4 where I also discuss the reasons for
the inclusion of chronicles in the study.
I used Labov & Waletzky’s (1967/97) model as a point of reference for the
description of both types of narratives, chronicles and stories. Although widely
criticized because of its failure to incorporate the interactional context and to
explain its role in storytelling (Schegloff 1997), and because of its emphasis
on external world and narrative clauses (Polanyi 1985), this model has many
advantages for the analysis of narratives. First, it offers a characterization of
narrative and of its constituents that helps us describe a text as an example of
narrative (although beginnings and ends are not always easily recognizable and
can be fuzzy). Second, the model constitutes a guide to separate functions of
utterances within narratives. Thus, Labov & Waletzky’s model is a basic tool for
The social phenomenon
the analysis of personal narratives, particularly to locate the narrator’s beliefs
and attitudes in a story. Furthermore, the structure delineated by these authors,
has been found to work for stories told by Spanish speakers too (Lavandera
1981; Silva Corvalán 1983) and was therefore applicable to my corpus as well.
The adoption of Labov & Waletzky’s model required the division of stories
into clauses, a choice that has many advantages, but also many disadvantages.
The main advantage is that each clause can be assigned at least one of the functions that Labov proposed. The disadvantage is that they often violate other
types of units (such as intonation units) that cut across the traditional syntactic
boundary of the clause.
The data I used include 41 narratives of personal experience and 15 chronicles told by the Mexican immigrants that I interviewed. However, some analyses focus on chronicles, others on narratives of personal experience. Table 1
summarizes the data used for the different kinds of analyses.
When I analyzed pronominal reference to self I used 35 narratives, that is
only the ones that involved the narrator as protagonist in the story world, since
I was interested in looking at ways in which speakers referred to themselves
when they were the main characters in the story. In the analysis of codas I used
all narratives, since I was interested in finding out to what extent experiences
lived by the narrators or by others are evaluated as having personal or general significance. In the analysis of reported speech I only used chronicles, as I
was interested in analyzing the border crossing experience. Within the group of
chronicles, I used the ones that presented instances of reported speech. In the
analysis of self and other categorization, I used all 41 narratives of personal experience since I found that the phenomenon of ethnic identification becomes
more salient after the immigrants are established in the new country. Nonetheless, when I wanted to compare how the immigrants’ sense of ethnic identity
changed or stayed the same across story worlds (Chapter 6) I used both sets of
data (chronicles and stories).
Table 1. Data used in analyses
Chapter 3
Pronominal reference
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Reported speech
Self and other categorization
Ethnic Identity
35 narratives of personal experience with
narrator as story world protagonist
All 41 narratives of personal experience
13 chronicles of the border crossing
All 41 narratives
All 41 narratives and 15 chronicles
Chapter 2
For transcription conventions I relied on the model reproduced in Appendix 2. Each line of transcript generally corresponds to one independent
clause with its dependent clauses. However, I do not follow Labov & Waltezky’s
original model in the transcription of reported speech since I number each independent clause of reported speech as well, while they included all reported
speech in the same numbered line. I usually transcribe the translation of a story
after the original in Spanish, but occasionally, when I discuss a specific part of
a story that has been already analyzed, I just reproduce the translation.
Chapter 3
Identity as social orientation
Pronominal choice
In this chapter I look at identity as representation and negotiation of social
roles. I focus on the analysis of ways in which narrators present themselves
in relation to others in stories of personal experience. The particular aspect
studied in their narratives is social orientation. I use the term to refer to the
position of the speaker with respect to the dimensions of interdependence versus autonomy from others and of personalization versus depersonalization of
experience. Both aspects of identity are seen as related to common linguistic
choices and strategies in the representation of the self within the recounting
of life experiences in the U.S. The narratives used as data are stories of personal experience told during the interviews. In this case, identity is therefore
analyzed as implicitly conveyed, not as openly discussed and negotiated.
The questions that I ask in this chapter are: To what extent do narrators
emphasize their role as individual protagonists within story worlds? Do they
stress the personal or the social meaning of story world actions in which they
are involved? An analysis of these levels of representation of the self can throw
light on implicit views on the role of individual versus the collectivity that
can in turn be explained resorting to general cultural expectations and/or to
the specific social circumstances that the immigrants live. The linguistic phenomena and strategies that I take as pertinent to this level of analysis are the
choice and negotiation of pronouns and of referential expressions in the selfrepresentation of narrators as characters in story worlds, within more general
textual constructions through which narrators emphasize personalization or
depersonalization of the experiences told.
I start the chapter with a general reflection on the role of pronouns in the
construction of agency. I then introduce the Spanish pronominal system. In
the following section, I look at pronominal choice in representational terms
in that I discuss some data on the choice of collective or individual pronouns
Chapter 3
in the stories and on the occurrence of pronouns in different types of clauses.
I then analyze how collective or ‘depersonalized’ roles are constructed in the
interactional negotiation of stories through pronoun switches and self-repairs.
In the last section, I analyze what kinds of story-codas the narrators use to close
their stories in order to assess the degree to which they focus on personal versus
general significance of the events narrated. Finally, I draw some conclusions
on the social or cultural origin of the conception of the role of individuals in
society implicitly conveyed by narrators.
Pronominal choice and speaker-orientation
The investigation of the use of pronouns as a window into the analysis of identity has a long-standing tradition in linguistics. Pronouns have always interested linguists, particularly discourse analysts, because they are indexical elements par excellence in that by pointing to concrete individuals, they establish
a relationship between the linguistic and the extra-linguistic world. Benveniste
(1971), one of the pioneers in the analysis of the pragmatic function of pronouns, described them as empty signs whose role is “to provide the instrument
of a conversion that one could call the conversion of language into discourse”
(p. 219–220). Since reference to the self or to the interlocutor is a reflexive act
that can only be interpreted in relation to the immediate and social context of
the interaction, pronouns can be seen as central to the establishment of connections between language and contexts. According to Benveniste, the act of
saying you or I anchors language to the situation of utterance by making reference to concrete speakers unavoidable. But the referential function carried out
by pronouns represents only one of their linguistic functions, since by manipulating pronouns speakers can also convey subtle social meanings that relate to
their social identities or to their positions with respect to other interlocutors,
both present and absent, and to the experiences and topics that are being discussed. Early studies of pronouns (see, among others, Brown & Gilman 1972;
Silverstein 1976; Friedrich 1979; Urban 1989; Mülhausler & Harré 1990) have
shown that these systematically encode ‘the social identities of participants or
the social relationships between them, or between one of them and persons and
entities referred to’ (Levinson 1983: 89). More recent, pragmatic approaches
have focused on how pronominal alternations are used by speakers to express
and negotiate specific identities in a diversity of interactional contexts and genres. Speakers exploit the multi-functionality of pronominal choices to express
Identity as social orientation
stances with respect to interlocutors and topics, and to shift alignments and
Many scholars in the area of political discourse have emphasized the multifunctionality and the ambiguity of pronominal choices. Maitland & Wilson
(1987) and Wilson (1990), for example, described how pronouns were used
by politicians to index attitudes of involvement or distance towards the topics
under discussion or the discourse participants. Pronoun switching (particularly the alternation between I and we) and the ambiguities in the referents
that are created and fostered through such shifts, have been shown to constitute powerful tools for the expression of alignments and disalignments not only
in political discourse (Zupnik 1994; De Fina 1995), but also in public debates
(Connor-Lynton 1995), or in work interactions among individuals in position
of power and subordinates (Stewart 2001). Uses of pronouns with ambiguous
reference such as we have proved instrumental in creating ambiguity as to the
kinds of identities projected by speakers, but have also been related to positive
self affirmation by new social agents. Martin-Rojo (1997), for example, studied
ways in which alternating forms of pronominal and non pronominal reference,
contribute to the formation of a new identity among Spanish women. Proposing an analysis of identity which takes into account both “identification” with
others and type of agency attributed to self, she argued that “nosotras” (“we”,
feminine) is both used to encode solidarity and to strengthen shared authority
thus deemphasizing individual responsibility.
These discursive functions of pronoun alternation: expressing distancing,
involvement, or solidarity with topics and participants, and conveying responsibility or lack of it, also play a crucial role in storytelling. One of the central
characteristics of narrative as a discursive activity is the conjuring of a double
world: the story world and the storytelling world. Pronominal choice indexes
meanings at both these levels. At one level, the narrator’s selection of specific
pronouns indicates the type of roles that she/he assigns to herself or himself as
a character in the story world. Through selection of specific pronouns, the narrator may present herself or himself as an individual or as a member of a group,
may stress responsibility in the performance of actions or indicate lack of participation in them. At another level, pronoun switching indexes relationships
between the narrator and other participants in the storytelling world since pronouns may also be used to involve the hearer in the evaluation of the action,
or to take the listener into the story world. The significance of pronominal alternation in the encoding of narrators’ stances towards aspects of the story or
storytelling world, has been shown by O’Connor’ (1994) who analyzed how on
many occasions uses of the pronoun you in prisoners’ autobiographical narra-
Chapter 3
tives encoded, at the same time, distancing from the self acting as a character in
the story world, and involvement of the hearer in the evaluation of the action,
thus conveying a lower degree of responsibility than they would have by using
the pronoun I.
. Pronominal choice and cultural conceptions of the self
It has been argued that pronominal choice and alternation convey particular
kinds of speaker involvement, but may also index particular views about the
self and its role in the social world. Studies in psychological anthropology have
often suggested a relationship between specific cultures and different kinds of
personality traits (see Bourguignon 1979: 75–116). Many scholars point to the
fact that theories about the persona and the self are culturally variable, going
from very individualistic concepts of personhood, which are said to be typical of Western developed societies, to more social and impersonal conceptions
in which the individual is seen as determined and constrained by a variety of
forces and relationships that are culturally variable. According to cultural psychologist Matsumoto, (1994) for example, one dimension of cultural difference
is the opposition between individualism and collectivism that refers to the degree to which a culture encourages individual needs, wishes, desires, and values
over group and collective ones. Such a dimension has been identified as basic
in the differentiation of cultures.
The connection between different conceptions of the self and specific language practices has received much attention in anthropology as well. Duranti
(1993), for example, argues that many non-Western cultures, including the
Samoan, share an “impersonal” concept of the self, which is apparent in their
treatment of responsibility in public discourse. Before him another anthropologist, Geertz (1983), had brought to the attention of scholars the existence of
cultural variations in the concept of personhood. He wrote:
The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less
integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action organized into a distinctive whole and
set contrastively both against such wholes and against its social and natural
background, is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea
within the context of the world’s cultures. (p. 59)
It has also been proposed that the construction of reference in discourse, including pronominal reference, can be regarded as a type of social practice that
indexes and makes relevant implicit rules and frames having to do with the
Identity as social orientation
conception of the persona. Hanks (1990) discussed for example how choice of
possessives and of personal pronominal forms in Mayan reflects not only socially determined spatio-temporal frames, but also social rules about the roles
of individuals in the different domains of society. He argues that uses of deictics in interaction index social roles. Thus, in his analysis when a Mayan man
answers the interviewer’s question on how many rooms there are in his house
replying “three rooms of mine and three of my older brothers”, he “links the
rooms both to” their “current ‘here’ and to himself as owner” (p. 169). According to Hanks, the pronominal choice of pointing to himself and his brother,
not the respective families, as owners, is consistent with rules of property ownership in Mayan homes. Similarly, he argues that when Mayans choose to say,
“we went with Manuel” as an equivalent of “I went with Manuel,” they display
a perspective on the event and the relationship between referents that differ
from that of speakers of English.
Mülhausler & Harré (1990: 106) also reflect on how the Wintu’s conception
of the self as unbound and not sharply separated from others finds expression
in the grammar of self-reference in their language, specifically in the use of
pronominal suffixes.
Hill (1989) brought a similar perspective to her studies of storytelling by
Mexicano speakers in Mexico. She also explored the idea that certain cultures
display a less differentiated concept of the self than developed Western cultures.
In this perspective, she looked at storytelling strategies on a continuum between individualistic and sociocentric views of the self. At one end of the continuum there is a conception of the self in which the individual is seen primarily
as a member of a community; at the opposite end there is a view that regards
the person as independent and highly differentiated from others. Hill characterizes Mexicano speakers as “sociocentric” as opposed to “egocentric” middleclass Americans. In her work on involvement strategies used in narratives by
these two groups, she found that Mexicano speakers showed a tendency to
locate evaluation and self-reference within story-world clauses in constructed
dialogue and to use the pronoun you to refer to themselves, while Americans
preferred to locate evaluation and self reference in interactional world clauses
and to use the pronoun I for self-reference. The notion of a socio-centric conception of the self, proposed by Hill in connection with pronominal choice, has
also been used by social psychologists who have looked at the degree of social
orientation in the discourse of different social groups such as ethnic communities or children (see Veroff, Chadiha, Leber, & Sutherland 1993; Dreyer, Dreyer,
& Davis 1987).
Chapter 3
In the following analysis I consider the uses of, and alternations between,
the pronouns yo (I), nosotros (we), tu/Usted (informal and formal you), uno
(one) and se (impersonal/indefinite) in narratives of personal experience, to
discuss social orientation. However, I do not only look at the distribution of
pronouns in stories, but also at the strategies used by narrators with the interviewer to point at their role as characters in stories and to convey authorship
or responsibility. I problematize the notion that orientation can be exclusively
or mainly explained in cultural terms and discuss the importance of the local
and social context, in this case the migration context, to put in perspective the
narrators’ choices.
. Personal and collective protagonists in narratives
of personal experience
The data that I take as a basis for this chapter are 41 narratives told by the
immigrants who participated in the sociolinguistic interviews. I will also refer
to other parts of the interviews within which the narratives were told. In the
first part of the chapter I discuss 35 of the 41 stories, that is, those in which
the speakers were also main agents or main experiencers of the action. In the
second part, I add to the analysis 6 narratives, in which the protagonists are
not the narrators, but only figure in the story world as witnesses. These stories will be taken into account in the analysis of story codas. The 35 narratives
discussed in this section are all narratives of personal experience, but some of
them were elicited through direct questions to the interviewees, while others
were told spontaneously in connection with a variety of conversational topics
that emerged during the interviews. The questions that elicited narratives were
of two kinds. The first set of questions elicited 9 narratives and referred to how
or when the immigrants got a job and to their experiences in connection with
that process. The second set of questions elicited 15 narratives and referred to
experiences that the immigrants had in the U.S. (both at their arrival and after)
that had been memorable to them either in a positive or in a negative sense. The
third set of narratives (11) emerged during the discussion of a variety of topics
such as the immigrants’ ability to speak English, safety in their neighborhood,
difficulties in getting visas, etc. They can be broadly regrouped into stories that
relate bad, good, surprising experiences at work, stories that recount frightening or uncomfortable experiences like being lost in the city, or in airports, car
accidents, being stopped by the police, getting mugged, and finally stories that
relate encounters or experiences with members of other ethnic groups. When
Identity as social orientation
I mention the notion of topic in this section, I refer to a brief description obtained through a summary of the complicating action, with no reference to
evaluation. I am not therefore including here speaker or interactional topics.1
The classification of the texts as stories of personal experience was based
on Labov’s minimal requirement of temporal juncture, according to which the
text presents at least a sequence of two clauses that are temporally ordered such
that a “change in their order will result in a change in the temporal sequence
of the original semantic interpretation” (Labov 1972: 361), on the presence of
a story structure including at least a complicating action, and on the narrators’
treatment of the action in the text as constituting a specific ‘evaluable’ event.
Since the analysis focuses on the use of first and second person pronouns,
and on their alternation with impersonal pronouns, I present the pronominal system used in Mexican Spanish below and compare it to the American
English system.
Like English, Spanish has a singular first person pronoun yo (I) and a plural
first person pronoun nosotros (we). For the second person, Mexican Spanish
speakers can choose between an informal tu (you) and a formal Usted (YOU),
but the only plural pronoun available is ustedes (plural you or YOU). The third
person singular is usually expressed by el (he), or ella (she) for the singular, and
ellos (they) for the plural. However, there are two third person pronouns that
express respectively indefinite and impersonal reference, uno (one), and se. The
latter pronoun has no equivalent in English but it corresponds to the use of
passive or impersonal constructions with it (see Table 1).
Table 1. Personal pronouns in Spanish
First Person
Second Person
Third Person
Uno (indefinite)
Se (impersonal)
In my first, general analysis, I separated narratives that were told in the yo
(I) form, narratives that were told in the nosotros (we) form, and narratives
which presented frequent switches between yo and nosotros, and between yo
and second person pronouns like tu or Usted (informal and formal you), or
the impersonal pronouns uno (one) and se. In the analysis I took into account
not only explicit pronominal reference, but also verb agreement and possessive
Chapter 3
Table 2. Personal pronouns in English
First Person
Second Person
Third Person
One (indefinite)
You (indefinite)
pronouns, since Spanish is a null subject language where direct pronouns can
be omitted and reference can be derived based on morphology. Henceforth
I will use the Spanish equivalent for each pronoun. My general interest was
finding out whether the stories told were more often told as collective stories
or as stories based on individual experiences.
Narratives were classified as yo or nosotros when they were told either exclusively or mainly in one pronominal form and when the story’s focus was on
individual or on collective protagonists. I considered the use of both pronouns
in all types of story clauses: orientation, narratives and evaluation clauses. In
some of the stories that were classified as having a basic pronominal form,
switches to other pronouns did occur but did not alter the agentive focus of
the story.
An example of a story which was classified as mainly a “yo story” is the
following. In this story Ciro, a 33 years old house painter, narrated a fight with
an employer who had asked him to perform a job and had reacted very aggressively to his not understanding the instructions. The whole story is told in the
yo form, but at the end in the evaluation section there are a few switches to
nosotros. This fragment is reproduced below :
01 C: Ok ya me subi y todo ya,
“vamos a hacer esto”
y bien enojado, ya,
04 I: @@@@@
después cuando salimos
me dice, “Ciro I’m sorry,
que mira que compréndeme,
que yo soy este americano
y no puedo hablar contigo”,
luego, “Discúlpame” [..] todo y ya.
después a la otra semana me salí de trabajar,
porque ya ya habíamos discutido
Identity as social orientation
ya habíamos perdido un poquito de confianza,
yo ya le había gritado también,
entonces ya no iba a estar bien con él,
y así me iba a ser muy fácil gritarle y no!
yo siempre soy respetuoso no? con los patrones,
hasta en México soy respetuoso,
pero como todo humano también tengo límite.
01 C: Ok so I got in [the car] and everything,
“let’s do this”
and really angry, already,
04 I: @@@@@
then when we went out,
he tells me “Ciro I’m sorry,
look understand me,
I am American
and I can’t talk with you”
then, “Excuse me” [..] and all and that’s it.
after that the following week I left the job,
because we had already had a fight
we already had lost confidence a little,
and I had also shouted at him,
so I would not be all right with him,
and then it would be easy for me to shout at him and no!
I always respect my employers, right?
even in Mexico I am respectful,
but like all human beings I have a limit.
In this narrative, Ciro switched to the nosotros form in line 02 because he was
reporting what the employer said to him; in line 05 to describe an action that
was performed with the employer, and in 12–13 to comment on the fact that
he and his employer had had a fight. Such switches do not alter the fact that the
main focus of the story is always on him versus his employer. This is why the
narrative was classified as a “yo narrative.”
The following fragment represents the opposite case, of a narrative classified as a “nosotros narrative”. The story is told by Juan, a young painter, and
also recounts a labor conflict between the protagonist and the other people
who work with him, and the employer:
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01 J:
Luego nos fuimos a:, a trabajar con mi hermano, a la casa de Potomac,
02 I: Cortando pasto?
03 J: No, pintando, éramos (.) ya éramos pintores de brocha gorda allá
y este, nos tocó trabajar en unas casas, pus: muy, pues sí no? que si tenían
pus casas- los acabados bien padres bien bonitos
entonces el, nuestro jefe,(.) pues era medio avaricioso no?,
yo pienso que era medio así,
porque todo los que trabajaban eran hispanos,
entonces esos trabajos, yo pienso no?,
luego platicaba con mi hermano
y decía que tenía una casa (.) que nada más el puro, cómo se diría? la
pintura? iba a costar un millón de dólares!
pus yo creo que eso es mucho dinero.
(.) yo creo que, a todos nos pagaba un precio muy bajo no?
más grande, yo creo que era diez, doce la hora, (.)
lo que él, no metía las manos en el trabajo
y ya ganaba mucho, (.)
entonces yo creo que el dinero lo cegó,
porque llegó un tiempo que no nos pagó.
19 I: Uh!
20 J: A mi llegó a deber cuatro semanas, a mi hermano menos,
a mi primo, le quedó a deber también como cuatro semanas, pero más
aparte unos sábados y domingos,
era:n como mil doscientos,
entonces, llegamos nosotros
y, lo demandamos!
25 A: Lo demandaron!?
26 J: Si lo demandamos a este señor (.)
lo llevamos a la corte,
y quedamos en un acuerdo no?
que nos iba a dar la mitad,
y la mitad nos dió de nuestro sueldo,
porque nos decía, con el jefe que estamos trabajando ahorita,
nos decía que mejor aceptáramos eso,
porque si no lo íbamos a llevar a la corte,
él se iba a declarar en quiebra
y no le iban a sacar nada,
Identity as social orientation
bueno! por lo mientras aprendimos en ese trabajo,
pero sí nos dió la mitad de nuestro sueldo,
pero no se salió con la suya@@@
01 J: Then we went to:, to work with my brother, to the Potomac house,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..
02 I: Mowing lawns?
03 J: No, painting, we were (.) we already were thick brush painters there,
and well, we got to work in some houses, well: very, well yes that really
had money,
well houses- the details were really cool really nice
so the, our boss, (.) well he was somewhat stingy right?
I think that he was like that,
because all the workers were Hispanics,
so these jobs, I think right?
then he talked to my brother,
and he said that he had a house (.) that only the, how would you say? the
paint? was going to cost a million dollars!
well I think that it’s a lot of money,
I think tha:t, he paid all of us a very low salary right?
I think that the highest was ten, twelve an hour,(.)
and he, did not lay a hand in the job
and already he earned a lot, (.)
so I think that money made him blind,
because a time came when he didn’t pay us.
19 I: Uh!
20 J: He got to owing me four weeks, my brother less
and my cousin, he also owed him around four weeks, but also some
Saturdays and Sundays,
it wa:s like one thousand two hundred,
so, we went
and, we sued him!
25 I: You sued him?
26 J: Yes we sued him with this person (.)
we took him to court right?
and we reached an agreement right?
that he was going to give us half,
and he gave us half of our salary,
because he told us, the boss with whom we are working now,
Chapter 3
told us that it was better that we accepted that,
because otherwise if we were not going to take him to court,
he was going to declare bankruptcy,
and they were not going to get any money from him,
fine! but during that time we learned the job,
but he did give us half of our salary,
but he didn’t win@@@@.
This narrative was classified as nosotros because the agent presented as the main
protagonist is a collective entity. Juan encompasses with the pronoun nosotros
himself, his cousin, and his brother (lines 01, 03, 04, 18, 23, 24, 27–32, 36–37).
The focus of this narrative is not on Juan himself in any way. He switches to yo
in evaluation clauses (12, 13, 14, 17), but mainly in expressions like “I think”,
“I guess”, where he is making suppositions on the motives for his boss’ actions,
or commenting on how he feels about his boss earning a lot of money. He also
uses the pronoun mi (me and my) in line 20, but does so again in the context of
the group as a point of concern, since he his comparing his personal situation
with the boss and the situation that his close relatives were facing. Then he
goes back to the nosotros form also in the evaluation section (line 31–37), thus
confirming that the experience is presented as a group experience.
Stories that were classified as “mixed pronoun” narratives presented significant switches between the different pronouns, thus indicating that the focus was not constantly set on the same agent in the story world or that it was
switched away from the story world protagonist to other story world or interactional world participants. Examples of this last type will be discussed below
(see Example 14).
The pronominal analysis of the narratives led to the following classification.
Table 3. Classification of narratives according to use of pronouns
‘Yo’ narratives
‘Nosotros’ Narratives
Mixed pronouns Narratives
In classifying the narratives according to the focus on an individual or collective story world protagonist I was interested in discovering to what extent
individual experiences predominated in the narration over collective ones, and
to what extent the story worlds evoked in the narratives of the two kinds were
different. I did not find any single factor that could be related to the choice of
the main pronoun used. There were some differences between the yo stories
Identity as social orientation
and the nosotros stories in the story topic. Most of the stories that used mainly
the yo form were stories of conflicts or fights at work (8 out of 14), but there
were also stories in the nosotros form which involved conflicts and fights. On
the other hand, 4 of the nosotros stories emerged in conversation to support arguments about interethnic relations. Yet, there were also individual stories that
were presented to support judgments or positions about other groups. Thus,
the interactional function of the stories or their topic did not seem to have
influenced the choice of point of view.
It can be argued that pronominal choice is influenced by objective circumstances, such as the number of characters involved in the story world and
whether the protagonist was alone or not. Nonetheless, these circumstances
are not enough to explain pronominal choices since stories are not objective
representations of reality, but personal accounts of events that are constructed
in subjective ways. Thus, while it is undeniable that some kinds of “objective
circumstances” play a role, they certainly do not determine the way stories are
told, or which stories the speaker decides to present as individual or collective ones. Speakers choose (consciously or unconsciously) to emphasize roles,
actions or circumstances according to a variety of personal and cultural reasons. An explanation of pronominal choices that focuses on a correspondence
between external circumstances and narratives cannot adequately account, for
example, for the fact that narrators sometimes decide to refer to themselves as
I, while on other occasions they choose more impersonal forms as one or you,
or that they choose personal or collective reference in situations where more
than one actor is involved.
As we see in Table 3, there are 12 narratives (roughly one third of the total
and almost the same number as first person stories) in which the main experiencer or actor is a group of people that includes the narrator. This is an interesting phenomenon in itself given that the context in which these collective stories
emerge is that of personal interviews and of autobiographical reflection. It has
been shown in studies of other groups2 that in similar contexts it is common to
find narratives that predominantly index the narrator. Second, these stories not
only predominantly present a collective agent, but also often seem to contain
little or no reference to the role of the narrator in the story world. The actions
and thoughts of the individual are not focused upon and, although they may
be mentioned, they do not receive prominence with respect to the actions and
experiences of the group.
This mechanism can be illustrated with the following story told in response
to my question eliciting good and bad experiences in the United States by
Raquel, a young girl who migrated with her sister and two cousins.
Chapter 3
01 A: Hay alguna experiencia que recuerdas, mucho de esos primeros,
momentos que llegaste?
02 R: Buena o mala?
03 A: Como tu quieras,
puede ser buena o mala,
cuéntame la mala
y luego me cuentas la buena, o al revés.
07 R: Uh (.) bueno la b- (.) mala, o sea es
porque llegamos las tres llegamos a un departamento prácticamente
sólo había ese sillón viejo que está allí en donde está Ismael,
no había televisión,
no había nada,
eso fue,
o sea llega uno
y se encuentra con todo todo vacío,
uh nosotras no teníamos trabajo,
teníamos muy poca r17
teníamos un sólo par de zapatos cada una,
no teníamos ropa,
no teníamos para ir a lavar la ropa,
teníamos que lava@rla y colgarla,
uh y sobre todo o sea lo que uno tiene es que extraña su familia,
o sea más que nada soledad y acostumbrarse.
01 A: Is there an experience that you remember very much about these first,
moments when you came?
02 R: Good or bad?
03 A: As you like,
it can be good or bad,
tell me the bad one
and then you tell me the good one, or the other way around.
07 R: Uh (.) well the g- (.) bad one, I mean is
because we came the three of us to a practically empty apartment,
there was only this old sofa which is there where Ismael is,
there was no television,
there was nothing,
that was it,
Identity as social orientation
I mean one comes
and one finds everything empty,
uh we didn’t have a job,
we had very few cl-,
we only had a pair of shoes each,
we had no clothes,
we didn’t have a place to wash our clothes,
we had to wa@sh them and hang them,
and more than everything else I mean what happens to one is that one
misses the family,
I mean more than anything else loneliness and getting used to it.
The story is unusual in that it does not have an explicit complicating action.
Nonetheless, it can be treated as a minimal narrative because the order of at
least two events may be inferred: the girls first arrived at the apartment, and
next realized that it was empty. The latter situation constitutes a complicating
action with consequences: it brings about not only the aggravation of poverty,
but also the psychological consequences of sadness and feelings of loneliness.
The description of what the girls didn’t have (no jobs, no clothes, no shoes)
is highly evaluative and leads to a consideration of what life is like for immigrants (lines 21 and 22). Thus, although just two events are narrated, the
presence of an elaborate evaluation on them shows their importance. This text
illustrates an annulment of the self that is present in many of the “nosotros
narratives”. Raquel never refers to her own feelings or reactions when seeing
the empty apartment. She does not separate her material condition from the
one of the others either. She rather represents herself as part of a unit to which
she belongs. We saw the same style in Juan’s story about the suit against the
employer, since Juan only refers to himself either to compare his situation to
the situation of his relatives, or in expressions like “I think” and “I guess”. But
the whole narrative presents the group as a unit, starting the suit, seeking advice and then settling the suit. Juan makes no reference to the way he personally felt or acted. The presentation of individual experience as not particularly
salient with respect to group experience is common in the stories told by the
However, my argument that this group of Mexican immigrants projects
a self that is essentially oriented to others is not based exclusively on the significant presence of nosotros narratives. Other discursive phenomena seem to
contribute to the communication of a sense of other orientation in many of
these narratives. In the following sections I analyze some of them, specifically:
Chapter 3
pronominal choice and distribution, interactional negotiation of pronouns
and switching, and the use of generalizing or depersonalizing constructions
in story codas.
. Pronominal distribution in story clauses
An analysis of the distribution of pronouns in different types of story clauses
shows another aspect of the orientation to others in the discourse of this group
of immigrants. Other orientation appears to be achieved through narrators’
representation of themselves as characters surrounded by a collectivity. Tables
4 and 5 present an analysis of the distribution of the two pronouns in the 3
main types of clauses present in stories: orientation clauses, narrative clauses
and evaluation clauses.
Pronouns were counted both in their function as subject (implicit and explicit) and as object. Tables 4 and 5 show the distribution of pronouns as implicit or explicit subjects and as objects in different types of clauses. Higher occurrence of nosotros as implicit subject with respect to yo (75 instances against
35) is very likely due to the fact that first person singular agreement is indistinguishable from third person singular agreement in the imperfect in Spanish,
Table 4. Distribution of the pronoun yo in narrative clauses
Pronoun type
Clause type
Clause type
Clause type
Complicating Act.
Yo explicit subject
Yo implicit subject
Yo object (me)
Table 5. Distribution of the pronoun nosotros
Pronoun type
Clause type
Clause type
Clause type
Complicating Act.
Nosotros explicit subject
Nosotros implicit subject
Nosotros object
Identity as social orientation
thus making it necessary to disambiguate reference through the use of the explicit pronoun yo in those cases. Thus, this particular difference does not appear to be significant in this data. However, other differences in pronoun distribution seem important. A comparison of Tables 4 and 5 shows in fact that
while yo is almost evenly distributed among the three types of clauses (with a
slight prevalence in complicating action clauses), nosotros has a definite tendency to appear in orientation clauses (56.5% of occurrences) with respect to
other types of clauses. This difference in distribution confirms the hypothesis
that Mexican immigrants present an identity defined with reference to a collectivity of people who shares their experiences. Such collectivity may be represented by members of the immediate family, other immigrants who came with
them, or friends. The distribution of pronouns in Tables 4 and 5 reflects the fact
that even in stories where the protagonist is the yo but there is alternation with
nosotros, the actions or feelings of the protagonists are often situated within
the more general frame of the group. This is achieved through the placement
of nosotros references in orientation clauses. I illustrate this alternation between
yo and nosotros in the following story told by Willi, also about one of his first
work experiences. The story was told during an interview in which two other
immigrants living in the same house were also present.
A: Entonces bueno te viniste la primera vez[y te quedaste y=
A: =y llegaste así sin trabajo a buscar trabajo? Así como la señora?
W: Pus mira la- pues si así!
Y el primer día que fui a trabajar f[ue el=
[todos llegamos así.
W: =primer día queM: Todos llegamos sin trabajo.
A: Es igual eh?
W: Que fui a buscar trabajo,
conseguí afortunadamente,
conseguí trabajo afoI: Adónde fuiste?
W: Con unos chinos a hacer una mudanza,
estaban tirando todo,
o sea llegamos,
nos instalamos en un departamento y todo,
pero no teníamos ni platos ni cubiertos ni nada,
entonces este el primer día que trabajé fue con unos japoneses,
Chapter 3
30 A:
31 W:
fue con un- si unos japoneses y este, a una mudanza,
y todo lo estaban tirando a la basura, televisión y todo!
le digo, “Y esta televisión?”
“La quieres?”
“Y este microondas?”
me traje platos, cubiertos y un montón de cosas,
pues es que no teníamos nada.
llegamos como cinco seis[ que este,
que aunque no estaban acostumbrados a usar
32 I:
33 W: Porque también sale igual eh! verdad?
pero yo llegué con cosas, la tele y todo!
y todo servía!
y no me traje más cosas porque ya no cabía
osea pero para más o menos llévarsela bien ahí no?
lavamos todo y eso y ya.
01 A: Well so you came the first time[and you stayed
02 W:
03 A: =and and you came like that without a job to look for a job? Like this lady
here? ((referring to María))
04 W: Well look the- well yes like that!
and the first day that I went to work it w[as
06 M:
[we all came like that
07 W: =the first day that08 M: We all arrived without a job.
09 A: It’s the same,right?
10 W: that I went to look for a job,
I found it luckily,
I found a job luck13 I: Where did you go?
14 W: with some Chinese people for a move,
they were throwing everything,
I mean we came,
Identity as social orientation
30 A:
31 W:
we settled in an apartment and all,
but we didn’t have plates or silverware or anything,
so the first day that I worked it was with some Japanese,3
it was with a- yes some Japanese and uh, a move,
and they were throwing everything to the trash, television and all!
I tell him, “And this television?”
“Do you want it?”
“Take it!”
“And this microwave?”
I brought plates, silverware, a lot of things,
well because we had nothing,
we arrived in five or six[that uh,
that even if they were not used to using the
32 I:
33 W: Because anyway it’s the same, uh! right?
but I arrived with things the T.V. and all!
and all worked!
and I didn’t bring more stuff because there was no space,
I mean but so that it would be possible to get by well there, right?
we washed everything and that’s it.
This story is basically presented as a “yo narrative”, that is a story in which the
narrator presents himself as the main character. Willi recounts how he salvaged
a lot of objects that were being thrown out, in order to furnish the apartment
where he lived. Nonetheless, his actions are also framed within a general preoccupation with the group of immigrants that shared his apartment. Most of the
nosotros forms are in fact located in orientation clauses (16, 17, 18, 28, 29) that
give the background for Willi’s actions. It is interesting to notice that the first
switch to nosotros in line 16 comes suddenly and without introduction. Willi
had started his story in line 05, but it seems that in line 16 he decided to give
some background to the action in terms of its antecedents. He did not seem to
notice the need to introduce the referents of the nosotros until line 29, where
he explained that he lived with other people who had come with him, and
who must have been poor immigrants (as can be deduced from his comments
about them in line 31). Willi’ s switch in line 16 demonstrates the salience of
the group to his story, since in the story he is presented as acting in favor of his
Chapter 3
small community. The motivation for his own actions in the story-world was
the fact that he and his companions had nothing in the apartment (16–18).
The movement from himself as the protagonist to the companions as the beneficiaries, but also in some sense the origin of his actions, is achieved through
pronoun shifts. The narrator places himself at the center of the action by referring to himself as yo in the complicating action (lines 22–27), then reintroduces
his companions as the motive for his action (lines 28–29), stressing that they
had nothing to furnish the rooms. He then goes back to commenting on how
he was able to bring home things that would allow him and his companions to
live a little better (lines 34, 38). However the resolution of the story is narrated
again in the nosotros form: “We washed all that and that was it” (line 39).
This narrative exemplifies a movement from self to others that is common
in these stories and illustrates a conception of the individual self as part of a
collectivity for which it acts and finds solutions. It also shows how the concentration of nosotros forms in orientation clauses that we found in Table 4 and 5
can contribute to a sense of other orientation of narrators in stories.
. Pronominal switches and repair
Up to this point we have looked at the structure of stories pointing to the impact of the choice and distribution of referential expressions in the construction of a collectively oriented identity. In the following sections I shift the attention to the interactional mechanisms through which narrators negotiate their
identity, in particular shifts in pronominal choice with respect to the interviewer, and self-repairs. Stories about the group are often told in the interviews
as responses to questions addressed to the individual who is being interviewed.
The mismatch between the pronominal form used by the interviewer and the
pronouns used in the answers shows a change in focus between what the interviewer is eliciting (individual, autobiographical experiences) and what the
interviewee is conveying. The interesting fact about the pronoun switches is
that they go from the singular (tu) to the plural (nosotros) often without introductions about the new referents. To illustrate this mechanism let us look again
at the beginning of Rachel’s story (reproduced in 5).
01 A: Is there an experience that you remember very much about these first,
moments when you came?
02 R: Good or bad?
03 A: As you like,
Identity as social orientation
It can be good or bad,
tell me the bad one
and then you tell me the good one, or the other way around.
07 R: Uh (.) well the g- (.) bad one, I mean is
because we came the three of us to a practically empty apartment,
there was only this old sofa which is there where Ismael is,
The story that I had framed as a personal experience is negotiated by Raquel
as a collective one. By switching from my tu, to her nosotros, Raquel changes
the focus from the meaning of the experience to her, to the meaning of the
experience to her and her relatives. In the continuation of the interview I switch
back to the tu form again (line 23), personalizing a feeling that Raquel had
expressed with the impersonal uno (one, line 21) and the impersonal se (getting
used to it, line 22).
21 R: este,y sobre todo o sea lo que uno tiene es que extraña su familia,
o sea la más que nada soledad y acostumbrarse.
23 A: Recuerdas algún momento en que cambió esta sensación o nunca
24 R: No ha cambiado para mi.
Bueno, ya ya me he acostumbrado un poco, pero no ha cambiado nada.
26 R: Y has tenido alguna experiencia que en cambio te recuerdas como muy
buena o no?
25 R: (.) Oh buena porque o sea cuando uno encuentra un trabajo
y empieza a ganar dinero este,
eso para nosotros nos parece bueno,
porque si uno aquí llega y está y se encuentra uno que no tiene dónde
que uno tiene que pagar renta cada mes, teléfono, eso es algo malo para
O sea encontrar un trabajo y estar trabajando continuamente, eso es
21 R: Well, and most of all I mean what happens to one is that one misses the
that is more than anything else loneliness and getting used to it.
23 A: Do you remember a moment where this feeling changed or it didn’t ever
24 R: No, it has not changed for me.
Chapter 3
Well, and now I have got used to it a little, but it has not changed.
26 A: And have you had any experience on the other hand that you remember
as very good or not?
27 R: (.) Oh good because I mean when one finds a job,
and starts to make money uh,
this for us it seems good to us,
because if one gets here,and is and finds oneself with no place to work->
that one has to pay rent every month, telephone, that is bad for one,
I mean to find a job and working continuously, that is good.
In the line following my question (line 24), Raquel adjusts to my pronominal
choice (it has not changed for me) and goes back to herself as an agent. But the
following question which again I personalize as tu (line 26), is followed by a
new movement toward the nosotros and the uno that alternate in the following
lines, indicating again that Raquel is not stressing her agentive role in the experience, but rather her identification with the group. The use of the pronoun
uno as an element of depersonalization is also very significant. I will come back
to this point in the following section.
The excerpt from Raquel’s interview exemplifies a strategy of focus on collective agency that appears in other stories. Immigrants often answered questions eliciting their reaction to experiences with stories that shifted the focus
from them to a group to which they belonged. The following story told by Ciro
further illustrates this point:
01 A: Alguna experiencia que Usted haya tenido aquí que para Usted haya sido,
02 C: Que haya sido buena o mala?
03 A: O buena o mala o que recuerda mucho de todos estos años que ha
04 C: Bueno, es que son va:rios,
mire por ejemplo una de ellas, la que recuerdo yo un poquito fea, no?
es de cuando íbamos para pa’ Florida,
de que íbamos en el carro
y entonces aquel muchacho ya se iba a dormir,
09 A: Uhu.
10 C: Y vimos unas luces rojas lejos
pero el las vio cerquita pues iba durmiendo,
siempre no!
y allí vueltas cuando estaba lloviznando,
no se golpeó
Identity as social orientation
sino dió así, así
ya ves que los puentes tienen su protección?
pegó en el puente
y luego se fue para acá y allí [..]
pues eso fue una experiencia muy fea
porque sentimos feo
porque dije yo ahi [...]
hasta que llega para el puente así,
y pegó,
ya ve que en Florida por Pensacola así má:s cerca antes de llegar a
Lousiana, hay puentes y abajo hay agua?
y pues si se siente muy feo no?
esta fue una de las experiencias que sentí feo!
01 A: An experience that You have had here that for You has been, (.)
02 C: That has been good or bad?
03 A: Good or bad or that YOU remember a lot of about all these years that
you have been here.
04 C: Well there are ma:ny,
look for example one of those, the one that I remember as a little bit bad
is that when we were going to Florida,
that we went in the car
and then that boy was falling asleep,
and we saw some red lights
but he saw them close since he was asleep,
but no!
and there we went round and round when it was raining,
he didn’t crash
but he hit like that,
you see that bridges have a protection?
he hit the bridge
and then the car went that way and this way [..]
that was a very bad experience
because we felt bad
because I said oh [..]
until he got to the bridge
and he hit it
Chapter 3
you see that in Florida around Pansacola, before getting to Louisiana,
there are bridges where there is water underneath
and well yes it does feel bad right?
that was one of the experiences that I felt bad.
In this story, like in Raquel’s narrative, there is a shift in pronouns between interviewer and interviewee that corresponds with a shift in point of view. While I
ask my question to Ciro using the Usted form (line 01), he immediately presents
an orientation to a collective story (line 06) in which he goes back to his coming
to the U.S. with a group of young immigrants, which he had narrated earlier
in the interview. He does not re-orient me to the saliency of the group and he
does not distinguish himself from the rest of them. The protagonists are presented as going to Florida, sitting in the car, then seeing the lights of the train
coming, and getting scared all together, as a single unit. Ciro does express his
own thoughts in line 21, but there is no particular emphasis or insistence on
what he specifically did or felt on that occasion. In fact the groups’ reaction
of feeling bad is not personalized but generalized in line 25 in the evaluation,
through the pronoun se (indefinite). The experience is finally personalized in
the coda “I felt bad” (line 26). This personalization appears as a strategy to
relate the story to my request for an experience that had particularly affected
Ciro. The movement is the same as in Raquel’s story. From tu, to nosotros, to
Shifts between yo and nosotros also appear in the form of repair in a number of narratives indexing the same movement in the perspective of the teller
from individual to collective agency. The following story, told by Toño illustrates this point. Toño was relating to me how he got one of his first jobs. Prior
to this story he had told me how he went to a commercial establishment (the
Seven Eleven) that was used as a job center and stood in a line with other workers until somebody offered to take him.4 On that occasion, he had been summoned from within a crowd of workers by somebody who needed two workers
for a job that he had never done before. So I asked him if also this time the
employer had requested two workers (line 05), and here he told me a minimal
story with a similar point: He got hired because, although he had been a baker
in his village, he pretended to know how to work in construction, and was chosen by the employer. He seemed to imply that he was lucky because, as he says
“things are easier” in the U.S. (line 10), probably referring to the fact that the
machinery employed is more sophisticated and that therefore workers do not
need to be particularly skilled.
Identity as social orientation
y después de eso adónde se fue?
Uh (.) con otro, con un iraní.
Y también en el mismo Seven Eleven?
Sí también de ahí mismo.
También le dijo necesito d[os?@@
[No::, esa vez regres- esa vez llegó,
y dijo que quién sabía, este, echar cemento
y yo ese día alcé la mano@@,
y sale no- me- nos llevó,
pero aquí es más fácil, todo es fácil aquí,
y nos fuimos
y duré con él, duré año y medio.
and after that where did you go?
Uh(.) with another Iranian.
And also at the same Seven Eleven?
Yes there also.
Did he also tell you I need tw[o?@@
[No::, this time he came ba- he came,
and he asked who knew how to lay cement
and that day I raised my hand@,
and ok he took me- took us,
but here everything is easier, everything is easier here,
and we went,
and I worked there for a year and a half.
In this brief story Toño has two unexpected and rather interesting switches
from yo to nosotros in action clauses. The first one on line 09 is surprising because one would expect him to say that after he raised his hand he was picked
up. On the contrary, he shows uncertainty on the choice of the pronoun and
then settles for the nosostros form, repairing from “took me” to “took us”. As
in the cases of switches in other narratives discussed before, no clear reference is provided for the nosotros, nor is there any indication at the beginning
of the story that Antonio was not alone in raising his hand. The reference of
nosotros can be established taking into account the fact that he had told me
much earlier that he went to look for jobs with friends and with his brother. So
nosotros could refer to him and his friends, or him and his brother, or him and
some other workers. After saying that they were picked up, Antonio switches
Chapter 3
back to yo to conclude that he stayed quite a long time with that job. The pronoun switches in this story shift the focus of attention from Antonio to an unspecified group of people and back, and their effect is that although Antonio
is relating something as happening to him, he was not alone but sharing the
experience with others who also raised their hands and got chosen for work.
Repair switches between yo and nosotros are present in other stories as well,
confirming that speakers often spontaneously present themselves as part of a
collectivity. Another example of repair is presented in the example below:
01 C: un poquito de discriminación si la he visto
pero eso es más [..]
03 A: En qué sentido?
le ha pasado algo?
05 C: Pos la cosa de que si no? Cuando vamos a por decir06
fui a arreglar unos papeles en migración de de [....]
llegué yo primero y a fin de cuentas [STORY continues]
01 C: I have seen some discrimination
but that is more [...]
03 A: In what sense?
has anything happened to YOU?
05 C: Well the thing that when we go for example06
I went to get some papers at the INS of of [....]
I arrived first and after all [STORY continues]
In this fragment preceding the telling of a story by Ciro, the speaker mentioned that he had experienced some discrimination, and when I asked him
for an example (line 04), he responded with a story about going to the INS to
get his papers and being attended last even if he had arrived first. The story
is told in the yo form, but it is interesting that Ciro starts it in the we form
and then self- repairs just before beginning. This time the direction of the
switch is opposite, from nosotros to yo, and there is no return to nosotros, since
Ciro was alone in the story, but the fact that he started it in the nosotros form
shows that these Mexican immigrants’ spontaneously orient towards collective
subjectivity when asked about individual experiences.
It is interesting to notice how both mechanisms, choice of a collective experience as an answer to a personal question, and assimilation of the individual
with the group, also surface all along the interviews in response to questions
Identity as social orientation
about life experiences that elicit instances of narrative discourse. An example
form Juan’s interview is presented below.
01 J:
02 A:
05 J:
08 A:
11 J:
14 A:
15 J:
16 A:
17 J:
Mi mamá está divorciada de mi papa.
Ah están separados!
Ya, ya,
y entonces ella estaba acá (.) cuando tu viniste.
Si ya tiene un buen rato,
tiene como cuatro años yo creo ((..))
Bueno cuéntame cuando llegaste aquí.
qué pasó después?
cómo encontraste trabajo o qué hiciste?
Bueno, pus cuando llegué yo aquí pus, (.)
pus llegamos
y al otro día luego luego queríamos trabajar no? como todos.
Llegaron aquí a esta casa?
No, a otra zona por allá por la [name of street].
Por- a casa de tú mamá o: llegaron?
Si a un departamento llegamos a casa de mi mamá,
y este ya al otro día, ya queríamos trabajar no?
(.) y ya duramos una semana sin trabajar,
y nos fuimos al Seven Eleven.
J: My mother is divorced from my father.
A: Oh they are separated!
I see, I see,
and so she was here (.) when you came?
J: Yes!
yes it’s been a while,
it’s been like four years I think ((..))
A: Well tell me when you arrived here.
what happened afterwards?
how did you find a job or what did you do?
J: Well, well when I arrived here well, (.)
we arrived
and the day after we immediately wanted to work, right? like everybody.
A: Did you ((plural)) arrive in this house?
J: No, to another area around the [name of street].
Chapter 3
16 A: Around- to your mother’s place or did you ((plural)) arrive?
17 J: Yes we arrived to an apartment, my mother’s place,
and well the following day, we already wanted to work right? (.)
and we spent one week without working,
and we went to the Seven Eleven.
In the talk preceding the question about how Juan found a job, he was telling
me about what he did in El Oro and what his family was like, and this is how
we got to talk about his mother, with whom he lived at the time of the interview. When I asked him about how he found his job, I started my question
with tu (line 10) and Juan seemed to respond to that (line 11). Suddenly in line
12, however, he switched to nosotros, leading me to reformulate the following
question in the ustedes (you plural) form and thus subsequently establishing
this as the pronoun of reference, a reference encompassing his uncle and cousin
with whom he arrived in the U.S. Notice that the switch to nosotros in line 5 is
preceded by the word well (line 11), a discourse marker frequently associated
with repairs in conversation (Schiffrin 1987). In order to recover the referent
of the nosotros form when I was listening to the audio recording of this part of
the interview, I had to go back 3 pages in the transcript, to a point when Juan
had been telling me about how he came to the U.S. with his cousin and uncle. Nonetheless, the switch in reference is treated by Juan as unmarked, since
he does not reintroduce the referents, which indicates that the referent of the
nosotros is pragmatically much more salient to him than to me.
The switch uncovers two mechanisms in Juan’s narration: one is an assimilation with the group, an assimilation which is similar to the one found in the
law suit story, the other one is the focus away from himself as a protagonist of
the narrated events.
Another example of the same discourse style is apparent in Silvia’s interview:
01 A: En que trabajas aquí?
02 S: Actualmente? Limpieza, limpieza de casas.
inicialmente llegamos aquí en el mes de Julio, el año pasado,
estuvimos casi tres meses sin trabajo,
hasta septiembre que empezamos a trabajar en una imprenta.
en ese entonces entonces se hacían trabajos para el army, calendarios
para el army,
trabajamos ocho horas o hasta a veces más, con un sueldo de seis la hora,
y después y fue un trabajo que tuvimos hasta octubre,
Identity as social orientation
bueno hablo en general porque somos tres que íbamos a los
y casi hemos pasado por lo mismo las tres.
11 A: Ellas viven aquí tambien?
01 A: What kind of job do you do here?
02 S: Now? Cleaning, house cleaning.
at the beginning we arrived here in the month of July, last year,
we spent almost six months without a job,
until September when we started to work in a printing press.
at that time jobs were done for the army, calendars for the army,
we worked eight hours or even more sometimes, with a salary of six per
and then and it was a job that we had until October,
well I speak in general because there are three of us who went to the
and we have gone through almost the same experiences the three of us.
11 A: Do they also live here?
Again, Silvia spontaneously answers a tu question (line 01) with a nosotros answer (line 03). Unlike Juan, nonetheless she realizes that the nosotros that is
salient to her is not salient to me, as shown by my question in line 11. In line
09 she makes her reasons for “speaking in general” explicit: the experiences
that she mentioned were shared with the other two girls, whom I subsequently
learned were her two cousins who lived in the same house. These mismatches in
pronoun choices between the interlocutors indicate that the role of the individual within the experience that is being talked about is not seen as prominent by
the interviewee as it is seen by the interviewer and that immigrants constantly
shift their focus of attention to the persons with whom they are sharing the
immigration experience.
. Depersonalization in stories: From yo to uno and tu
In the previous section I analyzed narratives that focus on the group, or narratives that shift the focus from the individual to the group, thus presenting experience as shared. But we also saw that besides a stress towards collective agency,
there is often also a stress towards the generalizability of experience. The shifts
from yo to nosotros, indicate the merging of the individual into the collecti-
Chapter 3
vity, but shifts from yo or nosotros to uno index a movement from particular
to general.
We have seen the negotiation of experience as not unique, generalizable
and shared in previous stories and narrative excerpts. At the beginning of
Willi’s story (Example 4) for instance, this kind of framing of the story is negotiated by Maria, who was participating in the interaction and had just been
01 A: Well so you came the first time[and you stayed=
02 W:
03 A: =and you came like that without a job to look for a job? like this lady here?
((referring to María))
well look the- well yes like that! And the first
day that I went to work it w[as the=
06 M:
[we all came like that
07 W: =first day that08 M: We all arrived without a job.
09 A: It’s the same, right?
Notice Maria’s contribution in line 06 where she tries to get everybody’s attention on the fact that Willi’s situation when he arrived in the country is shared,
and her repetition (08), that prompts my recognition: “It’s the same, right?”
(line 09).
The same effect of stressing non uniqueness was apparent in Raquel’s response to my questions in Example 06, that I reproduce below, when she moves
from use of nosotros to use of one, oneself, one (lines 30, 31).
26 A: And have you had any experience on the other hand that you remember
as very good or not?
27 R: (.) Oh good because I mean when one finds a job,
and starts to make money uh,
this for us it seems good to us,
because if one gets here,
and is and finds oneself with no place to work->
that one has to pay rent every month, telephone, that is bad for one,
I mean to find a job and working continuously, that is good.
In this example, Raquel does not present a particular story as a response to my
question, but rather constructs a general description of what happened to her
Identity as social orientation
in order to stress that what is good for her and for her relatives is good for any
Experience can be presented as relevant to others by depicting events as
“typical” in some way of a condition shared by others, but also by involving the
hearer in the story world. These ways of presentation surface in stories where
pronominal switches involve the pronouns tu or Usted (you and YOU) besides
the pronouns uno or se.5 The stories where these types of switches occur in
my corpus are odd because, as I will show below, they almost sound like non
stories, since the movement from particularity to generality voids them of their
character of true stories.
As an illustration of these kinds of stories, I analyze a narrative told by
Maria, who was recounting one of her first experiences at work. Participants
in the interview include (besides Ismael and me), Willi and Sixto, María’s
husband. In this story María sometimes uses the pronoun Usted, to refer to me:
01 M:
03 S:
04 A:
05 M:
09 W:
10 A:
11 M:
20 A:
21 M:
23 A:
24 M:
Casi fue, no mi primer trabajo fue en una tintorería
como se le dice [aquí? Una dry clean.
[Dry clean
Dry clean tintor[ería.
yo estuve trabajando.
ese fue mi primer trabajo, con unos chinos
pero son explotadores.
Pus porque la explotan demasiado,
lo exprimen a uno,
Usted saca su trabajo
y aquellos porque eran unos ganchos grandes así llenos de ropa,
yo planchaba faldas blusas,uh (.) pantalones de mujer,
que más? todo lo que se puede planchar, saquitos, si?
entonces aquellos eran uno- eran dos ganchos pero tubos así larguísimos,
no te creas que era una cosita así
entonces eso estaba repleto!
Entonces si Usted sacaba este trabajo le daban más y más
y nunca veía ese final!
Entonces era una explotación
Chapter 3
26 A:
27 M:
y para lo que le pagaban!
Entonces inclusive como veían que yo le sacaba el trabajo
después ellos pusieron que les daban servicio a las otras tintorerías en
se imagina?
No es explotador eso?
32 A: Pues si.
33 M: Y luego para lo que le pagaban,
y yo trabajaba desde las siete y media hasta la,
entraba a las siete y media
y salía hasta las cinco y media de la tarde.
Y no me pagaban por hora sino por semana.
38 I: Uhmm!
39 M: Pero la necesidad.
A Pues si.
41 M: Si?
eso es lo que ocasiona a uno que por la necesidad aguanta uno muchas
M: It was almost, no my first job was in a “tintorería”
how do they call it [here? A dry clean.
[Dry clean.
Dry clean tinto[rería.
I have been working.
that was my first job, with these Chinese people,
but they are exploiters.
W: Yes.
M: Because they exploit YOU too much,
they get everything out of one,
YOU do YOUR work,
and those because they were big hooks full of clothes,
I ironed skirts, blouses, uh (.) women trousers,
what else? anything that can be ironed, jackets? right?
and so those were some- two hooks but very long pipes,
don’t think that it was a small thing like that,
Identity as social orientation
so that was stuffed!
A: Uhu.
M: So if YOU did the job they gave YOU more and more.
and YOU never saw the end of it!
A: Uhu.
M: so it was exploitation
and for what they gave YOU!
A: Uhu,
M: Yes?
so when they saw that I did all that work
then they wrote that they offered IRONING service to other dry cleaners,
can YOU imagine?
Isn’t this exploitation?
A: Well yes.
M: And then for what they paid YOU,
and then I worked from seven thirty until the,
I started at seven thirty
and I came out at five thirty at night.
and I didn’t get paid by the hour but weekly.
I: Uhmm!
M: But need.
A: Right.
M: Yes?
that is what determines that one out of need one accepts so many things.
This narrative has a very particular structure because of the frequency and location of pronoun switches, all of which shift the focus away from María as
an individual protagonist. The particular episode that María recounts as an instance of exploitation is between lines 28 and 29, where she tells me that after
her employers saw that she finished all the work that was given to her, they put
up a sign offering ironing service to other dry cleaners. This particular action
is told to justify her statement that her employers exploited her. She also comes
back to this point in the evaluation (lines 33–37) when she mentions the low
pay that she received and the long hours that she worked.
In this narrative the shift in pronouns is very peculiar because it creates a
continuous movement between a focus on María as the protagonist of the story
world and a focus away from her personally. The first pronominal shift occurs
in the talk that precedes the story, where María presents the job at the dry cleaners as her first job, a job with people that she defines exploiters. But when asked
about why they exploited her, she answers in generic terms, “because they ex-
Chapter 3
ploit YOU too much, they take everything out of one” (lines 11–12). In line
11 she uses the formal YOU (“la” in Spanish refers to Usted), that implies involving the hearer as a potential experiencer of the situation she is describing,
and in line 12 she uses one, a pronoun that depersonalizes the experience by
ascribing it to no one in particular, and therefore potentially to anybody. In
the following line (13) María says “YOU do YOUR job”, where again she both
addresses the hearer, presenting her as a potential actor and generalizes her
experience as something that happens to people when they work in that kind
of environment. However, in line 15, she abruptly enters the story-world and
starts a description of the kind of work that she was doing. This time she uses
the pronoun yo. In the orientation clauses in lines 21, 22, and in the evaluation clause in line 25, she returns to Usted as a hypothetical actor, although the
state of affairs that is described and evaluated in these clauses was clearly experienced first hand by her. In other words, instead of saying: “So if I finished my
work, they gave me more and more and I never saw the end of it. And for what
they paid me!”, she says: “So if YOU finished YOUR work they gave YOU more
and more and YOU never saw the end of it and for what they paid YOU!” The
result of this shift in pronouns is that the hearer is brought into the story world
and into the evaluation of it instead of its real protagonist. María’s condition
becomes thus less specific to herself as the hearer is invited to share it with her.
This strategy of involvement of the hearer also appears enacted in line 30 where
Maria evaluates how little she was paid and in line 30 when Maria appeals to
me as an evaluator:
“Can YOU imagine?”
Finally, it is used again in line 33, when Maria repeats what she already had said
in line 25. The story closes with a “generalizing coda” in which she describes
her own experience as an instance of a more general human condition through
the use of the pronoun one. We will return to “generalizing codas” in the next
section. The general effect of Maria’s pronoun shifts in the narrative is that of
reducing the uniqueness of her experience and therefore of diminishing the
“story-like” character of the narrative itself.
. Generalization of experience and story codas
The processes of particularization or generalization of experiences that are reflected in pronoun use and switching in narratives are also very relevant for
the analysis of codas in these stories. According to Labov (1972: 365–366) story
Identity as social orientation
codas are clauses found at the end of narratives that have the interactional function of indicating that the narrative is finished, while at the same time bridging
the gap between the story world evoked in the narrative and the interactional
world in which the story is told. Codas may be brief summarizing comments,
or they may contain general observations that show the effects of the events on
the narrator, or underscore the point of the story. They may consist of a single clause, or they may include a more extended evaluation section. I analyzed
the codas according to the presence of the first, second person, or impersonal
pronouns that we have been discussing and/or their absence, in order to assess
to what extent narrators evaluated the significance of their stories as general
or specific. I divided codas into personalized, generalized and neutral types of
codas. I discuss some examples below.
Personalized codas frame the story as relevant to the individual. For
this reason, narrators typically use first person pronouns in them, as in the
following examples:
(15) Desde que llegué aquí de todos los trabajos, ése es el más desagradable que
Since I arrived here of all the jobs, this is the most unpleasant that I have
(16) Eso es lo único que me ha pasado
This is the only thing that has happened to me
(17) Al siguiente día yo ya no fui a trabajar con ella
The next day I didn’t go to work with her any more
In these codas the story is presented either as an instance of the good or bad
things that happened to the individual, as in (15) and (16), or as having specific
consequences for his/her life, as in (17).
Codas that I denominated “neutral” where those in which the experience
is not personalized and there is no specific reference to the speaker or anybody
else as in the following examples:
(18) Hi:jo qué friega no?
Man how tiring right?
(19) Ya fue la única forma de hacerlo.
Well, that was the only way to do it.
In both cases the speaker is obviously present as the author of the words, but
does not refer to himself or herself explicitly.
Chapter 3
Generalizing codas are illustrated by the example in María’s story, which I
reproduce below:
(20) Pero la necesidad, (. . . . . . ) eso es lo que ocasiona a uno que por la necesidad aguanta uno muchas cosas
But need,(. . . . . . ) that is what determines that one out of need one accepts
so many things
This coda has two effects: first, it makes Maria’s experience relevant to others
since it includes all people in need as potential experiencers of similar situations, second, it relieves Maria of responsibilities by eliminating the particularity of her choice of accepting work conditions that could be seen as unacceptable. The latter effect is clearly increased because of the presence of a passive
In Table 6, I summarize the results of my analysis of codas.
Table 6. Codas in narratives
Stories with narrator as protagonist
Stories with narrator as witness
As can be seen, generalizing codas are more frequent than other types of
codas both in personal stories and in narratives where the storyteller is not the
protagonist. Narrators seem to abstract from their particular experiences in
order to make it relevant to others. Generalizing codas with uno are common
in this data (there are 8 of them in personal and non personal stories) because
uno is a pronoun that stresses indefiniteness and being non specific, it can be
applied to any person and it allows inclusion of others in the point of a story.
Thus, codas where narrators use uno sometimes allow speakers to generalize
their own experience (as we saw in Maria’s story); in other cases, they allow
speakers to generalize based on somebody else’s experience. This is illustrated
in the following coda to a story told by Sixto, Maria’s husband. The narrative
came up during an interview with Sixto and María, where I had asked her how
she communicated with her employers since she didn’t speak English. Sixto
at this point intervened to tell the story of a Greek fellow worker who had
bought a Spanish course book and had learned Spanish in order to be able to
communicate with him.
Identity as social orientation
He concludes his story saying:
01 S:
y aprendió el Español,
fíjese nada más!
lo que uno no, uno lo que le interesa a
veces es trabajar [trabajar y el inglés05 M:
[si luego a veces uno se olvida de, uno06 S: No pero el inglés le voy a decir una cosa sobre la gente que lo agarra la
gente que, que no está preocupada, que no tiene preocupaciones.
01 S:
and he learned Spanish,
imagine that!
what one doesn’t, one sometimes what one
wants is to work to [work and English05 M:
[Yes then sometimes one forgets, one06 S: No but English I will tell you something about the people that people who
learn it are those who are not worried, who have no worries.
The coda to the story is contained between lines 01 and 04 and it’s not completed because of Maria’s intervention, which interestingly is also formulated
in terms of one. Sixto marvels at the Greek’s ability to learn Spanish and
compares it to one who only thinks about working. Such observation clearly
comes from his own experience of why he didn’t learn English, but the pronoun one makes it possible to present it as a more generalizable fact. Here,
as in the case of Maria’s story, one depersonalizes experience while allowing
This function of uno becomes clearer when we look at the use of this pronoun in the other types of autobiographical narrations, where it often appears. We already saw an example in Raquel’s interview (reported in Example
6, above), but her narrative style was by no means unique since my questions
about changes that had occurred as a result of the migration process were often answered with uno also by other immigrants as illustrated in the following
interview with Toño:
01 A: Y usted ha cambiado como persona, con toda esta experiencia de estar
aquí y vivir aquí?
02 T: Si, cambia uno mucho.
03 A: Por qué?
04 T: Pues porque este, bu- eh, uno aprende, bueno, aprende, como dijera,
Chapter 3
la vida la hace cambiar mucho, verda’, la verda’.
ahora si no cambia uno nunca, nunca va uno a hacer lo que quiere, verda’.
01 R: And have you changed as a person, with all this experience of being here
and living here?
02 T: Yes, one changes a lot.
03 A: Why?
04 T: Well because well, we- eh, one learns, well, learns,how can I say that,
life makes YOU change a lot, right, that’s the truth.
now if one doesn’t ever change, one will never do what one wants, isn’t it?
This fragment shows that uno is treated in a way as an equivalent of yo, but not
completely because it is not personalized. Uno doesn’t mean I, but it means
something like “people”, and may not include the hearer, like you or Usted. So
this pronoun allows speakers to make generalizations taking their own experience as a starting point. In this case, Toño talks about the fact that he has
changed because life has made him change as if this were not only his own
experience but everybody’s experience.
Like stories, codas may generalize experience either by collectivizing it (as
is the case of the nosotros codas), or by involving the hearer. Codas that present
experience as collective occur at the end of nosotros stories. They summarize
the experience as relevant for a group of people. For example, in the following
narrative Leo told me of a fight between a Guatemalan and a group of African
Americans in which he and his friends had taken the side of the Guatemalan.
He concludes:
(23) Y al final el guatemala salió y nosotros nos quedamos con el, con el con la
And so the Guatemalan got off and we were left with the, with the with
the trouble!
where the consequences of the experience are formulated as salient for the
whole group of people who entered the fight.
Even in codas that I classified as personalized because of pronoun use,
speakers employ mechanisms through which experience can be framed as applicable to others, such as explanations or statements that underline the nonuniqueness of certain actions, reactions, or experiences. An example where
both personalization and generalization is employed comes from a coda to a
story told by Leo. Leo was commenting on the fact that Caucasian employers
are often racist towards African Americans. To exemplify this point, he told me
Identity as social orientation
that his employer had spit at an African American who was passing by and that
he had laughed about it. He concludes his story:
01 J:
Si y les da risa,
o sea no no dices, “Ah pus pobrecito” acá,
les da risa,
los ves como que disfrutan al al acá pero ps,
yo si a mi me hace algo un blanco, un gabacho,
a mi no me importa fuck you,
pus si si somos somos seres humanos porque acá?
01 L: Yes and it makes them laugh,
I mean you say like, “Oh poor guy” and all that,
it makes them laugh,
you see how they enjoy that but well,
I if somebody does something to me, a white an American,
I don’t care fuck you,
’cause if we are human beings why that?
This coda employs a number of mechanisms of generalization. Leo involves the
hearer in the evaluation through the use of tu to express a potential reaction to
the way the African American was treated in the story (lines 02 and 04). He then
goes to a personalization strategy, through the comparison of what he would
do in a similar situation (lines 05–06). Finally he turns to a non-pronominal
generalization expressing why the behavior of the employer is unacceptable:
“We are all human beings”, which implies that nobody should be treated badly
and nobody should accept such treatment.
. Conclusions
In this chapter I have suggested that Mexican immigrants display in their narrative discourse an orientation to others that is exemplified by linguistic phenomena connected with the use of pronouns. The phenomena I have analyzed are the choice of nosotros stories in response to individual questions on
personal experience, the tendency to totally assimilate the individual into the
group in the nosotros stories, the concentration of occurrences of nosotros in
orientation clauses, the tendency to switch in unpredictable ways between yo
and nosotros and with no orientation to the hearer as to the referents of the
Chapter 3
pronoun nosostros, the switching between first person, second person and impersonal pronouns in stories and story codas. I have related these linguistic
choices to general narrative strategies: the assimilation of personal experience
to collective experience, the stress on the non uniqueness of that experience,
and the emphasis on the potential significance of the immigrants’ own stories
to others.
One conclusion that can be drawn from this data is that the narrative discourse of Mexican immigrants that I interviewed reflects a social conception
of the individual, where the individual views himself as surrounded by others,
and his/her experiences as shared or potentially significant to others as well. We
might ask at this point to what extent such conception of the persona is related
to the cultural background that immigrants shared in their own country, and
to what extent it is a product of the immigration experience. If, as anthropologists suggest (see for example Duranti 1993), conceptions of the self and the
persona are influenced by socialization and social practices, the stress on shared
experience among Mexicans could be related to the importance of family and
social ties in Mexico in general and in non urban communities in particular.
Members of this community often implied the existence of such a social view.
The importance of mutual support was often underscored in interviews where
immigrants complained that one of the negative aspects of living in the U.S.
was that people, as one of them put it, “only thought about themselves” or that
even friends or relatives had become selfish or withdrawn from the others.
For example, Omar talking about the people in his own house said:
(25) “. . . aquí cada quien hace su propio mundo, tiene sus propias ideas y este,
y son este muy reservados, o sea nadie puede, puede decirles, o sea opinar
con ellos más que nada en hacer algo, o este, o sea yo lo digo porque en, en
donde vivíamos hubo un tiempo que estuvimos juntos todos los que estamos aquí, estabamos allá pero juntos y era diferente, éramos muy unidos,
este, pues no sé, era mucha amistad, o sea, para todos lados andábamos y,
no sé nos llevábamos muy bien, y aquí yo veo que cada quien, por decirlo
así tiene, busca su propio camino, piensa en uno mismo y, en nadie más,
no o sea, no no se preocupa mucho por los demás sino por uno mismo, y
pues eso es lo que, o sea se ve diferente. No?”
“. . . here each of us creates his own world, has his own ideas and everybody
is very reserved, I mean nobody can say anything or plan to do something
together. I say this because where we used to live there was a time when
we were all together, all the people that are here now, we were there, but
Identity as social orientation
together, and it was very different, we were very close, well, I don’t know,
it was a strong friendship, I mean, we went everywhere and , I don’t know,
we got along really well together, and here I see that, so to say, each of
us looks for his own way, thinks about himself and nobody else, does not
worry too much about the others, but only about oneself, and this is what,
I mean looks different. Right?”
Here Omar describes the attitude of his friends as having profoundly changed
after migrating, from a great deal of caring about the others to total selfishness.
The loss of interest in others is thus depicted as a product of the immigration
experiences and of the estrangement from one’s culture and background.
Nonetheless, cultural influences are not the only possible explanation for
the kind of presentation of self found in this data. It is important to look at the
possible interplay between those factors, the material characteristics of the immigrant experience, and other elements of the social and local context as well.
At the level of the material conditions of immigration, immigrants crucially
depend on the help and support of family members, friends, or acquaintances
that represent their contact when they come to the U.S. These relatives and
friends often provide them with a place to stay and the perspective of a job.
On the other hand, immigrants also seem to stress their relationship with the
people with whom they came, both because sharing such an important experience creates a bond between them, and because these companions are often the
only people that they see and to whom they talk, particularly in the beginning
of the immigrant experience. Thus, the experience of migrating accentuates,
especially in its early phases, the immigrant sense of identification with others. When immigrants respond to questions on their experience with stories
that have collective protagonists, they underline the saliency of their group to
them. The discursive immersion in the group has a material correlation in a
situation where immigrants feel that they share very difficult experiences with
relatives or people they come in contact with, but also a situation where they
physically live in group homes.
On the other hand, the tendency to present individual experience as nonunique, and potentially generalizable, can also be interpreted in the light of
strategies of deresponsabilization. Immigrants in interviews are questioned
about their own life choices, but the discourse that develops within the interview among the participants, is not just a private conversation; it also responds to and echoes other voices and other discourses circulating in society.
We have mentioned in Chapter 2 how mainstream discourse presents being
undocumented as intentionally breaking the law, cheating, taking advantage of
Chapter 3
services and goods that should only be available to legal residents. Immigrants
seem to respond to these charges through a discourse of deresponsabilization.
By presenting immigration as a collective phenomenon and underlining that
their choice to migrate is not an individual one, but was in some ways forced
upon them as a community by the conditions of need that they experienced in
Mexico, immigrants are able to shift responsibility away from them as individuals. These strategies alleviate the burden of a responsibility for breaking the
law that society places on them and allow them to present migration as a social
not an individual choice. Such differences in focus are evident in the mismatch
between the interviewer’s emphasis, and interest, on individual experiences,
and the immigrants’ responses that concentrate on the general significance of
those experiences.
In all these ways, pronominal choice in narrative discourse represents not
just the expression of the narrators’ point of view on events and action, but
also the encoding of a collective experience that is particular to this group of
workers. The social orientation in the stories told is therefore not the exclusive
result of socialization processes stressing the role of social ties, but also (and
may be mainly) related to the concrete and specific circumstances of migration.
Chapter 4
Identity as agency
Dialogue and action in narrative
In this chapter, I look at another aspect of the construction of identity in discourse: the presentation of self in relation to social experiences. As in the previous chapter, I focus on the implicit identity construction that emerges from
common uses of linguistic resources in the representation of self and others in
the story world. In this case, I relate self-presentation to the action structure of
a narrative, which can be schematically represented as the ‘who does what’ of
a particular story world. Particular kinds of identities can be seen as stemming
from ways of talking about the self in action. In this case, the represented world
of experience on which I focus is the crossing of the border and the aspect of
the action structure that I analyze is the degree of initiative that narrators attribute to themselves and others within it. I center the analysis on reported
speech as this narrative resource is used to underscore important aspects of the
story world. I argue that narrators construct a narrated speaking space in which
certain characters and actions are highlighted, thus projecting particular interpretations of what happened. Besides looking at the kinds of acts reported and
their illocutionary force, I also attempt to highlight those features of “reporting style” that are most revealing of the way the border crossing is perceived
and constructed in discourse. Reported speech is considered here as an important locus to study agency in these immigrants’ discourse not only because
of its functional richness and centrality in storytelling, but also because of its
particular saliency in the narratives told by members of this group.
Reported speech in narrative
Reported speech has been, until relatively recent times, a topic of interest
mainly to literary critics. It is therefore not surprising that modern linguistic reflections on this discursive strategy have been greatly influenced by the
Chapter 4
work of Bakhtin/Voloshinov, who applied linguistic analysis to literary works.
Bakhtin introduced the very central concept that reporting speech is not a passive enterprise, but an active process of transformation. Any act of reporting is,
according to this author, at the same time an act of appropriation of somebody
else’s words, and a reformulation of the original act. Because the forms of this
appropriation are always in one way or another inscribed within the new utterance, in reported speech we also have “an objective document of its reception”
(Voloshinov 1973: 63). The Russian critic shows how reported speech can be
presented on a scale of “objectivity”, from a clear separation of the narrator’s
voice with respect to that of the speaking character, to a subtle mixing of different voices within the same text that may make it at time almost impossible
to distinguish reporting from commentary. The voice of the narrator and the
voice of the character that spoke the original words can be blended to different degrees, reaching an extreme when they become inextricably intertwined
with each other. Different degrees of embedding often correspond to different
quoting styles (see Urban 1989 on this point). Borrowing Goffman’s (1981)
distinction between author (the person who produces an utterance) and animator (the person who is merely reproducing the utterance), we can look at
quotative styles as producing different relations between the voices of a text
and the voices that are external to it. While direct quotation introduces a precise separation between author and animator marked through the use of verba
dicendi (‘she said’, ‘he said’), and gives the hearer the illusion that the quoted
speech was actually uttered as reported, indirect quotation presents the words
of the author through the voice of the animator. In other quotative styles, such
as indirect free speech, the borders between the author’s and the animator’s
voice are less clear-cut and utterances cannot be clearly attributed to author or
animator. But Bakhtin’s most important lesson is that even a report that seems
completely objective is in a way a construction. He says:
The following must be kept in mind: that the speech of another, once enclosed
in a context, is – no matter how accurately transmitted – always subject to certain semantic changes. The context embracing another’s word is responsible
for its dialogizing background, whose influence can be very great. Given the
appropriate methods of framing, one may bring about fundamental changes
even in another’s utterance accurately quoted. (Bakhtin 1981: 340)
Bakhtin shows ways in which literary texts can be polyphonic, that is ways
in which they can incorporate different voices in apparently monologic utterances. However, polyphony is not only a literary phenomenon. Although
literary discourse is built on the complex relationship between the author’s,
Identity as agency
the narrator’s, and the characters’ voices (see Banfield 1982), similar complexities are found in everyday discourse, particularly in storytelling. Polanyi (1982)
showed how in conversational stories narrators consciously or unconsciously
manipulate the different points of view from which the events can be apprehended: that of the omniscient narrator, that of the witnessing narrator, and
that of the character. Such manipulations are often realized through different
types of reported speech.
The presence of dialogue in stories reminds us that different frames are
activated in storytelling (Young 1987). Two such frames are, according to Tannen (1989) the “reporting context”, the context in which the telling takes place,
and “the reported context”, the world in which the original words were uttered. This duplicity is one of the reasons why she proposes the term “constructed dialogue” instead of reported speech, to describe this phenomenon.
Her perspective is in sharp contrast with a view of language as a simple “conduit” (Reddy 1979) of content that decontextualizes utterances. In the case of
reported speech, the conduit metaphor leads people to look at whatever is reported as speech that was uttered, not as a construction whose author is the
present speaker or some other agent.
Reported speech, and particularly reported dialogue (i.e. the reporting of
entire speech exchanges), like many other linguistic devices used by storytellers,
is a way of telling, a feature of performance, as Wolfson, (1978) Hymes, (1996)
Bauman (1986), and others have convincingly argued. Words that are reported
in the storytelling world may have never been uttered, or may have been uttered
in a completely different manner in the storyworld. As Johnstone (1990: 100)
. . . all tellings, by their nature, are fictions, in the sense that all tellers make
choices about what to present and how to give it meaning as they present it.
The line between fact and fiction in recountings is culturally drawn, and a
teller’s responsibility to be ‘factual’, and how this responsibility is carried out,
depends on how the social cohort defines factualness, on the culturally defined
genre of his telling, and on the immediate social and rhetorical context.
According to this view, reported speech represents particular perspectives of
the narrator on events, not an objective rendering of language exchanges.
Within narrative discourse reported speech has the specific function of conveying evaluation since narrators use their own voices or the voices of others to implicitly highlight elements of the story. Thus reported speech constitutes a strategy of interpretation of features of the story world within the storytelling world. When speech is reported, particularly if dialogue is reported,
Chapter 4
the different interactive meaning making contexts related to narrative are activated. Narrators are situated in a storytelling world within which they evoke a
story world. However, they also animate another interactional world (the one
in which characters speak) within the story world itself. Ronkin (2001) calls
these worlds respectively the narrated world and the narrated interaction. Narrators (and listeners) shift from one world to the other creating multiple relations between them and conveying complex positionings towards other interactants, local or global circumstances, narrated events and figures in the
story world. Reported speech is a central evaluative strategy in that it is used to
emphasize different aspects of the narrative. Narrators highlight facets of the
personality of characters by giving them voice (Carranza 1996), present themselves as moral selves by activating scenarios in which different characters speak
(Ronkin 2001), evaluate events by representing characters’ reactions to them
(Labov 1981), and make actions prominent by representing them through dialogue instead of simply recounting them (Schiffrin 1996). Reported speech is
thus both a powerful positioning device (Wortham 2001) and a device to deflect responsibility (Georgakopoulou 1995), since it allows narrators to assume
different points of view and express stances and interpretations often through
theatrical manipulation of the voices of others.
However, reporting speech is not merely a strategic resource available to
individual narrators for positioning, it is also a societal resource, used in different ways by speech communities. In fact, both the quantity and the manner in
which reported speech and dialogue are used in oral discourse seem to vary in
different speech communities and within different speech activities (Wolfson
1978). According to Tannen, for example, stories told by Greek speakers present
more constructed dialogue than stories told by American speakers (1989: 124).
Hill (1989) shows that Mexicano storytellers also use more constructed dialogue than American storytellers. It has also been argued that the forms that
reported speech takes in a community are strongly connected with the way
authority and speech rights are seen in general in that community. Analyzing Nukulaelae storytelling, for example, Besnier (1993) argues that reported
speech has a central role in that kind of speech event because speech reporting
activities are extremely salient in that culture. Islanders are, in fact, suspicious
of interpretations and try to avoid inferences about behavior.
From the perspective of the study of group identities, the analysis of reported speech is a powerful tool for understanding how collective experiences
are constructed because by weaving the voices of the characters in their tellings,
narrators replay (in Goffmanian terms) real and concrete interactions in which
they have taken part, highlighting certain roles and actions. Characters’ voices
Identity as agency
are used to move the action along and to comment on various aspects of it.
At the same time, language exchanges become theatrical performances of moments that are presented by narrators as important within particular episodes.
The story worlds in which those interactions occur are the fabric for the construction of the narratives and the way interactions are constructed is the key
to particular representations of experience.
Reported speech in narratives presents a very strong link with action in
that characters that speak are also characters that stand out and actively take
particular roles. When Labov (1981) analyzed the narration of violent events
in danger of death stories, he was looking for clues in the telling that would
explain the dramatic developments in the story worlds. Although his paper
did not focus specifically on reported speech, this linguistic strategy played a
central role in the stories that he analyzed since it was used to give voice to challenges, the very speech acts that explain the violent reaction of the characters
to whom the words were addressed in the narrated interaction. An analysis of
dialogue in that case reveals the centrality of those speech acts in the narrator’s
construction of the development of story events, but also the central role of the
speaking characters in the development of the story action itself.
Discourse analysts who have explored reported speech as a feature of the
discourse of social groups, have underlined its nexus with agency. Johnstone
(1987) shows how tense alternations within confrontational situations between
citizens and authorities patterns with the reporting of speech acts realized by
authorities or non-authorities in the story world. Hamilton (1998) describes
how patients’ reports on speech acts initiated by them or by doctors and medical personnel in on line conflict narratives underscores their role as active survivors. Relaño Pastor and De Fina (forthcoming) illustrate through associations created by narrators between complicating actions, constructed dialogues
and the use of emotional devices, how Mexican women re-locate themselves as
moral agents by contesting and often rejecting the social roles in which they are
placed by others both in the story world and in the social world around. These
studies propose ways in which represented speech and represented agency relate to each other. I argue that an analysis of the relationships between character voices and speech acts reported highlights the immigrants’ sense of agency
within a dramatic and central experience such as the border crossing. By answering questions such as: Who speaks and who responds? What kinds of
actions are represented through speech? How is speech itself reported? It is
possible to assess which acts are given salience in the border crossing, what
kinds of roles protagonists have within them, what implicit views about human
relations are held by immigrants.
Chapter 4
. Chronicles as a type of narrative
I have taken as a basis for the present analysis 13 chronicles of the crossing of
the border told by 10 narrators. In this section I describe the characteristics of
chronicles and discuss how they differ from stories. As discussed in Chapter 1,
among the defining properties of a story there are temporal juncture, complicating action, and evaluation. With respect to temporal juncture, chronicles are
different from stories in that they usually involve a series of temporally (and in
our case also spatially) ordered events. So, while it is possible for a minimal narrative to be based on just two temporally ordered events, this is not possible for
a chronicle. The chronicles that appear in my data have some additional characteristics. They are not only temporally, but also spatially organized since all of
them start in Mexico and end in the United States, so that they have a spatially
different beginning and ending point. The degree to which they meet these criteria varies in that some chronicles are very complete and organized and relate
the whole trip from the planning to the arrival, others are less thorough and
only start at the very moment when the crossing took place.
Another difference between stories and chronicles is that while stories must
have a point (Polanyi 1985) chronicles do not need to have one specific point.
While stories have as their main objective that of presenting the narrator’s evaluation of the meaning of certain actions and events, chronicles are descriptive
in nature since their objective is to give an account of how a certain state of
affairs was brought about. In the case of the chronicles that I analyzed, the
particular objective that narrators pursued was describing how they arrived
to the United States. This of course does not imply that chronicles have no
evaluation, but their main function is not that of evaluating events, but rather
that of telling them. Linde (1993) captures these characteristics by saying that
chronicles are sequences of events that do not have a single evaluative point. In
fact, chronicles have a multiplicity of evaluative points related to the different
episodes that are narrated within them. Most chronicles can be subdivided into
episodes whose limits are defined by changes in time, setting, and/or characters involved. This means that they are often composed of a series of stories.
Linde (1993) states that chronicles have no abstract, no orientation, and no
coda. These criteria do not seem to be clearly applicable to the data discussed
here. In fact, I have found chronicles ending with sections that are recognizable
as codas, that is statements that bridge the gap between past and present and
indicate that the narrative is over. The following example illustrates a chronicle
that ends with a coda:
Identity as agency
01 C: Ya después nos empezamos a apartar,
otros recibieron sus papeles,
empezamos a agarrar la onda
y ya de aquí ya no nos movimos.
01 C: And then later we started to separate from each other,
others got their papers,
we started to adapt
and we haven’t moved from here.
Here, the final comment of the speaker builds a bridge between the chronicle
and the present reality of all the protagonists of the chronicle. After he and
other immigrants arrived, they settled in and did not go back to Mexico. The
relationship between the events narrated in the chronicles and the present is
established in line 04 through use of the past perfect (we haven’t moved) and
of the deictic here, while at the same time the whole sequence (lines 01–04)
functions as an indication that the narration is over.
I have also found abstracts in chronicles, although these are less common.
In the following fragment Ciro introduces his chronicle with a summary that
characterizes the whole narrative as an example of how people suffer when they
leave their country.
01 O sea de todas las veces que salí de El Oro,
02 ya ve que es duro no?
03 casi siempre saliendo de su tierra de uno, parece que es como una no sé
qué como una mala suerte,
04 una vez saliendo de El Oro empieza el sufrimiento,
05 salimos!
01 I mean of all the times that I left El Oro,
02 you see that it’s hard right?
03 almost always when one leaves one’s country, it’s like some kind of bad
04 once you leave El Oro, the suffering starts,
05 we left!
 Chapter 4
Here Ciro produced an abstract as a framework in which I could place the
chronicle as a narration of unfortunate events. Thus, although abstracts are
not common in chronicles, they do occur.
To summarize, chronicles can be defined as narratives that:
a. relate a series of events chronologically and/or spatially ordered
b. give an account of how a certain state of affairs was brought about
c. do not have a single evaluative point.
The chronicles collected here were subdivided into two sets, the first set is composed of 11 chronicles told by 8 speakers. Some of the speakers crossed the border more than once on different occasions and therefore told two chronicles.
The second set is composed of 2 long chronicles told by another two speakers,
Ciro and Leo. The rationale for dividing the two sets of chronicles is that the
two chronicles told by Leo and Ciro are in many ways similar to each other,
but different from the rest. First, the events that they recount as occurring between the crossing of the border and their arrival to the Washington area cover
a period of many months instead of days. This is due to the fact that these
immigrants crossed the border illegally and then went on traveling across the
United States and working in different states and cities; thus their narratives
cover these different episodes and not merely the crossing. In Leo’s case, the
trip began in El Oro with some friends, continued until they reached the border, included thirteen days of walking along the interior to avoid being caught
by the police, and then continued with travel within the U.S. in search of a permanent home. Also in Ciro’s case, the trip started and continued as a collective
experience and went on for months, until the immigrants reached the D.C.
area. The second similarity is that these two chronicles are almost entirely told
in the nosotros (we) form and relate the experience of a group of immigrants
(which included the narrator as character) that went through the crossing and
the subsequent events together, while the other 11 chronicles are mostly tellings
of individual experiences. Another important reason for separating the two sets
of chronicles is the difference in length, since Ciro’s and Leo’s chronicles are
exceptionally long with respect to the others. The total lines of transcript are
1,900 for the set of 11 chronicles, while the total lines of transcript for the set of
2 longer chronicles are 2,484. These differences in length also make a numerical
comparison of occurrences of reported speech awkward.
Identity as agency 
. Crossing the border
I have argued that chronicles are an important genre to study the construction of Mexican immigrants’ identity because of the significance to these immigrants of the border crossing experience. The migration process itself depends, in their case, on the successful crossing of the border. On the other
hand, crossing the border represents the first immigration experience, the moment in which Mexican immigrants become immigrants, and for this reason it
acquires a great symbolic value.1 It is probably for this reason that most of the
immigrants that I interviewed gave detailed descriptions of crossing episodes,
even when my questions did not explicitly elicit them. They often interpreted a
question on how they had come to the United States as a request for a description of the border crossing. Such focus showed how migration in collective
representation was very closely linked to being able to cross the border. The
following exchanges illustrate how tellers oriented to the border crossing as a
main narrative point:
A: Bueno cuéntame un poco como llegaste.
Cómo fue que ocurrió esto?
R: Cómo fue?
O sea uh o sea decidimos venirnos para acá porque como estaba en crisis el
país, eh o sea teníamos un sueldo pero ya no era lo mismo, no nos
alcanzaba más que para para comer, para vestir más que bien vestir, ya no
era lo mismo.
Entonces un día decidimos venir para acá.
-> Y quieres que te cuente cómo fue que pasamos la frontera?
A: Lo que tu quieras.
A: Well tell me a little bit about how you came.
How did that happen?
R: How was it?
I mean I mean we decided to come here because since the country was in a
crisis, uh I mean we had a salary but it was not the same any more, it was
barely enough to to eat, to buy clothes, more or less buy clothes, it was not
the same.
So one day we decided to come here.
-> And do you want me to tell you how it is that we crossed the border?
A: Whatever you like.
 Chapter 4
A: Bueno. Cómo se dió la, la cosa de venir acá?
T: Ah, por un hermano que yo tenía aquí(.)verdad, pero yo nunca, nunca
tenía la idea de venirme pa’ca, sino que dije un día, “Voy a probar”,
verdad, y, verdad, probé y (.) me vine.
I: Por Ciro?
-> T: Aha, sí, y este (.) ahora qué? le cuento cómo me vine la primera vez?
A: Sí, si quiere cuénteme eso.
A: Ok. How did this thing of coming here happen?
T: Oh, because of a brother that I had here(.)right, but I never had the idea
to come here, rather one day I said, “I am going to try”, right, and, right,
I tried and(.)I came.
I: Because of Ciro?
-> T: Uhu, yes, and(.) now what? shall I tell you how I came the first time?
A: Yes, if you like tell me that.
These exchanges reveal how tellers share a representation in which migrating
is connected discursively to being able to cross the border. Crossing the border
is a highly tellable experience intertextually constructed through repeated and
shared tellings that circulate among the immigrants, and through institutional
and public narratives produced by the media.2 In the following text, Silvia reflects on how her own crossing was unexpectedly simple. Through her words
we learn about the kinds of expectations related to the crossing:
S: o sea no fue problema- yo no puedo decir que pasamos por el monte
corriendo, o que la persona que se encargó de eso se quiso pasar de listo con
nosotras, o sea fue de lo más tranquilo. No hubo ningún problema, salvo
porque a mi me regresaron entonces si nos pusimos un poco nerviosas. Pero
todo fue tranquilo. No hubo nada.
S: I mean there was no problem- I cannot say that we passed through the
mountains running, or that the person who was in charge of this tried to
take advantage of us, I mean it was very easy. There was no problem, except
for the fact that I was sent back, then we did get a little nervous. But
everything was ok. There was nothing.
Identity as agency 
Silvia’s comment illustrates that shared expectations about crossing the border include danger, anxiety, robbing and cheating by the smugglers and that
therefore border crossing is seen as a highly tellable experience.
Naturally, immigrants’ expectations are related to the circumstances that
normally surround the crossing of the border. Like many other undocumented
immigrants, most of those who narrated their chronicles, crossed the border
by paying what they call a “coyote”, a smuggler who, in a way or another, takes
them across the border. Coyotes are contacted sometimes directly from Mexico,
sometimes at the border, and they exact huge sums of money to complete their
trade. The crossing takes place in different ways. Sometimes the coyotes help
immigrants pass the border illegally through crossing points that they indicate.
Sometimes they provide immigrants with illegal papers to go through border
controls. There are cases of immigrants who try to cross without the help of a
coyote, just swimming or walking along the border until they find a spot where
it is safe to go to the other side. Immigrants may be stopped not only by the
border police in the United States, but also by Mexican police on the Mexican
side. Among the immigrants that I interviewed, some started the trip alone,
some with children or relatives, some in groups of friends. Some chronicles
relate relatively painless experiences, other relate frightful experiences where
the narrators suffered hunger or thirst, or were arrested and kept in border
prisons, robbed either by common thieves or by police officers and left without
money, or cheated by the coyotes. Most of the immigrants reported that after
being taken across, they went straight to the locations where relatives or contact
people were expecting them. Others had no specific plan, other than going
through the border and then looking for a job and a place to live, so they ended
up traveling for months before finding a more permanent accommodation.
Most of the men and one of the women whom I interviewed had been back
and forth more than once. When crossing for the first time, most of the immigrants do not really know what awaits them on the other side since a lot of the
information they have is from hearsay. They often refer to this kind of information through expressions like “people said”, “they told me” or “I heard”. Some
hear that crossing is easy, but most of them are told of immigrants who drown,
get beaten, or become victims of assaults. Thus, crossing the border is an experience to which immigrants arrive quite unprepared, but filled with anxiety
and fear, or with expectations of possible disasters. Once in the United States,
immigrants share their experiences, thus adding to the construction of a collective narrative about crossing the border that is also built around newspaper
stories focusing on those cases where crossing has resulted in death or injury.
 Chapter 4
. Reported speech in the chronicles
Reported speech is a widely used linguistic device in the border crossing chronicles. As mentioned before, among the chronicles that I collected, only 2 had
no instances of reported speech. Lines of reported speech were 29% of the total
of transcribed lines in the first set of chronicles, and 25% in the second set.
This means that an average of 27% of all the transcribed lines in the texts of
the chronicles were reported speech. Although the amount of reported speech
varied among speakers (from a minimum of 2% of lines of reported speech
in one chronicle to a maximum of 35% in another one) the average captures
the fact that reporting speech is a salient activity in the narratives produced by
these narrators.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that a majority of these lines are in
direct reported speech. Out of a total of 1,166 lines of reported speech, only
92 are indirect reported speech, i.e. 7.8% of the total. Furthermore, there are
no chronicles where only indirect reported speech occurs, while there are two
chronicles where only direct reported speech is used. Thus, uses of indirect
reported speech seem to be much more limited than uses of direct reported
speech, both quantitatively and qualitatively, as the former is often used in alternation, or as a complement, to direct reported speech. For example, in (6)
we see an alternation between indirect speech (line 01) and direct speech (line
02) in that the words of the first story character are reported indirectly while
the words of the second character are animated.
01 S: le dijo al gringo que si me podía llevar a Houston para que yo me viniera
para acá,
y le dice, “No! no pus no!”
porque como? Mucho problema llevar a un mojarra3 no?
01 S: he told the gringo if he could take me to Houston so that I could come
and he tells him, “No! no well, no!”
because how? Too much problem to take a wetback right?
Indirect speech often alternates with direct speech either to present the words
of different characters as in the previous example, or as an expansion or clarifications of something quoted in direct form. An example of this alternation
is presented in (7), where Toño uses indirect speech (line 03) to expand on his
companion’s words, reported in direct speech in lines 01–02.
Identity as agency 
01 T: y me dice, “Bueno vamos” dice,
“pero mañana me das el dinero”,
ella si me decía que la mitad no?
01 T: and she tells me, “Ok let’s go” she says,
“but tomorrow you give me the money”,
she did tell me that[she would pay] half of it right?
In both examples indirect reported speech alternates with direct reported
speech, but direct reported speech widely predominates in the data. This predominance can be understood as reflecting a preference in the use of reported
speech as a narrative evaluation strategy. The animation of different voices in
the story world contributes to a style of telling where a great deal of the evaluation of events is conveyed, not directly commented upon, and the speaking
characters have the task to transmit the fear, anxiety, or dangers of the border crossing or to convey the saliency of certain actions, without open evaluative comments. As I will show below, the main evaluative functions of direct reported speech in this data are underlying certain actions and conveying
characters’ reactions to events.
With respect to actions, an example of this kind of use of reported speech is
in (6) where Sergio animated the words of a “gringo” who responded negatively
to a request for help on his behalf. Sergio had managed to cross the border, but
had been stuck for more than a month in a Texan ranch where he had lived
in isolation. At this point of the story, he had managed to convince another
immigrant who spoke English to go and find somebody who would take him
to Houston, from where he could go further North. The gringo’s rejection was
therefore a turning point in his plan since he could not leave as he had wanted
to do for a long time. By reporting the gringo’s words directly, Sergio avoids a
direct comment on how this rejection fueled his anxiety about being isolated
and stuck, but underlines its significance to him. In other cases (as we will
see below) reported speech voices questions or exclamations that convey the
protagonist’s, or other characters’ emotional response to a situation. See the
following example in which Sergio, the narrator, is presented as wondering
how he could repay with his salary a debt with the coyote that was becoming
larger and larger. He is not speaking to anybody since he was alone, but just
thinking aloud.
 Chapter 4
01 S:
03 ->
Yo tenía que pagar ochocientos dólares,
y me pagaban cientociencuenta dólares a la semana,
entonces este, dije, “Cuando se los pago!” no?
en un mes sacaba seicientos dólares!
01 S:
03 ->
I had to pay eight hundred dollars,
and I got paid one hundred and fifty dollars a week,
so, I said, “When will I pay them back!” right?
in a month I made six hundred dollars!
The words reported do not comment on the anxiety that the situation gave rise
to, rather, they show the protagonist wondering, asking himself how he could
ever pay the debt. The reported speech conveys that anxiety indirectly, by letting the listener feel what the character was feeling. These two main functions
of reported speech in the data: underlying actions and conveying evaluations,
constitute the basis for my analysis of agency in the chronicles.
. Coding of reported speech acts
The objective of my analysis of reported speech in the data was to reconstruct
the distribution of the speaking space among the story characters and the relevance of their reported actions. Thus, the questions that I asked in relation to
reported speech were the following:
1. Who initiates speech in the story world?
2. What speech acts are characters reported as initiating?
3. How do features of reported speech (i.e. the reporting style) relate to narrators’ construction of selves?
These questions reflect my primary interest in agency. Since I wanted to see
what kind and degree of agency immigrants attribute to themselves in the
crossing of the border, I focused on initiating speech acts. These generally influence the way the interaction goes and the kind of response that will follow. For
example, initiating information requests uttered by the police will be followed
by responses by the immigrants; requests for help will be followed by acceptances or refusals, etc. Some types of initiations often determine the occurrence
of very long instances of reported dialogue. For instance, police interrogations
are sometimes reported in lengthy exchanges where both parties are described
Identity as agency 
as speaking for many consecutive turns. Nonetheless, the types of acts occurring within those turns are fairly uniform: inquiries are followed by answers.
This kind of analysis leads to a map of how “speaking space” was distributed in
the story world among the characters as a way of getting to represented agency.
The focus on initiation determined my coding choices. I coded only initiating instances of reported speech or dialogue. As a consequence, I did not
attempt to code every single utterance by every character, but rather every utterance that was reported either as isolated, i.e. with no answer following, or as
initiating an exchange. I am using the term “exchange” non -technically here, to
refer to an instance of spoken interaction between characters in the story world.
I coded every act as an initiating act every time that there was a change in
the setting (time and or space), or in the composition of the participant group
in the dialogue. Such coding corresponds to a notion of “scene”, as in a play,
where the characters involved in a dialogue may change partly or completely,
the background stage may be occupied with new items or freed of the ones
belonging to a previous scene, and the time frame may switch.
Let us consider the following example where I illustrate the presence of two
initiating acts in order to explain how they were coded:
01 J:
Bueno, al otro día, como a las tres de la tarde, llegó un:, llegó un señor,
(.) que le decían, (.)
no me acuerdo como le decían, (.)
03 -> este, nos dijo no que, “Ya están listos?”
“No, que sí”.
“Ahorita regreso por ustedes,
necesito las fotografías que les pedimos”.
se las dimos y se fue.
como a la media hora, llega un chavo preguntando por nosotros,
09 -> y nos dice, “Saben qué? vamos”.
01 B:
well, the following day, at about three in the afternoon, a man came,
uhm, came a man, (.) that people called, (.)
I can’t remember how people called him, (.)
03 -> well, and he told us, “Are you ready?”
“Yes, we are”
“I’m coming back to get you,
I need the photographs that I asked for.”
we gave them to him and he went away.
 Chapter 4
about half an hour later, a guy comes asking for us,
09 -> and he tells us, “You know what? Let’s go.”
In this passage two initiating acts were coded, the first one, reported in 03 (request for information), and the second one, reported in line 09 (instructions/
orders). In fact the speech in 09 is presented as uttered after a lapse of time has
passed (half an hour), and also the participants are different, since the speaker
in 09 is not the same as the speaker in 03.
This example is also worth commenting for another reason. It illustrates
an opening act (“sabes qué?”, “you know what?”) whose function is prefatory
in that it is used by characters to make addressees pay attention to their words.
Prefatory acts are realized through other expressions as well. For example the
expression “Qué onda?” (“What do you think?” or “What’s going on?”) is used
as a premise for proposals, consultations, inquiries, and functions as a prelude
to the speech act that is realized through the utterance following it, while imperative forms like “venga”, “vengan”, (come), “oiga”, “oigan” (listen) are used
as summons. See for instance the use of acts prefacing a proposal (10) and an
offer (11) in examples below.
01 L: nos salimos en la noche,
02 -> “Qué onda, vamos a darle otro rato?
01 L: we went out in the night,
02 -> “What do you say, shall we work a little more?”
01 L:
02 ->
en eso salió la otra viejilla de enfrente,
dice, “Vengan!”
Ya nos @llamó no?
y ya dice, “Qué quieren comer?”
01 L:
02 ->
meanwhile the other old lady who lived in front,
says, “Come!”
she @called us right?
and she says, “What do you want to eat?”
Prefatory acts of this kind have not been coded per se. Single and multiple initiating utterances attributed to characters have been coded according to the
function of the following act. So for example with expressions used as prelim-
Identity as agency 
inaries to speech acts, the coding has been applied directly to the utterances
expressing the speech act.
In (10) “qué onda?” is a preliminary to the proposal, while in (11) the expression “vengan” (“come”), is merely a summons, not an order, a preliminary
to the offer.
With respect to coding, acts were coded taking as a point of reference the
acts mentioned by Searle (1979: 1–29) as belonging to the categories of assertives, commissives, directives, and expressives. Some acts that were not included in Searle’s taxonomy were also introduced and will be illustrated below.
A list of the reported acts found in the corpus follows:4
Assertives: acts that commit the speaker to the truth of a proposition
II. Directives: attempts by the speaker to get the hearer to do something
requests (for action)
*inquiries (requests for information)
III. Commissives: acts that commit the speaker to a course of action
*expressions of intention or of decisions
IV. Expressives: express psychological state
Among the speech acts that I have added to Searle’s taxonomy are evaluations,
which were briefly presented above (see Example 8). They represent dialogues
with oneself, reactions to circumstances. In this data, when they are attributed
to individuals, they are not really uttered but rather, thought; when they are
attributed to groups they might have been uttered, but more likely they represent interpretative summaries of collective frames of mind. I consider them
initiating acts because when speakers utter them, they open an interaction even
 Chapter 4
when the interaction is often with themselves, an internal dialogue. Some examples of these kinds of acts are given below. In (12) the narrator is presented
as talking to himself after meeting with a stranger whom he didn’t trust:
01 T: si:, me llevé mis cosas acá otra vez,
ya nos fuimos,
dije, “Siquiera en el hotel estoy seguro” verdad?
01 T: ye:s, I took my things with me again,
and we went,
I said, “At least in the hotel I am safe” isn’t it?
In the example above Toño is trying to reassure himself about going to a hotel
with a stranger who had offered him to share the expense of the room and
whom he suspected to be a burglar. He is clearly not communicating these
thoughts to the stranger since he does not trust her.
In the following example, Omar used constructed dialogue to depict the
anxiety that he and other immigrants felt in a situation where they did not
know what would happen to them. After hearing that Omar and others were
transferred to a detention center, I asked if all the people at the detention center
were just waiting there, and Omar responded with some lines of dialogue (03)
that may have been actually uttered, or may simply summarize the collective
wondering about what would come next.
01 A: Y ustedes nada más allí esperando?
02 O: Pues si, nada más a la expectativa,
“Qué va a pasar o qué nos van a hacer?” más que nada.
01 A: And all of you waiting there?
02 O: Well yes, just waiting,
“What is going to happen or what are they going to do to us?” basically.
Another kind of act that I added to Searle taxonomy are interrogations. These
are macro-acts, not single ones, since they consist of questions used by authorities in order to decide on a course of action towards immigrants. Such questions are usually uttered in a series. I felt that it was important to distinguish
them from simple requests for information.
Identity as agency
Another type of speech acts that were added to Searle taxonomy, are expressions of intentions or decisions. These acts are embodied in utterances
through which a character communicates to another person something that
she/he wants to do, or has resolved to do. I illustrate them below since they are
not among the most frequent speech acts and therefore are not discussed in the
analysis. In the following example, taken from Leo’s chronicles, Ciro reports to
his mother his decision to leave for the United States.
01 L: en si yo me fui a avisar a mi mama
cuando le avisé a mi mama, nadie me creyó que me venía pa’ ca.
le dije a mi jefa, “Qué onda jefa? ya me voy al gabacho.5 ”
dice, “Ah tu eres bien loco!”
dice quién sabe que. . . .
01 L: So I went to tell my mother
and when I told my mother, nobody believed me that I was coming here.
I told my mother, “What’s up mom? I’m going to the States.”
she says, “Oh you are so crazy!”
she says whatever. . . .
Here Leo reports initiating a speech act which is more than assertive: he declares an intention that shows his commitment to go. The reported utterance, “I’m going to the United States,” does not simply depict an event, it also
brings it about.
Encouragements were also added to Searle’s taxonomy of directives. They
are speech acts whose objective is to help somebody in the performance of an
action or in the experience of a circumstance. See the following example where
Ciro and his friends have to leave their jobs and start for a new journey after
being left with no money. One of the friends tries to encourage the rest with
the argument that although they have no money, they have enough food.
01 C:
pos sin dinero no?
porque habíamos llegado a trabajar allí,
el cheque no nos había salido todavía, bueno!
dice [..], “No se aguiten, no se aflijan”
dice este, “Allí traemos hartos frijoles!”
Chapter 4
01 C: well without money right?
because we had come to work there,
the check had not come out yet, fine!
[he] says [...], “Do not get depressed, do not get upset”
[he] says, “Here we have a lot of beans!”
I identified the speech acts in this list taking into account the context of the
represented interaction, but also information on previous events in the chronicle, and their insertion within discourse sequences that contain evaluation by
the narrator or other characters.
Summarizing, I have added to Searle’s taxonomy the following speech acts:
consultations, inquiries, interrogations, encouragement, expressions of intentions or of decisions, evaluations.
. Analysis: Individual chronicles
In this section I present an analysis of the initiating speech acts that were found
in the first set of 11 chronicles. The agents that appeared as story world figures in the chronicles and to whom the speech acts were ascribed, were the
1. Immigrants:
a. individual narrators as characters
b. group including narrators as characters
c. accompanying immigrants other than the narrators as characters
2. Authorities:
a. coyotes
b. police and other authorities
3. People met during the journey:
4. People who are not present during the journey:
non accompanying friends and relatives
Table 1 summarizes number of acts reported and initiators and represents the
distribution of the “speaking space” among characters. We find that narrators
as characters are reported as initiators in 37% of the acts. We also find that the
Identity as agency
Table 1. Number and initiation of reported speech acts in the chronicles
Number of acts % of total
Individual narrators as characters
Group including narrators as characters
Accompanying immigrants other than narrators as characters
Police or authorities
Non accompanying friends or relatives
second most important group of initiators is that of the ‘coyotes’ (24%) and
then the police and other authorities (15%). If we group agents together, we
find that authorities’ and coyotes’ acts are reported as much (in fact slightly
more) than immigrants’ acts. In this set of chronicles, acts reported as initiated
by a group including immigrants are few. Of course, if we include all agents,
acts initiated by others outnumber the acts attributed to narrators (62% vs
38%). This is consistent with the fact that there are many characters in chronicles and therefore there are also many occasions for reporting the words of
others. As this table shows, immigrants do not tend to focus too much on their
own initiating acts, but tend to report what other people say. It also shows the
importance attributed to the words of coyotes and police in the story world.
More interesting observations come from the analysis of the type of acts
that are attributed to each agent, since these can give a much more concrete idea
of the kind of agentive roles that immigrants assume in the narratives referring
to the crossing of the border. Table 2 presents a summary of the types of acts
that predominate in the reported speech attributed by narrators to each agent.
Analysis of the most frequently reported types of acts that immigrants and
other agents are portrayed as initiating, shows that in the case of individual
immigrants those acts are in fact mostly what we have called evaluations (59%
of the total), followed by requests (25%). As we mentioned, actions ascribed to
narrators/characters as members of a group are very few, but even so, the only
acts initiated by them are again evaluative acts, choral expressions of internal
states of wonder or fear.
Thus, most of the acts that immigrants are portrayed as initiating are in
fact, reactions to circumstances. As we have seen with the examples discussed
in Section 5, they constitute internal thoughts or exclamations, emotions that
have no effect or outcome. They are emblematic of situations where the narra-
Chapter 4
Table 2. Most frequently reported acts
Number of acts
Most frequently
initiated acts
Individual narrators as characters
32 (37%)
Group including narrators as
Accompanying immigrants other
than narrators as characters
2 (2%)
Evaluations: 19 (59%)
Requests: 8 (25%)
Evaluations: 2 (100%)
9 (10%)
Proposals: 3 (33%)
21 (24%)
Police or other authorities
13 (15%)
Non accompanying relatives or
5 (6%)
5 (6%)
Orders or
Instructions: 12 (57%)
Interrogations: 6 (46%)
NA (vary)
Advice: 4 (80%)
tor has no choice since he/she is in the hands of somebody else and cannot act
but only react.
The second most frequently reported acts are requests (8 out of 32, that is
25%). Immigrants are often represented as asking for food, help, money, etc.
Below are two examples, in which immigrants are reported as issuing a request
for money, in order to be able to continue their trip.
01 A:
02 ->
y este, y entonces agarré y empecé a pedir coras,
le digo a un chavo, “Préstame unas coras no? para hablar”,
me regaló un peso.
01 A: and then, and so I started to ask for coins,
02 -> I say to a guy, “Lend me a few coins will you? to call”,
he gave me one peso.
01 S:
Luego también yo debía dinero en México para, que me prestaron
también para yo venirme a Houston.
02 -> entonces yo le dije a él que me prestara dinero para para terminarle de
pagar al chavo que le debía allí,y poderme venir para acá,
luego entonces él me mandó el dinero.
Identity as agency
01 S:
Then I also owed money in Mexico for, that they lent me also to come
here to Houston.
02 -> so I told him to give me money to to finish paying the guy to whom I
owed money there, and to be able to come here,
and so he sent me the money.
In (16) Toño asks a stranger for money to make a phone call since he has
been robbed. The stranger accepts and gives him a coin. In (17) Sergio calls
his brother and asks him to lend him money to continue his trip since he has
given everything to the coyote, and his brother helps him.
Summarizing, the acts ascribed by immigrants to themselves as characters
in the story world are predominantly evaluative ones. The second set of acts
that are frequently reported are requests. The only other acts that are reported
more than once, are inquiries, which are, in some senses also requests, only
they are requests for information rather than for goods. Although requests are
more “agentive” than evaluations in that they require initiative on the part of
immigrants, both types of acts constitute responses to difficult situations in
which immigrants find themselves.
Turning to acts initiated by agents that do not include the immigrants as
characters, we find that acts ascribed to other immigrants are only 9 in total.
Three of these acts are proposals; the rest include among others advice and offers. It is worthwhile mentioning that the only request ascribed to an accompanying person is uttered on behalf of the narrator as character. See the following
example in which a friend issues on behalf of Sergio a request for a ride:
S: Otro chavo que estaba, con el que yo me vine, su hermano, el mayor, le dijo
al gringo que que si me podía llevar a Houston para que yo me viniera para
S: Another guy that was there, with whom I came, his older brother told the
gringo if he could take me to Houston so that I could come here.
It is also interesting to notice that while 3 of the 9 actions attributed to accompanying people are proposals, the immigrants themselves are never reported as
proposing anything to the people accompanying them. If a proposal for action
is made, another person, not the narrator as character, makes it. As an exemplification, let us look at the following example where Toño and another young
Chapter 4
man are getting ready to cross the border, and it is the latter that proposes to
him to pretend not to know each other at the checkpoint:
entonces cuando estábamos en Houston,
llegamos a Houston,
llegamos como a la una de la mañana, el jueves, el jueves a la una,
de allí me dice el muchacho este, “Sabes qué? No nos vamos a hablar”,
él tenía miedo,
que “No nos conocemos” dice,
porque el también venía con otros papeles de otro muchacho,
“No nos conocemos”,
le digo, “Orale como quieres, sale”.
-> 04
so when we were in Houston
we arrived in Houston
we arrived like at one in the morning, Thursday, Thursday at one,
there that boy tells me, “You know what? Let’s not talk to each other”,
he was afraid,
“We don’t know each other”, he says,
because he also came with another boy’s papers,
“We don’t know each other”,
I tell him, “Ok, as you like, fine”.
Here the young man accompanying Toño takes the role of initiator, while the
latter accepts the proposal and complies. As for the roles attributed to nonaccompanying friends and relatives, these are portrayed here mainly as giving
advice, warnings etc. These actions are hardly surprising, given the importance
of the support of family members and friends for the success of the immigrants’
. Reported speech and power
An analysis of the speech attributed to authorities or to coyotes reveals that
their speech tends to be reported slightly more frequently than that of immigrants. There is also a tendency to report the speech of the coyotes more than
the speech of the police. Coyotes are portrayed as mostly giving orders and instructions (12 times out of the total 21) and police as mostly interrogating (6
times out of 13).
Identity as agency
In both cases the immigrants display a tendency to report these interactions in a manner that appears to be very “literal”, that is with a lot of detail
on the exact words that the coyotes or the policemen who interrogated them
are supposed to have used. Of course, it is not possible to establish whether
those words were actually uttered the way they are reported, but dialogues with
coyotes and policemen give the impression that the immigrants remember exactly what was said because of the detailed nature of the instructions that they
record. Tannen (1991: 141) notices that detail gives as impression of verisimilitude to the hearer, and thus makes situations appear very real, while Chafe
(1990) stresses how details give a text the quality of immediate experience
rather than that of something remembered.
In these interactions the immigrants as characters have varying roles:
sometimes they are portrayed as responding, while sometimes it is the coyotes who speak, while the immigrants’ reactions are not voiced. In all cases, the
dialogues are vividly reproduced. Let us look at the following example taken
from Virginia’s chronicle, where she reports the instructions that the coyote
gave her the day before she was supposed to cross the border. She reports how
the coyote described in detail the way she should be dressed in order to look
like a person from San Antonio asking for a short stay visa.
01 V:
y dice, “Ahora si sabe qué? necesito una bolsa de mano,
fíjese como va aquella señora de la calle, pelo suelto, un chongo acá”,
ah que pelo suelto no quería
dice, “Usted ha visto todas las señoras de San Antonio?
NO traen pelo suelto y si todas- cortito o chongo acá o si ni trenza
dice, “Bueno entonces vístase como, este trae bilé?
píntese, arréglese, bolsa de mano, y no va a llevar nada más que eso,
los niños póngalos bien, arreglados,”
dice, “Bueno mire ahorita vengo”,
se fue y regresó.
01 V: and he says, “Now you know what? I need a handbag,
look at the way that lady on the street is dressed, loose hair, a bun here”,
oh he didn’t want the hair loose,
he says, “Have you seen the ladies in San Antonio?
they DON’T wear their hair loose- short or in a bun and they don’t even
have a plait!”
Chapter 4
he says,” Well then get dressed like uh, do you have make up powder?
put make up, make yourself pretty, handbag, and that’s all you are going
to take,
dress the children really well,”
he says, “Fine, look I’m coming back,”
he went and came back.
In the following example, María also reports in detail a dialogue with a coyote
that gives her instructions before crossing the border.
01 M: le digo que entonces ya estaba listo,
y me dice el coyote,” Sabe qué señora sí se van a pasar,
y se van a pasar en carro”
((a few lines follow to describe another lady who was also at the border))
Y me dice: “Pus señora yo no sé cómo le va a hacer, pero usted me va a
echar la mano con ella,
dice, “Tiene que pasar!”
dice, “Al fin que van sus dos niños”,
mi niña y mi hijo,
dice , “A ver cómo le hacen muchachos pero ustedes tienen que echarme
la mano, si, no esta señora ya debe de estar allá,”
y así fue.
01 M: I tell you that it was ready,
and the coyote tells me, “You know madam that you are going to cross
and you are going to cross in a car”,
((a few lines follow to describe another lady who was also at the border))
and he tells me, “Well lady I don’t know how you are going to do it, but
you are going to help me with her”,
he says, “She has to pass!”
he says, “After all your children are going with you”,
my girl and my boy,
he says, “Let’s see how you do it guys but you have to help me, yes, this
lady has to get there,”
and that’s how it was.
The detail of these interactions, particularly the detail with which the words of
the coyotes are reported is noticeable. In Example (20) Virginia reports how
the coyote told her to dress, how she was supposed to comb her hair, what
kind of make up she needed to wear and how she should dress her children.
Identity as agency
But she also seems to reproduce the way he gave those instructions, that is
drawing her attention to the kinds of hairdo and clothing that women wear in
San Antonio. She also reproduces the coyote’s words when he says good bye:
“Fine I’m coming back” (line 09).
Also in Maria’s chronicle (Example 21) the coyote’s words are reported in
detail not only when he explains to her how she is going to cross and tells her
to take another lady across with her (02–05), but also when he repeats the same
explanation and instruction to her son and daughter (08). The repetition does
not bring any new information about the coyote’s instruction, but it does give
a flavor of the way he was addressing everybody to try to convince them.
The same phenomenon happens with reports of dialogues with the police since most of the time the content of their interrogations is also reported
in detail. Immigrants report dialogues with American police or with Mexican police at the border. They report dialogues that ended successfully, with
them crossing the border, but also dialogues that ended unsuccessfully. See the
following examples where Toño reports his discussion with the police on the
Mexican side.
01 T: De suerte a mí no me encontraron la cartera,
porque la llevaba bien escondida,
al otro muchacho sí,
y le encontraron una carta donde le decían cómo iba a pasar, a quién iba
a ver, a quíen le iba a hablar,
y de ahí se agarraron ellos, de ahí,
enton’s a mí no me encontraron nada,
y dice no, dice, “De dónde son ustedes?”
le digo, “De México”,
“De qué parte?”
“Del Estado de México,”
y nos dicen, “Bueno, quíen es el gobernador del Estado de México?”
era creo (.) este, Zorrilla, no, no, no,
al ese que no duró mucho, que corrieron,
a este, que entró en lugar del Alfredo del Mazo.
15 I: Pichardo Pagaza?
16 A: Pichardo Pagaza,
17 T: ya le dije yo, era Pichardo Pagaza
y dice “No” dice, este, “a ver, ustedes son de Centroamérica”,
“No que somos de México!”
y luego ya este, no que- “Nos van a acompañar a la procuraduría”, no?
 Chapter 4
y ya yo les dije no, “Saben qué? pu’s la mera verdad vamos a brincar para
el otro lado”,
le digo, “Pero no traemos dinero,
el dinero nos lo van a dar del otro lado”,
“Y quíen?”
“Pu’s unos familiares”,
“Quíen son sus familiares?”
Yo ya les dije,
“Pu’s mi familiar está hasta tal parte” le digo
“Y no, no tiene ni teléfono, no tiene nada, dinero no traemos”,
como yo, la verdad pu’s yo sabía cómo la policía cómo se mueve y eso,
porque es puro dinero la policía en México,
se mueve con puro dinero,
este, y luego, agarramos y le digo yo al muchacho ese,
a él le quitaron 120 dólares, verdad?
((narrative continues))
01 T: Luckily they did not find my wallet,
because I had hidden it very well,
the other guy’s they found,
and they found a letter where they told him how to cross, who he was
going to see, whom he was going to talk to,
and that was their excuse, that,
so they didn’t find anything on me,
and he says, he says, “Where are you from?”
I tell him, “From Mexico”
“Which part?”
“From Estado de México”,
and they tell us, “Fine, who is the governor of the Estado de México?”
it was I think (.) well, Zorrilla, no, no, no,
that one who didn’t last long, that was thrown out,
the one, who came in instead of Alfredo del Mazo,
15 I: Pichardo Pagaza?
16 A: Pichardo Pagaza,
17 T: so I told him, it was Pichardo Pagaza
and he says, “No” he says, “let’s see you are from Central America”,
“No we are from Mexico!”
and then well, that- “You are going to come with us to the attorney’s
office”, right?
Identity as agency
and so I told them, “You know what? the truth is that we are going to
cross to the other side”,
I tell him “But we have no money,
they are going to give us money on the other side”
“And who?”
“Well, some relatives”,
“Who are your relatives?”
so I told them,
“My relative lives there” I tell him
“And, he doesn’t, he doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t have anything, we
have no money”,
and since I, the truth is that I knew how the police how the police works
and all that,
because it’s just money with the police in Mexico,
they just want money,
and then, and then I told that boy,
they took 129 dollars from him, right?
((narrative continues))
As in the case of the coyotes, where details were given on the exact instructions
or orders that the coyotes gave, dialogues with police officers are often reported
with the details of the questions that were asked, and sometimes also with a detail on the responses that the narrators gave. As we see in example (22), Toño
reports a lengthy exchange with the Mexican police who, according to him,
often stop people who look suspicious to try to get money from them. This exchange portrays the repeated attempts by the police to find some problem with
Toño and his friend’s papers in order to extort some money. Again, questions
and answers seem precise, vivid. Speakers in both cases do not only report the
content of questions and answers but also markers and colloquial expressions
(bueno, (fine), in line 11, a ver, (let’s see) in line 18).
The example also illustrate the meaning of the predominance of initiating acts by authorities or coyotes in the chronicles as a whole: by highlighting these interactions through constructed dialogue and by performing them,
immigrants as a group convey, without open comments, the central role that
negotiations with the coyotes and the police play in the crossing of the border
and their dependence on coyotes instructions and on police acceptance to pass
the border. These dialogues illustrate how the chance of actually ending up in
the United States for those who choose not to cross the river or the mountains, but to go through the immigration police check points, is crucially tied
to those brief encounters with the police officers on both sides. Their destiny at
 Chapter 4
those moments depends on what the officer who is checking their papers will
say. Such dependence is mirrored in the almost obsessive precision with which
these dialogues are reported in the chronicles.
To summarize, the picture that emerges from the analysis of reported dialogue in the 11 immigrant chronicles examined until now is that of a state
of diminished agency and dependence. Immigrants portray themselves as accomplishing mostly internal acts (evaluations) or as issuing requests to other
people that may help them survive in a situation where they have lost control of
their actions. They present themselves as basically “responding” to situations
in that they need to follow detailed instructions from coyotes, or abide by the
decisions made by immigration authorities. Lack of initiative and agency is indicated by the small percentage of initiating acts that they report and by the
fact that initiatives are often attributed to people accompanying them, a surprising fact, if we think that they are the protagonists of the stories narrated,
but not if we consider how the process is presented and lived. However, if we
look at the interactional positioning that immigrants manage in storytelling
worlds, the picture appears somewhat more complex in that individual immigrants may use reported dialogue to stress specific kinds of agentive selves that
are not necessarily the same for all.
. Interactional positioning
Detailed report of interactions that as a whole conveys the salience of authorities and “gatekeepers” in the chronicles, may help individual narrators stress
somewhat agentive positions, or at least positive self presentations, even within
the constraints of responsive behavior. By reporting dialogues vividly, some
immigrants build in interaction with hearers, positive presentations of selves
as capable of handling difficult situations. In some cases immigrants use dialogues as a strategy to stress powerlessness, but in others they construct themselves as characters with certain moral attributes. In the dialogue reported below, (23) for example, Maria presented herself as bold and capable of reacting
to a difficult situation:
01 M: Ah ya pasé.
y me [dijeron],
“No que voy a San Isidro”,
“Y a qué vas?”
“Ah pus voy a comprar zapatos, a hacer unas compras”,
ya me revisaron mis papeles,
Identity as agency 
“Pus cuánto dinero trae?”
“Yo traigo mil quinientos dólares”,
“Me los puede enseñar?”
“Si como no”.
ya le saqué allí.
“Ah si” dice “no hay problema, pase.”
y este, ya me pasé.
01 M: ah my turn came,
And they [told me]
“I’m going to San Isidro”,
“What for?”
“Oh well I am going to buy shoes, to do some shopping”,
so they checked my papers,
“Well, how much money do you carry?”
“I have one thousand five hundred dollars”,
“Can you show them to me?”
“Yes, sure ”.
so I took them out”,
“Oh yes” he says “there is no problem, go ahead.”
and well, I went across.
We see that María presents herself as able to answer all the questions that the
border officer asks with confidence (lines 03, 05, 08). She makes no evaluative
comments on fear or anxiety on her part, but models herself as somebody who
can respond without wavering even if she is not telling the truth. The image
that emerges in the dialogue is that of a person who knows how to manage
herself. Similarly, in example (22), discussed in the previous section (which I
reproduce below), Toño had presented himself as alert and conscious of what
the police were trying to do, although unable to react. In the introduction to
the encounter (lines 01–04) he portrays himself as particularly experienced in
handling these kinds of circumstances. He comments on the fact that he knows
what to do, unlike other immigrants who are caught with money, names and
addresses of people. He also stresses his ability in hiding his wallet so that the
police had not been able to find proof that he was going to cross illegally (lines
02–06). The reported dialogue with the police is functional in building up this
image of a person who has the ability to handle complicated situation (lines
 Chapter 4
01 T:
Luckily they did not find my wallet,
because I had hidden it very well,
the other guy’s they found,
and they found a letter where they told him how to cross, who he was
going to see, whom he was going to talk to,
and that was their excuse, that,
so they didn’t find anything on me,
and he says, he says, “Where are you from?”
I tell him, “From Mexico”
“Which part?”
“From Estado de México”,
and they tell us, “Fine, who is the governor of the Estado de México?”
it was I think (.) well, Zorrilla, no, no, no,
that one didn’t last long, that was thrown out,
the one, who came in instead of Alfredo del Mazo,
15 I: Pichardo Pagaza?
16 A: Pichardo Pagaza,
so I told him, it was Pichardo Pagaza
and he says “No” he says, “let’s see you are from Central America”,
“No we are from Mexico!”
and then well, that- “You are going to come with us to the attorney’s
office”, right?
and so I told them, “You know what? the truth is that we are going to
cross to the other side”,
I tell him, “But we have no money,
they are going to give us money on the other side”
“And who?”
“Well, some relatives”,
“Who are your relatives?”
so I told them,
“My relative lives there” I tell him
“And, he doesn’t, he doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t have anything, we
have no money”,
and since I, the truth is that I knew how the police how the police works
and all that,
because it’s just money with the police in Mexico,
they just want money,
and then, and then I told that boy,
they took 129 dollars from him, right?
Identity as agency
Like María, Toño does not give any evaluation about fear or anxiety. He just
reports his answers to the interrogation (08, 10, 17, 19) as if he had given them
with no hesitation. In the dialogue he is pictured as reacting very intelligently
to the police attempt to corner him by declaring that his intention is to cross
the border illegally (lines 21–23) in order to avoid giving them money. Thus,
dialogue implicitly highlights certain qualities that are also commented upon
in the evaluation. In lines 30–32, Toño comments on his behavior attributing it
to his knowledge of the usual behavior and objectives of Mexican police officers
(line 31).
In conclusion, while as a general phenomenon, the detailed reporting of dialogues with authorities, underscores the dependence of immigrants on police
and coyotes, it may also become a tool for interactional positioning such that
individual immigrants may use it to stress certain qualities that they possess
such as the ability to remain cool and control fear. Nonetheless, in both cases
immigrants show their capability to manage situations within the constraints
of events that they clearly present as escaping their control.
. Analysis: Collective chronicles
In this section I compare the data discussed above with the data from the two
longer chronicles, in order to evaluate to what extent the representation of the
experience changes when the immigration process is told as experienced collectively. The two longer chronicles relate the journey of two people who left Mexico in a group from the beginning, and who stayed together until they reached
the D.C. area. In Table 3 below, I summarize the number of acts initiated by
each agent.
Table 3. Number and initiation of reported speech acts
Number of acts % of total
Individual narrators as characters
Group including narrators as characters
Accompanying immigrants other than narrators as characters 15
Police or authorities
Non accompanying friends or relatives
 Chapter 4
The data presented in this table reveal one important difference with the
data presented in Table 1: police and coyotes are not given the same amount of
speaking space here as in the previous chronicles, since altogether the acts that
they initiate are about 12% of the total initiating acts. This is likely due not only
to the fact that here we have long narratives but only two narrators, but also to
the fact that in these longer chronicles the moment of the passing of the border
is just one episode within the odyssey of crossing the country in search for a
job and a permanent place to live. In these chronicles the stress is placed on
surviving a long period of instability. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile mentioning
that dialogues with coyotes and police are reported in the same detail as they
were reported in the 11 chronicles that we already examined and they often
occupy many lines of transcript. In the following example Ciro relates his (and
his friends’) encounter with the police in Louisiana during one of the many
trips across the United States that the immigrants undertook in search of a job.
We can see that he uses as much detail as speakers in Examples (22) and (23).
01 C:
y ya estábamos allí.
que llegan dos policías y que nos [.]dice, “Hey amigo!”
dice, “Tu hablas inglés?”
dice, “Tienes papeles?”
“De quién es la camioneta?”
“De todos”
“Quién maneja”?
“No traen pistola?”
“Papeles de la camioneta?”
ya se fueron retirados,
y se les queda::ban viendo al Neto, a Galleto
y les daba risa,
se fueron
dice, “Ok para donde van?”
Identity as agency 
“Para Florida”,
“Y de dónde vienen?”
“De New York City”,
“Ahh! Bueno”,
pues se fueron
ya regresaron
y dice, este “Se van para para donde van” dice,
“No se vayan a quedar aquí porque ustedes andan muy mal aquí” dice,
“No traen papeles->
no traen licencia->
no traen título de camioneta”,
dice, “Sus papeles de la camioneta, no traen nada!”
dice, “Si los agarran otros los van a encerrar en la policia,
se la van a quitar”,
“No si señor si nos vamos”,
le dijimos, “Nada más vamos a entrar a comer allí y ya nos vamos,”
y si entró Felipe
((narrative continues))
01 C: And we were there,
two policemen come and tell us, “Hey friend!”
he says, “Do you speak English?”
He says, “Do you have papers?”
“Driving license?”
“Whose van is this?”
“It belongs to all of us,”
“Who drives?”
“All of us,”
“Do you carry a gun?”
“Car papers?”
so they went aside,
and they loo::ked at Neto, at Galleto,
 Chapter 4
and it made them laugh,
they went
he says, “Ok where are you going?”
“To Florida,”
“And where do you come from?”
“From New York City,”
“Ooh! Fine,”
so they went,
and came back,
and he says, “Go where you are headed,” he says,
“Do not stay here because you are in trouble here” he says,
“You have no papers->
you have no license->
you have no car registration,”
he says, “Your papers from the van, you have nothing!”
he says, “If others get hold of you they are going to put you in jail,
they are going to take it away”
“Yes sir, we are going,”
we told him, “We are just going to eat in there and then we’ll leave,”
and Felipe did go in,
((narrative continues))
This dialogue shows the same patterns that we saw in the previous sections
in dialogues with coyotes and authorities. Questions and answers are reported
vividly and characters speak using interjections (“hey” line 02, “ooh”, line 27)
giving the impression that narrators remember exactly what was said on the occasion. Ciro’s interactional positioning however is very different from the ones
built by María and Toño in Examples (22) and (23), since he presents himself
and his companions throughout the narrative as young and naive. Thus, at the
level of specific interactions detailed dialogues serve a variety of functions that
depend on the narrator’s communicative objectives.
Dialogues with coyotes, on the other hand, are less prominent because the
protagonists crossed the border without them, although they had contact with
coyotes offering them their services at different times. Thus, differences in the
initiation and type of acts reported seem to be related to differences in the
prominence that narrators give to the role of different agents in the story world.
Leo’s and Ciro’s chronicles take place over a much longer period of time, in a
greater variety of environments and, consequently, of characters. Thus coyotes
and police occupy a smaller “speaking space”, while strangers speak much more
than in the previous chronicles (19% of initiations).
Identity as agency 
Interestingly, the agent to which more initiating acts are attributed is here
the group as a whole (45%), which mainly speaks as a chorus, while narrators
individually are still attributed a small number of initiating acts (11%), in fact
the same amounts of initiations as other immigrants who are not narrators. Together, they occupy a greater speaking space than in the individual chronicles.
This distribution of initiating acts reflects the construction of a more active
role in situations where immigrants were faced with the need to look for jobs
in different places and at different times, and to organize their life over a long
time span. However, these facts do not explain the prominence of the collective subject over the individual one. The latter seems to reflect the importance
placed by narrators on the protection and comfort of the group in a situation
where immigrants were basically lost and wondering in a country that they did
not know at all.
We now turn to the kinds of speech acts reported for each agent:
Table 4. Most frequently initiated acts
N. Acts initiated
Most frequently initiated acts
Individual narrators as characters
Immigrants as characters in a group
Immigrants other than narrators
Other authorities
People in Mexico
Evaluations: 7 (47%)
Requests: 19 (31%)
Evaluations: 11 (18%)
Consultations: 11 (18%)
Proposals: 7 (47%)
Warnings: 2 (25%)
Requests: 2 (25%)
Interrogations: 3 (60%)
Offers: 14 (54%)
Advice: 2 (100%)
We find that the most salient acts of the group are requests, followed by evaluations and consultations. For the narrators as individuals, the analysis is the
same as in the case of the shorter chronicles: the most frequent actions are evaluative responses. Both Ciro and Leo when they attribute speech acts to themselves alone, predominantly report internal evaluations. On the other hand, the
most frequent actions attributed to strangers are offers.
There is, in other words, a coincidence in the speech acts that are more
frequently attributed to immigrants in both sets of data: requests and evaluations. Their predominance is reversed when we consider individuals and
groups, since in the longer chronicles immigrants as groups are seen as issuing requests more often than accomplishing evaluations, while in the case of
 Chapter 4
the 11 chronicles examined in the previous sections, the opposite is true. Evaluations predominate when individuals report their own speech, but they also
have an important place in group reports. In these cases evaluation acts are
choral, they are not attributed to anybody in particular, but are simply reported
as if all actors uttered them. Sometimes they are not necessarily reported as being pronounced by all, but are not attributed to anyone in particular, therefore
are seen in a way as collective.
The phenomenon of chorality is extremely salient in these chronicles since
choral acts cover almost half of the acts reported and the phenomenon is
equally salient in both chronicles. As we have seen in the analysis of the first
set of chronicles, choral acts include acts that are presented as spoken simultaneously by all the group members, even where it seems obvious that there must
have been a particular speaker. Choral speech is particularly interesting when it
voices requests or proposals, since it is clearly a narrative strategy. In fact these
kinds of speech acts could not have been uttered at the same time by more than
one person. The following example illustrates a choral proposal:
01 L: No pus como éramos- no veíamos que avanzábamos,
nos quedábamos en la noche también a darle,
nos salíamos en la noche,
-> 04
“Qué onda? vamos a darle otro rato?”
“No pus órale”.
01 L: And since we were- we didn’t see any progress,
we worked in the night as well,
we went out in the night,
-> 04
“What do you say? shall we work a little longer?”
“All right”.
In this example Leo was relating how, after many hours of working in a construction site without much result, the immigrants decided to go back there in
the night in order to finish what they had started. There is a proposal to continue working (line 04) which is presented as choral, but it seems unlikely that
all immigrants could have spoken at the same time.
Choral evaluations also strongly contribute to the sense that the voyage
into the new land is presented by these speakers as an essentially collective enterprise. See for example the following evaluations where positive reactions are
Identity as agency
01 C: Ya nos dio gusto,
-> 02
“Bueno traemos suerte no?”
01 C: So we felt happy,
-> 02
“Well we are lucky isn’t it?”
01 L: y pum que se parquea!
-> 02
dijimos, “Ya la hicimos!”
01 L: and pum there he parks!
-> 02
we said, “We made it!”
In (27) immigrants express happiness at not having been caught by the border patrol, while in (28) they rejoice over the fact that a car stopped to give
them a ride.
To go back to our discussion of initiating acts in collective chronicles, we
find that the situation that characterizes the crossing of the border and the
first experiences of the immigrants is again represented as one of a great dependence on the intervention and initiative of others. However, while in the
individual chronicles agency is diminished and narrators represent themselves
as mainly reacting internally to external circumstances, in collective chronicles,
the dependence is mostly represented by the presence of many acts of requests
on the part of the immigrants (31% of their total reported acts). Immigrants
portray themselves as constantly lost in the new land and in need of help, help
that they do not hesitate in seeking, especially from other Spanish-speaking individuals, but also as often sustained by the help or the initiative of strangers.
In the following examples immigrants in difficult circumstances are portrayed
as requesting help from strangers:
01 C: pos se nos quedó sin leche la niña
y, “Pues qué hacemos?”
nuestra idea era este, “Sabes qué si ya no tenemos dinero nos metemos
al supermercado, y le pedimos regalada la leche a alguien”,
“Pos si!”
salió un señor
 Chapter 4
-> 07
y le dijimos al señor, “Oiga no nos regala este un dinerito, leche para la
01 C: Well we had no milk left for the baby
and, “What shall we do?”
our idea was, “You know what? If we do not have money we go to the
supermarket, and we ask somebody to give us some milk”,
“Well yes!”
a man came out
-> 07
and we said to the man, “Listen won’t you give us some money, or
milk for the baby?”
01 L: ya mi compa se levanta,
“Señora señora! deme un @pedazo de pan!”
((en voz baja)) “No no traemos” dice, “lo traemos en la van”,
dice, “Pus nos lo avienta cuando se suban a la van!”
@“No” dice, “si nos agarra@@ migración por andar haciendo esos,
esos ((..)) no?”
ya nada más dice, “No pus está bien entonces,”
y allí nos quedamos hasta que amaneció,
01 L: So my friend gets up,
-> 02
“Madam madam! Give me a @piece of bread!”
((whispering)) “No we don’t have it we have it in the van”,
says, “Well you throw it when you get in the van!”
“@No no” she says, if the border police catches us because we are doing
these, these ((...)) no?”
and then says, “It’s ok then,”
and we stayed there until dawn.
In these examples requests are prompted by difficulties in the course of the
journey. In (29) the immigrants need milk for the baby of a woman traveling with them. Their request for it (line 07) is accepted by the stranger, who
proposes to give them money if they clean his house. In (30), one of the immigrants accompanying Leo asks other people hiding from the border patrol
to give them some bread, after a whole day without food (line 02). However,
Identity as agency
this time help is refused (line 03), and he responds with another attempt to
convince the strangers, but with no luck.
Immigrants present lack of money and therefore of food, as the basic problems that they face in the story world when leaving for a journey which is like a
plunge into the unknown. They present themselves as reacting to these circumstances by asking for help from whomever they meet. In this sense, although
the immigrants’ agency is diminished by the fact that they cannot provide for
themselves, they do initiate actions much more than in individual chronicles,
where they mainly react to external circumstances. Requests are, in fact, more
agentive speech acts than evaluations, since when issuing a request immigrants
need to get other people to give them something and at times, like in example (30), they have to insist in order to get what they want. Evaluations, on
the other hand, imply no action and no possible follow up. It is interesting to
notice that a great deal of these acts of request are attributed to the chorus.
In fact, the chorus issues 19 requests, while individual narrators only issue 3.
This indicates that agency increases when narrators are presented as members
of a group.
In parallel fashion, Mexican immigrants also stress through reported
speech the role of other people who step forward to make offers that provide
help or opportunities for them. This explains the presence of offers as the main
act ascribed to strangers (53% of their total speech acts). Offers, of course,
include job offers that are also reported as they were “spoken” by the people
involved. In the following example an offer for help comes from a stranger:
an old lady who sees the immigrants asking for food at her neighbor’s door,
spontaneously offers to feed them.
01 L: ya nos venimos,
y en eso salió la otra viejilla de enfrente,
dice, “Vengan!”
-> 04
y ya dice, “Qué? Quieren comer?”
“No: pues que si” dice,
y dice, “Ahorita les traigo, pásenle!”
y nos pasó.
01 L: we left,
and at that moment the other old lady who lived in front came out,
and she says, “Come!”
-> 04
and she says “What? Do you want to eat?”
 Chapter 4
“Well yes” says,
and she says, “I’ll bring you food in a minute, come in!”
and she let us in.
Requests and corresponding offers appear then as salient in these situations
where immigrants act together as a group. On the other hand, when immigrants are ascribed actions as individuals, they are still portrayed as mainly
“evaluating” situations.
In this data, as in the previous set of chronicles, proposals are never presented as verbally actualized by the narrators. They are either voiced chorally
as in example (29), where it is not clear that anybody specifically is speaking,
or they are attributed to individual immigrants other than the narrator.
On the whole, if we group all proposals in the two sets of data, we see
the same phenomenon: no proposals come from the narrators individually,
but proposals are ascribed to other members of the group or to the group
as a chorus. Although there are cases where an immigrant shows some kind
of initiative (for example there are cases where the narrator as character announces a decision or an intention to the other members of the group) such
cases are sporadic.
To summarize, like the other immigrants in individual chronicles, Leo and
Ciro presented themselves as mainly realizing evaluative acts, while they ascribed initiating acts such as requests and proposals to the group with which
they were traveling or to specific individuals in that group. Their chronicles
stress requests as important actions realized by immigrants collectively, and
offers as parallel actions realized by strangers, thus underscoring at the same
time the situation of dependence in which they found themselves and the value
placed on assistance from others. The main difference between their chronicles
and the chronicles told by other immigrants is the centrality of the collectivity in the system of agency presented, since we saw that immigrants in groups
are presented as taking the initiative much more than immigrants individually,
even though the initiative is related to actions like requests.
. Discussion
We are now in a position to answer some of the questions that were posed at the
beginning of this chapter, regarding who speaks and what kinds of speech acts
are ascribed to different speakers. We saw that the immigrants do report their
speech in chronicles quite often, but that when they speak as individuals their
Identity as agency
speech is mainly internal, and that it becomes externalized and more concrete
only when they appear in their narratives as members of a group.
We also saw that a lot of “speaking space”, particularly in the individual
chronicles, is taken up by the words of authorities and coyotes, whose verbalizations assume an extremely important role as the speech of the “gatekeepers”6
of the immigration process. Police and members of the border patrol have the
institutional power to make decisions on the immigrants’ right to cross the
border and to allow or prevent such process. In the case of coyotes, although
their power is not institutionally guaranteed, they are still seen by immigrants
as authorities who can make the right or wrong decisions for them. The way
immigrants see the role of these agents in the crossing process can thus explain
their prominence in the speaking space of the story world.
It was found that the kind of speech actions attributed to immigrants does
not vary in the substance, although it varies in the distribution according to
their situation as individuals or as members of a group. Immigrants are either responding or pleading, their actions depending crucially on the actions
of others. Conversely, other agents express speech acts which empower them:
either they interrogate or order, as in the case of authorities, or they offer, as
in the case of strangers. Offers are, of course, different from orders, but both
speech acts imply that the agents who pronounce them have some power over
the immigrants, either power to make them act in certain ways, or power to
give them something that they need.
In this frame of dependence, which is the frame in which immigrants enter
as soon as they leave their homes to go to the United States, their own ability
or willingness to act appears greatly diminished in their narrative discourse,
although it tends to increase in collective chronicles. Immigrants are rarely initiators, as confirmed by the fact that they either never make proposals to others,
but rather receive them, or initiate acts that perpetrate their role of dependents
such as requests. However, analysis of the specific function of detailed reported
dialogues also shows that immigrants construct positive self – presentations in
interaction even within the constraints of this dependence.
At the beginning of the chapter I also asked how features of reported
speech, i.e. the reporting style, relates to choices in the way agency is presented. One feature of the reporting style is the use of detail that appears to
have both the function of underlying the centrality of interactions with authorities for the success of the immigration enterprise, and of constructing
certain kinds of interactional positionings, such as the presentation of self as
 Chapter 4
A second important feature of the reporting style is chorality, which is
the introduction of dialogue as expressed collectively. Chorality strongly contributes to emphasize the role of the group as the main agentive unit in the
story world. A similar feature is “anonymous speech”, that is speech that cannot be attributed to anybody in particular. An example of this kind of speech
is the presence of verbs of saying with unidentified subjects as in (32), (which
I report again below), where the verb of saying “dice” (line 05) has no explicit
individual subject.
01 L: ya nos venimos,
y en eso salió la otra viejilla de enfrente,
dice “vengan!”
-> 04
y ya dice “qué? Quieren comer?”
“no: pues que si” dice,
y dice “ahorita les traigo, pásenle!”
Y nos pasó.
01 L: we left,
and at that moment the other old lady who lived in front came out,
and she says, “Come!”
and she says “ What? Do you want to eat?”
-> 05
“Well yes” says,
and she says “I’ll bring you [food] in a minute, come in!”
and she let us in.
One last feature of reported speech that reveals specific conceptions of experiences and of the roles of people in them is the ways in which decisions are
reported. Decisions are often represented as a process, not as a product. This
explains the presence among the speech act coded as “consultations”, particularly in the two group chronicles, where debates on what to do after a problem
arises have a prominent role. Consultations also appear in individual chronicles when decision making involve dyads. In all these cases decisions are represented as debates initiated by somebody in the form of a consultation and then
concluded after discussion. The following examples represent consultations on
what to do after difficulties of some kind arise. In (33) the two immigrants
have been prevented from entering the U.S. from Canada and so they discuss
what to do.
Identity as agency 
01 M:
Entonces pus como la señora tenía parientes aquí en Santana California,
dice, “Bueno pus entonces qué vamos a hacer?
Nos vamos a ir hasta México?”
Dije, “No, pus si ya estamos aquí a ver qué hacemos no?”
“Entonces pus ya!”
ya nos nos- llegamos a Chicago
So, given that that lady had relatives here in Santana California
she says, “Well then what shall we do?
Shall we go to Mexico?”
I said, “No, since we are here let’s see what we can do isn’t it?”
“All right then!”
so we arrived in Chicago
In the following example (34) the immigrants decide what to do after they have
been cheated and threatened by a coyote.
01 C:
Nos espantamos
“No pues qué hacemos ahora?”
“No pues vámonos, vámonos!”
“Yo tengo cuanto”,
“Yo tengo tanto y tu tanto,
“Vamos a comprar un carrito, orale?”
nos vendieron un station wagon amarillo.
01 C: We got frightened
“Well what shall we do now?”
“Well let’s go, let’s go!”
“I’ve got that much”,
“I’ve got that much and you that much,
Let’s buy a car, ok?”
they sold us a yellow station wagon.
In all these examples the decision-making is represented as a process in which
each speaker expresses an opinion and sometimes a feeling. In the case of the
dyad (33), it is possible to distinguish each speaker’s contribution to the debate. In the case of group debates, represented in Example (34), the different
 Chapter 4
opinions and reactions that lead to a decision are presented, but they are not
attributed to any member of the group in particular. We can infer that certain
lines represent the lines of the dialogue, but there is no indication as to who
said what (as it happens with all cases of choral dialogue analyzed here). In all
cases a decision is represented through the process of decision-making.
Two considerations stem from this analysis: First in cases where difficult
situations arise, these immigrants seem to place emphasis on the fact that solutions to the problems were found through a discussion process which involves their peers. Secondly, by reporting dialogues that lead to decisions, they
emphasize the role of verbal interaction with other immigrants as a source
of support and strength. Such considerations are in line with the findings of
chapter three about the way individuals conceive of themselves as immersed in
. Conclusions
In this chapter I have analyzed ways in which reported speech, particularly constructed dialogue, illuminates how immigrants construct their agency within
the border crossing experience. The analysis has shown that immigrants represent themselves in passive roles, especially when they are alone, that they stress
their dependence on the actions of authorities and on the help of strangers,
but also their sense of community and collectivity as a resource for strength
and a sense of agency as resourceful people. Crossing the border emerges
through the interactions that immigrants replay in their chronicles as an enterprise that implies a loss of freedom and the need to put oneself in the
hands of others. It also implies fighting against feelings of fear and anxiety
that stem from the lack of knowledge about and control over events. Besides constructing a non agentive self, immigrants also convey certain elements of their conception of social roles, specifically the stress on collectivity and the correspondent downplaying of individual differentiation within
the group. These conceptualizations are embodied in aspects of their reporting style such as choral and anonymous speech and the replaying of decisionmaking dialogues.
Chapter 5
Identity as categorization*
Identification strategies
In this chapter I analyze identity as the expression, discussion and negotiation
of membership into particular communities. At this level, self or other identity
is often (although not always) openly discussed, not implicit as is the case with
identity conveyed through common use of storytelling resources or through
the representation of social and agentive roles in story worlds.
As we will see, in the stories told by Mexican immigrants’ values, ideas,
behaviors are often attributed to characters not as individuals, but as representatives of social identities whose actions and attitudes are judged according to
categories such as morality or immorality, normality or abnormality, adequacy
or inadequacy. Self-identities are therefore also often built on the basis of opposition or contrast with others. Self and other reference and the processes of
character identification that narrators put in place and negotiate with their interlocutors have a prominent position in the analysis of identities at this level
because they reveal:
1. What kinds of categories are used for self and other description and which
ones are the most salient
2. What kinds of actions and reactions (and implicitly what kinds of values
and norms) are associated with those categories
Categorization processes underlining the ascription of group membership are
central to the formation of social identities because these are often defined on
the basis of the individual’s sense of belonging to groups. According to Tajfel
(1981), for example, social identity is ‘that part of an individual’s self concept
which derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group (or
groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that
membership” (p. 255). The identification and classification of groups is therefore at the heart of the construction of specific identities. In this sense, catego-
 Chapter 5
rization reflects the symbolic systems and processes that are created to apprehend social relations and realities (Woodward 1997: 29–30). Sociologists and
anthropologists such as Durkheim (1954) and Lévi Strauss (1963) have underlined the role of classification systems in identification processes. Such systems
are moulds provided by culture within which individuals and groups construct
oppositions and affiliations, similarities and differences, therefore they are basic to the construction of social meanings in general and of identity in particular. The role of language in these processes of categorization is crucial in
that it is through language that membership categories are constructed and
The analysis of identification as a discourse strategy relates storytelling as
a practice on the one hand to identity construction as an interactional process
sensitive to local constraints, and on the other hand to wider social practices
and constructs. In the case of categorical identifications such as national, ethnic or racial mentions, which constitute the focus of the present chapter and
of Chapter 6, the study of narrators’ introductions or qualification of characters through these categories illustrates the multiple contextualizations that
relate narrative activity to its conditions of production (Pecheux & Fuchs 1975)
such as institutional practices, ideologies and power relations among social
groups. In fact, the analysis of story identifications links storytelling practice
and specifically the narrators’ management of their identity as members of
particular groups at the level of the interaction within the interview, to wider
constructs such as mainstream ideologies about race and ethnicity circulated
through public discourses, shared conceptualizations about self and others in
local communities, and practices of inclusion, exclusion, resistance put into
place by immigrants and others as social agents.
The analysis of the relevance relations built in discourse between identities and actions and of the latter with evaluations also leads to schematic representations about self and others. By introducing characters in certain ways,
attributing them moral characteristics, right and wrong behaviors, and acceptable or unacceptable attitudes, narrators build on self and other representations that are a basic part of group ideologies. Such ideologies partly define,
although they cannot be equated to, group identities (van Dijk 1998). Representations about self and others mobilized and built in storytelling are, however, not static conceptualizations, but dynamic constructs creatively related to
interactional contexts and to narratively represented social words.
Thus, story identifications connect narrative practices to wider social practices, discourses and representations, via the strategies through which narrators
reflect on, discuss, oppose mainstream social characterizations and negotiate
Identity as categorization
their own ways of looking at themselves and others. In this chapter, I focus
on the types of identities that narrators attribute to others through the introduction of characters in their narratives, on the strategies that they employ to
attribute explicit and implicit meanings to those identities, and on the general
social meaning of common identification devices.
To summarize, I argue that categorization devices and the way they are
used in discourse are a crucial area for the analysis of identities because the
type of identifications, the connections that narrators establish between those
identifications and actions in storyworlds, and the negotiation of their position
with respect to actions and identities are both reflective and constitutive of
social processes of ascription, perception and struggle over categorization itself.
The data for this chapter come from the 41 stories of personal experience
discussed in Chapter 3. The questions that I attempt to answer through analysis
of the data and that in my view are basic to an understanding of group identity
in narrative are the following:
1. What kinds of identifications do narrators routinely use to introduce characters?
2. How do narrators make those identifications relevant to the story world
and to the interactional world?
3. What kinds of (narrated and interactional) contexts bring about these
Categories of identification: Ethnicity
A preliminary general answer to the first question in the analysis of my corpus
of narratives was that the most common identifications found in these narratives were ethnic2 characterizations including descriptions based on labels such
as hispano (Hispanic), moreno, (dark), etc., national labels such as salvadoreño
(Salvadoran), chino (Chinese) or supranational labels such as centroamericano
(Central American). Such identifications occurred in orientation clauses in 26
of the 41 stories, i.e. in more than half of the narratives told by this group of
narrators. No other kind of identification category such as sex, or age, is as generalized in this corpus. Table 1 and 2 summarize all the ethnic references found
in the stories.
The tables show how widespread ethnic identification of characters is, but
the saliency of ethnicity as a category for identification cannot be understood
without referring to some of the wider conditions of production of the nar-
 Chapter 5
Table 1. Ethnic references to others in stories3
Terms in Spanish
americano blanco
del salvador
de Nicaragua
de Guatemala
white American
American (pejorative)
dark skinned
from Mexico City
from El salvador
Salvadoran (pejorative)
Central American
from Nicaragua
Number of mentions
Table 2. Ethnic reference to self in stories
Terms in Spanish
Number of mentions
ratives, specifically to the institutional practices of ethnic categorization that
are currently in place in U.S. society, and to some aspects of the daily life
experiences of immigrants.
Identity as categorization 
. Immigrants and social practices of categorization
The construction of a new identity is a vital process for immigrants given that
establishing themselves in a new country and starting a different life, always
implies a redefinition of their place in the host society and of their position
with respect to other social groups. A consequence of these changes is that the
immigrants’ sense of self takes new directions in relation to the circumstances
in which they find themselves and the new roles that they need to adopt. The
defining characteristics chosen by individuals to distinguish themselves from
others and to ascribe membership into groups vary a great deal according to
social and personal circumstances (Horowitz 1975: 113), but are also crucially
limited by the repertoire of identities (Kroskrity 2000: 112) available in the society in which they live. Central to a definition of membership for oneself and
others for an immigrant in the United States (but also in other countries4 ) is
ethnic/racial affiliation within the specific categories that are used and enforced
for social classification in that society.
Ethnic identity is, as we will discuss in Chapter 6, a very complex category. Although anthropologists and psychologists have tried to define it, ethnicity appears to be a dynamic social construct that may be based on a host
of different criteria. However, institutional definitions of ethnicity should be
clearly distinguished from group members’ ascriptions and perceptions, since
they are based on criteria that are in most cases, determined by political convenience. When building identities immigrants come to terms with these institutional definitions and develop elements of acceptance and/or resistance
towards them.
For Latin Americans in particular, developing a new identity based on ethnic categories involves many dilemmas. First, immigrants need to accept the
idea of using and applying ethnic categorizations, although other traits of their
definition as human beings such as social class or occupation, for example,
might be more salient to them. Second, they need to build specific connections between what they feel they are as individuals, and the categories socially
available to them. Thus they must both accept being categorized and categorizing others in terms of ethnic identity, and develop their own understanding
of these categories.
Immigrants who arrive to the United States and find themselves classified
in ethnic terms and labeled as Hispanics or Latinos, often feel that other kinds
of descriptions may be more suitable to identify them (Oboler 1995). However,
as Gimenez (1992) notices, ethnic categorizations are central in the social and
political landscape of the United States since in this country the existence of so-
 Chapter 5
cial classes and class struggles are neither recognized, nor discussed, while race
and ethnicity are obsessively placed in the center of political life. Such emphasis
is, according to her, the result of the interaction of many factors, among which
one of the most important is the heterogeneous origin of the population.
The “ethnic” categories commonly used to describe minorities have historically resulted from a mix of criteria that are social and political more than
scientific. If we take ancestral or racial origin as a starting point, for example,
it appears obvious that people classified as Hispanics would have little in common. People born in Latin America might have Indian, European, or African
ancestry and therefore they are racially extremely diverse.5
These differences are not acknowledged in institutional categorization
practices since the latter are based on conscious political choices (Mehan
1997: 257). Forbes (1992) describes how the terms that are nowadays used to
label different ethnic groups in the U.S. were institutionalized in the 1970’s as a
result of official recommendations on the collection of racial/ethnic data. These
categories thus reflected the preference for certain aspects of the description of
an individual rather than others. So, for example, under the new regulations
the categorization of Latin Americans under the grouping of people “of Spanish descent” overrode the Native American ancestry of many Indians born in
Central and South America. Even recently revised categories used in the Census reflect changes in the political alignment and perception of the different
social groups (Omi 19996 ).
The simplistic nature of these classifications in the case of Latin American
immigrants becomes clear if we think, for example, of the great variability in
the motives that cause immigration for groups such as Mexicans and Salvadorans. Even further differences emerge among immigrant groups from different
Latin American countries or regions, when we consider the relationships that
were established between these home countries and the United States throughout history. Such differences tend to be overlooked in favor of a forced homogenization under an abstract “Hispanic” or “Latino” identity. Nonetheless, ethnic labels have become primary categories for understanding the actions and
characteristics of individuals in U.S. society (Carter, Green, & Halpern 1986;
Baker 1998). Their use as a basis for legal and social action of different kinds
intertwines with their constant presence in the discourse of the media. Statements about ethnic differences or similarities pervade public discourse in fields
as diverse as education, economy, and medicine. Even scientific discourse is
based on racial classification.7 People are continuously screened, categorized,
and classified according to their ethnic origin. This widespread use of ethnic
categories favors the formation of a stereotyped vision in which the identity
Identity as categorization 
of individuals is strongly determined by their ethnic affiliation and the social
meanings associated with that affiliation.
As I have mentioned, generic ethnic identifications are not the only kind
of group categorizations found in stories, since specific national identification categories are also common. The relationships established by narrators
between identities, character actions and evaluations vary in different stories,
but the salience of both ethnic and national labels in general terms also needs
to be understood against the background of everyday experiences of Mexican
immigrants in the Washington area. These come into contact with people from
other countries or cultures both in the suburbs where they live, and at work.
Fellow workers and bosses may come from countries whose language is different not only from Spanish, but also from English, or from other parts of Latin
America such as Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, etc. Among other Latin Americans, Salvadorans are the most established and the most numerous group,
since for years they have been allowed to enter the U.S. as political refugees.
As a consequence, they often occupy higher posts in the workplace with respect to recent Mexican immigrants and they more often speak English than
the latter. Given the isolation that immigrants suffer in their everyday life and
the centrality of work in it, their contacts with other immigrants are therefore perceived mainly through the lenses of work related experiences, such as
competition for similar jobs, and power relations and hierarchies. So both institutional practices of ethnic labeling and social experiences with other foreign
immigrants, give ethnicity (in the wide sense of racial, or national origin) a relevance that makes it one of the most important categories provided by society
for individual membership ascription.
These are some aspects of the wider social context that contribute to explaining the frequency with which ethnic identifications are used in stories.
These general conditions are also echoed and reinforced in the interactional
context at hand, since the interview often explicitly focuses on the relationship between immigrants and other groups defined in ethnic terms. In these
cases, it is the discourse between interviewers and participants that makes the
ethnic identification of characters salient and immigrants become engaged in
discursive work aimed at underlining the relevance of those introductions and
ascriptions to story and interactional worlds. Such discursive work is based on
the development of relevance relationships between the ways in which characters are introduced in story orientations, the actions depicted in the story, and
the arguments managed at the level of the local discourse. In fact, characters
are generally introduced through ethnic labels in orientation clauses and in abstracts. These are also essentially orientation units since they help hearers place
 Chapter 5
the story within a frame that gives its main point and often also its main situational coordinates. As a result, the orientation section and clauses of stories
have an important function in the construction of identification strategies by
narrators and in the interpretation of implicit meanings by audiences. In order
to describe the specific function of ethnic orientations in the stories analyzed
we need therefore to take a closer look at the function of orientation elements
in narratives.
. Functions of orientation and detail in stories
According to Labov (1972: 364), orientation clauses in narratives “identify in
some way the time, place, persons, and their activity or the situation.” Polanyi
(1985) lists orientation clauses within the category of durative-descriptive
clauses, in that they present background events, states, and conditions that do
not belong to the main line of action. Chafe (1994: 128) defines orientation in
more cognitive terms as fulfilling the need that consciousness has to place itself
in space and time. Tannen (1989: 138) describes many kinds of background
information on characters, time, or place, as “detail” having the function of
getting the hearer involved in the story-telling. She argues that details on characters and places do not merely contribute to the story, but basically make the
story, since they help create a vivid picture of characters, places or actions in
the story world. However, details of orientation can have different functions depending on the relationships that they establish with the point of the story. In a
study of Midwestern stories Johnstone (1990) proposed a distinction between
“thematic” and “extrathematic” detail. The latter is detail which is not relevant
to the story’s plot and which does not reappear in the plot line of the story
(1990: 91). In the narratives collected by this author, examples of “extrathematic” detail included very exact and specific indications about locations and
times of the action that were not directly functional to the point of the story
but gave an air of factuality to the stories themselves.
In discussing detail both Tannen and Johnstone imply that storytellers and
audiences expect that information introduced in a story will have some bearing on the story events. This is not only true of detail, but of all information
presented in the orientation. Judgments on whether this information is seen as
“having to do” with the story constitute the basis for hearers’ ongoing analyses/interpretations of what information is relevant or irrelevant for the point
that is being made, but also of interpretations on what function orientation
elements may have in a story. We can say that judgments about ways in which
Identity as categorization 
information on characters (or other entities and actions in the story world)
relates to what is being talked about, are based on the same principles that govern communication in general, principles that have been proposed by Grice
(1975) as the Cooperative Principle and related Conversational Maxims. Grice
conceives of verbal communication as an activity based on the presumption
of rational behavior. Speakers are able to communicate with each other because they assume a reciprocal intention to cooperate and a desire to make
each other’s communicative intention intelligible. Such presumption of rationality is embodied in the Cooperative Principle. The presumption of respect
of the Cooperative Principle gives rise to implicatures in conversation. Conversational contributions that violate one or more of the Maxims also give rise
to implicatures, since speakers presume that their conversational partners are
willing to cooperate with them and to make their contributions understandable. Such implicatures are also based on conventional meanings, the linguistic
and extra linguistic context, and background knowledge.
Although Grice’s CP and Maxims have mainly been applied to utterances
within conversations, some linguists have shown their workings within other
types of speech activities. Schiffrin (1994: 203–227), for example, has discussed
how the Maxims of Quantity and Relation can provide guidance for the interpretation of referring terms within stories. In the case discussed here, I argue
that a presumption of respect for the Cooperative Principle explains the general
fact that we expect stories to have a point, that is, that by telling stories speakers
are trying to communicate some specific meaning. On the other hand, the operation of the Maxims explains the fact that we are able to derive inferences on
the meanings of utterances or discourse units within the story. Such inferences
include hypotheses on ways in which background information on characters,
places or actions relate to the point of the story.
In the case of orientations to a story, audiences expect the information
provided in these sections or clauses of a story to give them clues that explain
the actions represented in the main story line or some other aspect of it. More
specifically, they expect story orientations to respond to the maxims of Quantity and Relation, in the sense that they are supposed to provide information
that is both sufficient to understand specific aspects of stories and relevant to
them. It is on the basis of the expectations described above, that information
contained in orientation clauses may be judged to be important, relevant, irrelevant, too detailed, insufficient, etc. On the other hand, the presumption of cooperation will lead hearers to always look for ways in which orientation clauses
may be seen as pertinent by the narrator. Similar judgments of relevance may
be applied to orientation elements such as ethnic descriptions. I will illustrate
 Chapter 5
how these can be considered more or less relevant through a story discussed by
Lavandera (1981: 54). In the story, named “At the Alamo”, the narrator (Pepe)
explains how he met a friend who had worked in a movie that was set during
that famous battle between Mexico and the United States. This friend told the
narrator about an accident that occurred to him on the set. He was going up
a ladder while playing the part of a Mexican soldier who attacked the fort. He
was supposed to be pushed down and to fall on a mattress, but when he fell
there was no mattress, and he ended up on the floor. In the orientation the
narrator says:
“Fíjate, Tom, hablando de ese Alamo te vua platicar una
historia (T...storias) Okay? Ese Alamo ahí hicieron el
el ser ahí en en un lado del del río en un pueblito que
se llama Bracketville este y luego estaban eh fueron
ahí andaban los esos carrotes y y y y este y luego las
station wagons y cuanto, con la Columbia o Paramount
Pictures en las puertas (T. Sí) en el Alamo (T. Sí) Y
luego este andaban queriendo agarrar gente,
especialmente muchos mexicanos porque los mejicanos,
los mejicanos iban a hacer los soldados mejicanos, ves?
(T. Hm, hm) que iban a estar peleando contra los
tejanos (T. Sí) en el Alamo (T. Sí) y luego después de
casados a los cinco años que fuimos pa allá me encontré
a este muchacho que era muy amigo mío y era grandote y
prietote y luego tenía unas narizotas como indio...
puro chicano... este y luego empezamos a hablar de esto
y lotro y luego ya me empezó a platicar de la vista del
Translation (from Lavandera)
“Listen, Tom, speaking about the Alamo I’m gonna tell
you a story (T.... stories) Okay? That Alamo there they
made the the be there by the side of the river in a
small town called Bracketville and then they were,
went the ones who have those big wagons and then the
station wagons and all that, with Columbia and
Paramount Pictures at the door, and then they went
around wanting to grab people, especially a lot of
Mexicans, because they were going to make the Mexican
soldiers, you see? (T. Hm, hm) who were going to be
Identity as categorization 
fighting against the Texans (T. Yes) at the Alamo (T.
Yes) and then after getting married, five years after we
went there, I met this guy who was a great friend of
mine and was very large and very dark and then he had
a great nose like an Indian.... pure Chicano... and
then we started to talk about this and that and then he
began to tell me about the movie of the Alamo.... (my italics).
The story of the accident follows from this point.
According to Lavandera, Pepe mentions that the Americans and Mexicans
are going to make a movie which involves both Mexicans and Texans (lines
9 and 11) in order to make the story relevant to the ethnic concerns of his
audience and to get the attention of his listeners. She argues that the nationality
of the people involved has no relation to the point of the story. She adds that
the references to the ethnic characteristics of Pepe’s friend (lines 14–15) are also
inserted to suggest that the story may be relevant to ethnic issues since they play
no role in the comic incident related.
Lavandera’s observations are important for our discussion of the relevance
of ethnic mentions. First, she notices how ethnic descriptions like the ones
that appear in the story may be apparently unrelated to the point of the story.
Secondly, she recognizes the socially grounded nature of such descriptions in
that they may be evaluative comments that respond to social concerns of the
speaker, the audience, or both. In brief, she points to the fact that the way orientations are built, besides providing temporal, spatial and personal coordinates
for the story, also reflects social expectations on what is relevant to a particular group of speakers. By calculating such expectations, the speaker can create
specific pragmatic effects. Orientations in stories, then, reflect ways of analyzing reality, which may reveal not only an individual’s preferences and style,
but also groups’ expectations about how protagonists’ characterizations affect
the action.
Taking this story as a starting point, we can see how ethnic descriptions
may relate to the point of a story. In this case, I would argue, it seems that the
ethnic identifications present in the first orientation (lines 9–11), are more related to the point of the story than the ones referring to Pepe’s friend (lines
14–16). The identification of the people that Paramount or Columbia were
looking for as Mexicans, relates to the story world, in that the film set in which
the story action takes place is that of the Alamo, a battle where crucially Mexicans and Texans were fighting against each other. Therefore, this information
is relevant to understanding the fact that Pepe’s friend could get a job play-
 Chapter 5
ing a Mexican soldier, and was expected to climb up a ladder while attacking
the fort. On the other hand, the description of Pepe’s friend as Chicano, dark,
with a nose looking like an Indian is not directly related to the accident and
it also seems to violate Grice’s Maxim of Quantity in that it presents more information than is necessary to understand the character’s actions. This is why
Lavandera qualifies it as a description aimed at getting the audience’s attention.
The two sets of ethnic identifications in the story, then, are not equally relevant
to the story action. We can say that the information about the nationality of
the actors is more relevant than the information about Pepe’s friend’s ethnic
characteristics, based on its relatedness to what is later told in the story.
Lavandera’s example helps illustrate how information presented in the orientation of a story can appear to violate Grice’s Maxims of Relation and Quantity. Sometimes the violation of the Maxim of Quantity derives from the violation of the Maxim of Relation. In fact, the amount of detail necessary to
convey a certain type of information may depend on its relevance to the story.
If the story had been centered on Pepe’s friend’s Indian descent, for example,
a description of his Indian traits would not have been considered detail. Violations of Grice’s Maxims lead audiences to look for possible implicatures. In
this case, for example, Lavandera suggests that Pepe’s mentions of the ethnic
origin of his friend help him retain his audience’s attention by giving the impression that the story has ethnic implications. So this kind of identification is
used strategically to involve the audience.
In sum, as illustrated by Tannen, Johnstone, and Lavandera, descriptions
of time, locations and characters may be intentionally detailed (thus violating
the Maxim of Quantity) in order to reach specific effects, but it is precisely a
sense of the operation of the Maxims of Relation and Quantity that allows us
to understand those effects.
. Interactional world relevance of ethnic descriptions
In the previous section I have presented some of the elements that audiences
may take into account for judgments about the sufficiency and relevance of
information contained in orientation clauses of a story. I will now turn to how
these considerations allow us to analyze the functions of ethnic identifications
within stories told by Mexican immigrants. Such descriptions are in fact found
mostly in orientation clauses occurring at the beginning of narratives, or in
narrative abstracts, although in some cases they are used to describe actors in
complicating action clauses.
Identity as categorization
The Gricean framework is useful to explain how character identifications
in stories are constrained, among other things, by considerations of relevance
and how implicit meanings related to ethnic identifications may be understood. Within that framework, we may look for the relevance of such identifications either in the discourse developed in the interactional world in which
these stories are produced, or in the story world narrated. But it is also important to stress that the meaning and relevance of story identifications and other
orientation details, cannot be understood exclusively on the basis of their local
relevance, since, as seen with Lavandera’s example, apparently irrelevant mentions at the local level, if analyzed as a global phenomenon acquire relevance
against the background of social experiences and expectations.
Among the 41 narratives of personal experience that I collected, 26 contained ethnic identifications either in orientation clauses, or in abstracts. In
these 26 stories 46 ethnic identifications were applied to characters different
from the narrator as story world figure, and 8 ethnic were applied to the narrator as story world figure. Of these 54 identifications, 26 had interactional
world relevance, that is they were related to arguments openly sustained by
narrators, 18 had story world relevance, that is they were related to the action
in the story, and 10 appeared not relevant to the interactional or story world.
I will first discuss the narratives in which ethnic mentions had interactional
world relevance.
Narratives where ethnic identifications had interactional world relevance
were argumentative in that they were told by narrators to support open generalizations about qualities and/or behaviors mostly attributed to others as members of groups. Van Dijk describes argumentative stories as narratives having
“a persuasive point, rather than an entertaining function” (1993: 126). Thus,
they are not told to produce pleasure, but to put forward an argument about
something or somebody. Narratives about ethnic, racial or national groups are
typically argumentative since they usually orient the hearer towards a conclusion about a specific group and therefore they are presented as support for a
claim or claims about that group.8 Schiffrin (1996), Carranza (1996), Günthner
(1995), among others, have shown how argumentative stories are told to back
up positions, or claims which are proffered by a speaker and which the speaker
proposes as controversial, or disputable. Disputable positions, are often represented by opinions, beliefs, judgments and feelings (Schiffrin 1994: 40). Some
beliefs or judgments become inherently disputable in certain historical periods
and societies because of socially dominant ideologies about what is good, bad,
acceptable or unacceptable. Generalizations about groups of people are par-
Chapter 5
ticularly disputable because they can be classified as prejudice, which in turn is
considered irrational and unwarranted in many Western societies (Billig 1988).
What aspects of the local and interactional contexts influenced the emergence of these types of narratives? Argumentative narratives in my corpus were
triggered by interview questions or discussions about the role and perceptions
of immigrant workers in the host society, the insertion and adaptation of immigrants in the work place, and their relationships with fellow workers and other
people. In these contexts, immigrants proposed narratives of personal experience as illustrations of particular points about themselves or others. The theses
openly put forward by immigrants regarding other groups and illustrated by
stories centered on attributions of racism, discrimination, or lack of solidarity to various out-group members towards the immigrants as individuals or
as members of wider communities. Below I present a list of arguments that
were backed up with narratives of personal experience. The list was obtained
summarizing the positions that were explicitly verbalized in the talk preceding stories and in the evaluation sections, but does not reflect in detail all the
related arguments put forward and negotiated through the telling.
Hispanics work harder than Americans (Black and white)
Americans think that Hispanics are ignorant and treat them badly
Blacks (like Hispanics) are discriminated against by white Americans
Blacks are aggressive/discriminating towards Hispanics
There is no sense of community among Hispanics
Hispanics who come to the United States lose their moral values
American bosses/people are racist
Central Americans are racist/lack solidarity towards Mexicans and other
As can be seen from the kinds of arguments sustained, identities were discussed
and presented in most of the cases as social ones, i.e. in terms of group affiliations, crucially defined in ethnic terms. Although often centered on others,
these narratives did not only evaluate the behavior, beliefs and position of others, but also communicated implicit or explicit evaluations about the self or the
community to which it was presented as belonging. The placement of ethnic
identifications in orientations and the development of relevance relationships
between these and the positions sustained in discourse were crucial strategies
within the construction of certain kinds of self and other identities in these
I will illustrate these kinds of strategies with a narrative told by Raquel in
an interview with Silvia, Ismael and myself. The narrative occurred at the end
Identity as categorization
of Silvia’s interview. Raquel had come in and joined the group formed by Silvia,
Ismael and me. Ismael was telling us that many qualified young Mexicans come
to the U.S. to look for a job and find it difficult to get one. I had asked him if
there were other Mexicans at his job. The transcript starts with his answer:
01 I:
05 A:
06 I:
07 A:
08 S:
11 R:
13 I:
14 R:
16 A:
18 S:
19 I:
20 S:
22 I:
23 R:
No la mayoría son centroamericanos,
uno es guatemalteco,
uno es salvadoreño,
acaba de salir otro salvadoreño.
Y qué tal se llevan?
Pus yo no he tenido problemas con nadie la verdad,@@@ con nadie con
nadie con nadie.
((responding to Silvia who is shaking her head and smiling)) Silvia por
qué tu si?
Pues por lo general siempre con person- nosotras con las mujeres, ((...))
nos cuesta un poquito más de trabajo, ((...)) con mujeres de
porque o sea nosotras ((...))tenemos unas compañeras de trabajo,
y a veces chocamos.
Es muy difícil entablar una conversacion con ellas,
pero pues, o sea ellas mira ellas, las mujeres mira nada más están,=
=Entre ellas.
O sea para mi es difícil, para mi es difícil,
con las personas, con, con las tres centroamericanas que he conocido, o
sea así siempre ha habido=
=problemas, por una cosa o por otra.
las- primero no les gusta como como ha[blamos,
[como hablamos,
el tono de voz,
nos identifican luego luego por el acento.
luego que, o sea si uno les dice que tiene una pequeña carrera, que sabe
hacer algo, a ellas casi ((...)) envidia ((...))
Sienten envidia.
No yo no me llevo bien definitivamente. ((...))
O sea de el Salvador? de dónde son?
La mayoría.
 Chapter 5
28 R: Hace poco tuvimos un problema mi hermana y yo, en un autobus con
unas salvadoreñas,
porque o sea nosotras veníamos de trabajar
ellas [se sentaron atrás],
y empezaron a hablar cosas de de de los mexicanos,
o sea (.) dijeron que los mexicanos, eran ratas, eran [jalapeños], eran,(.)
ratas? cucara- alimañas cucarachas o alguna cosa así,
entonces eso a mi hermana y yo nos molestó mucho
porque claro nos estaban ofendiendo!
y tuvimos un problema,
porque claro [uno no se pone en el bus a contestarle a la gente],
pero les dijimos que, o sea que respetaran,
o sea que nosotras eramos mexicanas
que por favor no hablaran mal de nuestro país,
y allí ibamos en el bus@@ no? con mi hermanita!
41 I: @@@@
42 R: No si, eh luego o sea uno se pone a pensar como es posible que los otros
((..)) los centroamericanos a veces se pongan,
como es posible que gente que habla nuestro idioma (.) se pongan a
insultarnos o a ((..))
ahi, no sé como explicarte!
45 A: Si si te entiendo.
46 R: o sea que ellos se porten racistas con nosotros (.) y con los otros latinos,
como es posible!
47 I: Que uno esperaría que si no ayudaran por lo menos encontrar algo en
48 R: Oye un americano por lo menos está en su país (.)
pero de una gente que habla nuestro idioma! ((...))
50 I: @@
51 S: Cuesta trabajo.
52 I: Y si generalmente como dijo Silvia la agresión es porque ellos pasan
muchas dificultades.
01 I:
05 A:
No most of them are Central Americans,
one is Guatemalan,
one is Salvadoran,
another Salvadoran just left.
And how do you get along with each other?
Identity as categorization
06 I:
07 A:
08 S:
11 R:
13 I:
14 R:
16 A:
18 S:
19 I:
20 S:
22 I:
23 R:
Well I really had no problems with anybody, @@@ with nobody, nobody,
((responding to Silvia who is shaking her head and smiling))Silvia why
did you?
Well in general always with people- we with women, ((...)) we have a
little more trouble , ((...)) with women from Central America,
because I mean we((..))have some fellow workers,
and at times we fight.
It is very difficult to start a conversation with them,
but, well, I mean look they, the women only stick=
=With each other
I mean for me it is hard, for me it is hard,
with the people, with, with the three Central American women that I
have known, I mean=
=there have always been problems for one thing or the other.
they- first they don’t like how we sp[eak,
[how we speak,
the tone of voice,
they identify us immediately because of the accent.
then, I mean if one tells them that one has a little bit of college education,
that one knows how to do something they almost ((...)) envy ((...))
They feel envious.
No I don’t get along, definitely. ((...))
But from Salvador? Or where are they from?
Most of them.
Recently we had a problem, my sister and I, in a bus with some
Salvadoran women,
because I mean we came from work
they [sat in the back],
and they started to speak about Mexicans,
I mean (.) they started saying that Mexicans were rats, [jalapeños], they
were, (.) rats? cocroa- insects, roaches or something like that,
so that bothered my sister and me very much
of course because they were offending us!
and we had a problem,
because of course [you cannot start quarreling with people on the bus],
but we told them, I mean, that they should be respectful,
 Chapter 5
41 I:
42 R:
I mean that we were Mexicans,
that please they shouldn’t speak badly about our country,
and there we were in the bus@@ right? with my little sister!
Yes, uh then I mean you start thinking how is it possible that others
((..))that Central Americans sometimes start,
how is it possible that people who speak our language (.) start insulting
us or ((...))
oh I don’t know how to explain it!
45 A: No I understand.
46 R: I mean that they behave in a racist way with us (.) and with other
Latinos, how is it possible!
47 I: Because one would expect that if they didn’t help, at least they would
find something in common!
48 R: Listen an American at least is in his own country, (.)
but someone who speaks our language!
50 I: @@
51 S: It’s hard to understand.
52 I: And generally like Silvia said the aggression is because they have a
difficult time in our country.
The story, told by Rachel, was occasioned by talk on relationships with fellow workers. I had addressed a question to Ismael, about relations with other
groups and he had said that he had no trouble with anybody in the work place
(line 06). I had noticed, however, that Silvia was indicating that she didn’t have
the same experience and I questioned her about it. Her answer was that she and
her friends had difficulty with women from Central America (line 08). Silvia’s
statement could be seen as controversial because it contains a generalization
about an ethnic group, and for this reason it is presented by her as a position
that needs back up. Silvia also needs to show that the difficulties do not stem
from prejudice on her part.
Silvia’s first argumentative move is to back up the claim that Central American women are difficult to get along with, with an explanation based on personal experience of conflict at work (lines 09–10). Silvia’s argument is then
taken up by Raquel, who elaborates it with further arguments, specifically: ‘It
is difficult to talk to these women’, and a new support, which is again explanatory, ‘because they want to be by themselves’ (lines 11–13). Notice that this
explanation is not given by Raquel but anticipated by Ismael, who seems to be
able to interpret what she is trying to convey (line 13). Raquel, reelaborates the
position: ‘it is difficult to get along with Central American women’, and again
Identity as categorization
backs it up with personal experience with the “three Central Americans” that
she has known, with whom there have always been problems (line 15). A list
of problems is presented as a specification of the support: They don’t like the
Mexican accent and the way they Mexicans speak (lines 17–21), and they become envious if other women are educated (lines 23–24). Again, the support is
constructed with Silvia’s (line 20) and Ismael’s alignment (lines 22 and 24).
To summarize, the position jointly presented in this part of the interaction
is: ‘We have difficult relationships with Central American women.’ Since such
position could be attacked as prejudice, the support needs to show that there
are reasons for not liking Central American women. Support is given by negative experiences at work caused by those women’s behavior. Thus, the dislike
for them is presented as a reaction, not as a prejudice. Nonetheless, there has
been a referential ambiguity in the discourse since negative behavior has been
attributed to Central American women (line 08) at the beginning, but later to
some “fellow workers” (09) and then to “the three Central American women
I have known” (line 15). My question in line 26 shows the existence of this
ambiguity, since I interpreted Raquel’s statement as referring to the women
that worked with her and I ask if they are Salvadorans or where they are from.
Silvia’s answer implicitly restates that she is talking about Central American
women in general, in that it would make no sense to refer to three women at
work as: “most of them” (line 27).
It is at this point that Raquel tells her story. As we can see, the story is
opened with an abstract orienting the listener to the main conflict, the place
where it occurred (the bus), and the identity of the co-participants, which are
described in ethnic terms as “some Salvadoran women” (line 28).
The main complicating action in the story is an episode in which the two
Salvadorans insult Mexicans for no reason (lines 31–32) and Raquel and her
sister react verbally to the insult (37–39). The complicating action is not very
elaborate and there is no resolution to the conflict, since, as Raquel explains in
line 36, the two sisters felt that they could not quarrel in the bus. The structure
of this narrative mirrors those already noticed by van Dijk (1987 and 1993)
in argumentative stories about ethnic groups, where it is not the action itself
that is the focus of the narrative, but rather the evaluation that acquires prominence. This story presents, in fact, an elaborate evaluation section (lines 42–51)
in which the main points made by Raquel and supported by Ismael and Silvia,
are that people who speak the same language should not fight each other, but
should instead find things in common (lines 43 and 47) and that Central Americans violate this implicit norm by showing no solidarity to other “Latinos”.
This evaluation allows the speaker to convey a negative stance about Central
 Chapter 5
American women (and Central Americans in general since in line 42 Raquel
uses the plural masculine which is inclusive of men and women), who are presented as a group with whom there is no identification, and an alignment to
common in-group beliefs: people who speak the same language should help
each other.
The story told by Raquel is typical in many ways of the argumentative narratives told in this corpus to back up claims about others. In these narratives
speakers create links between the actions carried out by characters identified
ethnically and the predications attributed in the preceding discourse to those
ethnicities. These links make ethnic mentions in the orientations of stories relevant. In this case, Central American women are presented in the argumentation
as “difficult to get along with” and “envious”, and in parallel fashion the Central
American characters in the story act aggressively and scornfully. The actions of
the protagonists in the story world confirm the judgment attributed to people having that identity in the discourse preceding the story. Thus the story
contributes to attributing a negative identity to Central Americans. However,
Raquel is not only conveying an image of others, she is also constructing, by
opposition, a moral character for herself. The evaluation of the story defines
this morality as characterized by rules of non aggression and solidarity towards
other “latinos”. Notice that the status of these moral rules as part of a group
ideology is confirmed by the interactional positionig of the other immigrants,
who show total agreement with Raquel’s point throughout the storytelling, but
particularly in the evaluation section of the story.
The action structure of the story parallels the moral rules in that Raquel
and her sister are represented as the victims of a verbal aggression. Their reaction is just to talk back, but in a reasonable way, explaining their antagonists
what they should and should not do and why (lines 37 and 39).
The table below presents a schematic analysis of the main aspects of the
Story thesis:
Central American women are racist/lack solidarity
towards Mexicans and other Hispanics
Action Structure:
Antagonists insult protagonists
Protagonists react verbally
Values/beliefs defended Latinos, as people who speak the same language
should help each other.
In other stories, narrators use personal experience as witnesses to back up positions about others. In the following example, Leo presents a story to support
Identity as categorization 
a negative stance about North Americans. This story was told by Leo during
his interview, which took place in the presence and with the collaboration of
his brother Sergio and wife Evelina. The talk preceding the story had been occasioned by a question to Leo whom I had asked whether he worked with Mexicans or other foreigners and how he got along with Americans. Leo had told
me that he didn’t get along with the Americans in his work place because they
seemed to think that all Hispanics are ignorant and therefore they treated them
badly His position was that Americans treat all the people who are not white
badly. He said to me that when he used to go to shelters in Chicago, white poor
people were always served food before the others, and he concluded that this is
why they were hated. This is the point where the transcript starts:
L: Tu crees que no vas a odiar así a los gabachos9 ?
A: No no claro que si.
L: Y como dicen te vuelvo a repetir, por uno pagan todos,
no todos los gabachos son así, [pero por eso=
No, [muy pocos,
L: =también los vas a odiar así.
A: Uhu.
L: Yo me he peleado con morenos y todo y también y, también pus no- (.)
los morenos son más compas que los gabachos.
A: Si?
L: Yo he tenido más compas [o seaE:
[porque también pasan no? lo mismo, ellos
pasan también [los mismos sufrimientos=
[ellos pasan lo mismo que nosotros también,
E: =que nosotros.
L: entiendes?
Un este, un gabacho que trabajaba con con Rig, mi patrón,
A: Uh,
L: mi patrón platicó que el este que no quería a los hispanis,
A: Uh=
L: =y luego iban en el trock así y eso
y veían un hisuna vez vio a un negro, que estaba así esperando el bus,
y ellos iban en el trock,
y le escupió, pam,
le escupió así,
 Chapter 5
dice y no,: “Cálmate” dice, “si hubieras venido a trabajar aquí cuando
tenías a Frank,”
se llamaba Frank ves? este no: no hubieras aguantado ni un día,”
“El que no hubiera aguantado es él” le dije[“yo creo!”
28 E:
29 L: =Ehi.
Si y les da risa
o sea no no dices ah pus pobrecito acá
les da risa,
los ves como que disfrutan al al acá pero ps,
yo si a mi me hace algo un blanco, un gabacho, a mi no me importa, fuck
pus si si somos somos seres humanos porque acá?
L: You think that you are not going to hate Americans for that?
tell me.
A: Yes of course.
L: And as they say I repeat, all pay for one.
not all Americans are like that, [but also for=
No, [very few,
L: =that you are going to hate them like that.
A: Uhu.
L: I have had fights with dark skinned people and everything and also and,
also no- (.)
dark skinned people are more friendly than Americans.
A: Yes?
L: I have had more friends [I meanE:
[because they also go through right? the same,
they go through [the same suffering=
[they also suffer=
E: =as we do.
L: =as we do. You understand?
an, American who worked with with Rig, my boss,
A: Uh,
L: My boss told me that he didn’t like Hispanics,
A: Uh =
L: =and then they were in the truck and all that
and they saw a Hisponce he saw a black guy , who was like that waiting for the bus,
Identity as categorization
and they were in the truck,
and he spat at him, pam,
he spat at him like that!
and he says, “Take it easy” he says, “If you had come when Frank was
that guy was called Frank,
“Well you would have not resisted even for one day,”
“The one who would not have resisted is he!” I said [“ I think!”
28 E:
29 L: Right.
Yes and it makes them laugh,
I mean you say, “Oh poor guy!” and all that,
but it makes them laugh,
you see how they like that and all but,
I if somebody does something to me, some white guy, some American, I
don’t care, fuck you,
’cause if we are all human beings why all that?
Leo was making the point that white Americans are racist to non whites. He
had used the expression “all pay for one” (line 04), to mean that because some
Hispanics are uneducated or do drugs, Americans extend negative judgments
to all of them. Although accepting that not all Americans are racist (line 05), he
had stated that there were reasons for hating them. His further point was that
although he had had fights with dark skinned people, the latter are friendlier
with Hispanics than (white) Americans (line 09). This was his argumentative
position at this point. His wife intervened to offer support to such a position
by explaining that blacks are closer to Hispanics because they also suffer harassment by whites (line 12). Leo aligns himself with his wife by repeating her
statement (line 13). Thus the explanation for the solidarity displayed by blacks
towards Hispanics – the fact that they suffer as much discrimination as Hispanics – becomes now a position that needs to be supported, and this is where
the story is told.
The story starting in line 15 is intended as an example of how whites make
blacks and Hispanics suffer. The main character is introduced in the orientation clause through an ethnic characterization: An American (gabacho) who
worked with Rig, Leo’s boss. His prominence in the story is stressed by the fact
that the narrator topicalizes the Noun Phrase (line 15) by placing it in subject position, although it should be in object position in the utterance since
it is Rig who talks about him (line 17). The relevance of ethnic categories
 Chapter 5
is signaled through the double characterization of the man as an American
and as somebody who (according to Leo’s boss) did not like Hispanics (lines
15 and 17).
In the following orientation clause the circumstances of the story are described: Rig and his friend were driving a truck when they saw a black man at
the bus stop (lines 21–22). Then comes the complicating action: Frank spits at
the black man (line 23). Thus a parallel is implicitly driven in the story between
Frank not liking Hispanics and his not liking blacks, so that the conclusion
might be drawn that if he treated blacks with hatred, he would have done the
same with Hispanics.
This parallel is not explicit, but it is sustained through a number of linguistic devices. First, the mention of the fact that Rig’s co-worker was American (line 15) and did not like Hispanics in the story orientation (line 17) creates an expectation of relevance of ethnic information to the interpretation of
the action. Second, the statement that Frank didn’t like Hispanics (line 17) is
joined to the following complicating action through the markers and and then
(lines 19 and 20), which suggest temporal and discourse continuity between
the meanings expressed in the two utterances: first he didn’t like Hispanics,
and then he spat on a black man. Moreover, the repair in line 20, where Leo
was going to use the term Hispanic instead of the term black, to describe the
person that suffered Frank’s aggression also suggests identification between the
two groups.
But another, more subtle parallel is created in the story between being
American and disliking blacks and Hispanics. In fact, both the negative feelings
against Hispanics and the aggression against a black man have been attributed
to Frank. In the reported dialogue between Rig and Leo in lines 25 and 26, Rig
uses the incident to distance himself from his former fellow worker by telling
Leo that he is lucky to have arrived after the former fellow worker had left.
Through this statement, he suggests that he does not align himself with Frank
in his dislike for Hispanics.
But Leo rejects any distinction between the two men in the following evaluation clause (line 30) where he uses the pronoun “them” to accuse Rig and
Frank (and possibly every American since the pronoun “them” could have a
more general reference) of cruelty, of laughing about their abuses. In the evaluation, Leo also stresses the parallel between Hispanics and blacks by mentioning what he would do if he was harassed by somebody, some white (line 34),
thus contrasting his reactivity to the apathy of the black man in the story. The
narrator uses reported dialogue and the evaluation section to position himself
both in the story and interactional world. In the story world he is presented as
Identity as categorization 
rejecting any alignment with his boss and implying that he would have fought
against any attempt at discrimination. In the interactional world, Leo strengthens his image as a person who does not accept discrimination by openly commenting on what he would do if somebody treated him like the black man in
the story. The final evaluative comment: “we are all humans” (line 35) reaffirms
the parallel between treating a black man badly and treating anybody else that
was in a subordinate position badly. The evaluation presents him as a moral
character while at the same time offering elements of an ideology of solidarity,
which is, similar to the one expressed by Rachel in her story.
This narrative serves as an example to support the position that blacks suffer as much as Hispanics because white Americans despise them. The identification of the guy who worked with Rig as “gabacho” in the orientation again
acquires relevance through its connection with the ethnic judgment affirmed
in the position sustained by the narrator. As in Raquel’s story, the action presented reaffirms the predications attributed to specific ethnicities in the discourse preceding the story since the white American character carries out a
physical aggression towards a black man who had done nothing to provoke his
anger. Like Raquel, Leo presents himself as subscribing to an ideology of solidarity: all men are equal. He positions himself as an active defender of human
rights both through internal evaluation (the reported dialogue with his boss
in lines 25–27) and external evaluation (his comments on how he would not
accept discrimination from anybody in line 34).
The schematic analysis of the narrative is as follow:
Story thesis:
Blacks (like Hispanics) suffer discrimination from
white Americans
Action Structure:
Antagonist attacks protagonist
Protagonist does not react
Values/beliefs defended It’s wrong to discriminate others because all men are
The ethnic identification of Frank as gabacho (American) constrains the interpretation of the story precisely through the implicit assumption of relevance,
since if whites treat blacks badly and the story is meant to support that point,
being a white American in the story is simply an exemplification of being a
white American in general. As we have seen, such a generalization is supported
in the evaluation where Leo rejects any differentiation between Rig and Frank.
In the stories discussed up to this point, ethnic identifications occurred in
orientation sections and within abstracts. I showed that these identifications
 Chapter 5
acquired relevance by establishing topical ties with the argumentative points
made by speakers, while at the same time providing a frame of interpretation
for the events in the stories themselves as examples of behavior presented as
typical of groups. Such behaviors violate beliefs and values held by the narrators. Sachs (1992c) describes the operation of generic reference categories
in discourse in a way that applies to our case. He says that categories such as
“women”, “blacks”, “Jews” are used in discourse in a special way in that they
are not seen as a collection of individuals but as generalized entities, so that
judgments and attributions made in relation to them cannot be falsified. The
author sees such categories as intrinsically bound to social activities:
We have our category-bound activities, where, some activity occurring, we
have a rule of relevance, which says ‘look first to see whether the person who
did it is a member of the category to which the activity is bound.’ So that
if somebody does being a fickle, or is observably being rich, you might then
have a rule that permits you to select a preferred category to see who they are.
And of course, using that procedure for finding the category, you may never
come across occasions for seeing that it’s ‘incorrect’ in the sense that the first
procedure I suggest would end up showing.
Now, one consequence of that procedure’s use is, if it turns out that someone is a member of some category, then what you have is an explanation, X
is fickle. Why? Use the relevance rule. It turns out that the one who did it is
a woman, and women are fickle. One importance of these statements, then,
is that they make some large class of activities immediately understandable,
needing no further explanation. (1992c: 337)
Argumentative stories about members of out-groups establish these connections through the crucial placement of ethnic identifications in the orientation
section or in the abstract. Through this strategy, the activities of a specific Salvadoran girl or of some specific Salvadoran women in the story world are understood in the light of the fact that such people are members of the ethnic
category Central Americans, thus they become “category – bound” activities.
Similarly, the fact that a couple of “gabachos” are cruel is understood in the
light of their belonging to the larger class of white North Americans. Ethnic
identifications work in this kind of stories to foster the idea that whatever an
individual does is in some ways attributable to his being a member of an ethnic
group. Stories about members of other groups are powerful discourse occasions for the expression of stances and beliefs about those groups and ethic
positions embraced by the narrators.
Identity as categorization 
. Story world relevance of ethnic identifications
We have seen that narrators convey stances and beliefs about other social
groups, and implicitly about themselves, through the use of discourse related
story identifications. At this level, identity itself is often at stake in discourse as
narrators follow up on questions by the interviewer or on their own statements
about relationships with others. However, discourse about aspects of self and
other identity can take a more indirect form when values and judgments about
other groups are embedded in stories, but not tied to explicit discourse arguments. In the narratives where identifications are story world related, the relevance of ethnic mentions is not so apparent, and establishing those ties requires
a sustained inferential work since narrators do not openly manage the behavior of characters as “category-bound” behavior, but rather convey their stances
and opinions through the use of a variety of discourse strategies. As with argumentative narratives, the placement of ethnic identifications in orientation
clauses is central, but while in the former narrators often express stances and
beliefs in external evaluation clauses, in the latter they rely more heavily on a
variety of storytelling strategies among which the following stand out:
a. Internal evaluation10 (particularly voicing)
b. Expression of contrast and opposition between characters, events, circumstances, etc.
c. Creation of sequential or causal ties between events
d. Conveying of presuppositions and implicatures
As in the case of argumentative narratives, stories of personal experience where
ethnicity is used to identify characters, are stories told to convey ideas about
self and other identity that are tied to shared ideologies and constructs. The
first example that I present illustrates how speakers use narratives where ethnic mentions are related to the story world to build negative images of others
as members of groups. The following story, told by Toño in an individual interview, was embedded in talk about safety in the neighborhood and reported
an episode of robbery, but the narrator exploited the ethnic identification of
characters as blacks to convey ideas about relationships between Hispanics and
blacks and about certain characteristics of the black community.
01 A: Qué pensó cuando llegó aquí, qué era muy distinto qué no era muy
02 T: No, en todo es muy distinto, en todo,
 Chapter 5
26 A:
sí porque por ejemplo en el pueblo de uno puede andar uno a las dos
tres de la mañana en la calle y nunca le pasa nada,
y aquí no puede usted andar a las tres de la mañana, dos de la mañana,
solo, solo, verdad? porque pasan muchas cosas
y allá en el pueblo de uno, no, allá puede uno andar a la hora que quiera.
A usted le ha pasado algo aquí?
Nada más una vez (.)
nos asaltaron trabajando en un apartamento, ah,
remodelando un apartamento,
y nos asaltaron ahí mismo, a mí y a un patrón,
y con pistola
y se imagina qué hacíamos,
a mí me quitaron veinte dólares que traía nada más,
a mi patrón su reloj y su dinero,
y toda la herramienta se la llevaron,
y fueron morenos verdad, morenos,
todavía cuando fuimos a poner la demanda,
nos dice el policía, “Y cuántos hispanos eran?” @@@
Y, y, y se enojó porque el policía era moreno,
“No” le digo, “Eran puros morenos,”
le digo, “Eran puros morenos, puros negros,” verdad (.)
ahora por ejemplo aquí pu’s ya no se puede salir ya ni en paz,
ya no se vive en paz aquí, por tanta droga que hay, tanta, tanta
drogadición, tanta cosa.
Entonces, esa fue una diferencia,
y qué otras cosas notó que le parecen diferentes a su país?
01 A: What did you think when you arrived here, that it was very different,
that it wasn’t very different?
02 T: No, in everything it was different, in everything,
yes because for example in one’s own town one can walk on the street at
two three in the morning and nothing happens to one,
and here you cannot go at three in the morning, two in the morning,
alone, alone, right? because many things happen,
and there in one’s town, no, there one can go around at any time.
06 A: Did anything happen to you here?
07 T: Only once(.)
Identity as categorization 
we were attacked while working in an apartment, uh
remodeling an apartament,
they came in
and attacked us right there, an employer and me,
and with guns,
and do you imagine what could we do?
they took from me twenty dollars that I had, nothing else,
from my employer his watch and his money,
and they took all the tools,
and they were dark skinned,11 right, dark skinned,
and on top of it when we went to notify the police,
the policeman says to us, “How many Hispanics were they?” @@@
20 A: @@@Directly.
21 T: And, and, and the policeman got mad because he was dark skinned,
“No” I tell him, “They were all dark skinned,”
I tell him, “They were all dark skinned, all blacks,” right,
now for example here one cannot go out in peace any more,
you don’t live in peace any more, because of so much drug that there is,
so much drug addiction, so many things.
26 A: Then, that was one difference,
and what else did you notice that looks different from your country?
In the talk preceding the narrative (lines 01–05) we had been discussing differences between life in Mexico and life in the U.S. Toño stated that one of
the main differences was lack of security in his neighborhood as compared to
his native town (lines 02–05). This statement prompted me to ask whether he
had had any bad experiences (line 06) and this was the point where the story
started. The complicating action is very simple: people with guns robbed Toño
and his boss and as a result they lost a watch, money, and tools. Interestingly,
Toño introduces the first ethnic identification of characters in the orientation
after the complicating action, and in the form of an addendum. In line 17 he
says “and they were dark skinned right, dark skinned”. Since the identification
seems to violate the Maxim of Relation in that it shows no connection to the
action of the story, it rises an expectation about the relevance of the assailants’
ethnicity in the story world. In fact, in the following three lines Toño relates
that the policeman asked him “how many Hispanics” had done the robbery,
that the policeman got angry because he was black, and that Toño told him
that the assailants were black. Although Toño talks about the policeman being
angry before he reports his answer to him, (lines 22–23), it can be inferred that
the policeman got angry because of Toño’s answer. In the evaluation lines fol-
 Chapter 5
lowing the narrative, Toño comments that it is hard to live decently in a place
with so much drug and violence.
The relevance of the identification of the assailants as black is thus established within the story world through internal evaluation since the characters
themselves voice their own interpretation of how being black or Hispanic affects the understanding of events. In particular, the policeman is presented as
presupposing that the actions have been carried out by Hispanics (line 19),
while Toño is presented as contesting that interpretation (line 23). The relationship between being black or Hispanic and the action in the story world
is also emphasized in the evaluation clauses since Toño explains the policeman’s anger with the fact that he was black (notice the use of the connective
because in lines 21: ‘the policeman got mad because he was dark skinned’).
Through this management of internal evaluation, Toño portrays the policeman as prejudiced. Both my utterance following Toño‘s reporting of the policeman’s words, and my laughter show an awareness of such interpretation and an
alignment with Toño’s implicit rejection of it. The management of other storytelling strategies allows Toño to convey his stance towards the particular events
and characters, but also towards interracial relationships more in general. The
narrator stresses the ethnicity of the assailants through repetition at different
points (lines 17, 22 and 23) thus emphasizing the opposition between the facts
and the interpretation of the policeman. However, the repetition also has the
effect of emphasizing the importance of ethnicity as a construct to interpret
deeper possible implications of the story. In fact, in the evaluation Toño speaks
of the difficulty of living in peace in his neighborhood, creating a contrast between life in the U.S. and life his village (lines 03–04). After the story ends, he
restates the same argument (lines 24–25). Thus the story is recast as an illustration of the kinds of things that happen in the neighborhood based on the
experience of the narrator as a victim of robbery. Since, in this case, the narrator underlines the ethnicity of the robbers, the discourse function of the story
changes: it is not just a robbery, but a robbery carried out by blacks. This information creates a relevance space not only with respect to the action in the story
world, but also with respect to the more general evaluation of the story: since
the story deals with black people acting in a criminal way, drug consumption
and violence in the neighborhood can also be more easily attributed to them.
Like in previous examples, Toño uses identification strategies to talk about
identity. The narrative is built around two oppositions: one (explicit) between
Mexicans who are able to lead a peaceful life, and Americans who live in crimeridden neighborhoods, and the other one (implicit) between Hispanics and
blacks. While Hispanics are presented as victims of aggression and prejudice,
Identity as categorization 
blacks are presented as aggressors and as prejudiced in the story world, and as
potentially responsible for the spreading of drug and violence in the neighborhood. These characterizations intertextually echo mainstream discourse about
blacks being criminals and respond to similar mainstream conceptions about
Hispanics voiced in the story through the figure of the policeman.
As in openly argumentative stories, the narrative works as an exemplum
(Martin & Plum 1997; Müller & Di Luzio 1995) precisely because the actions
are attributed to characters not as individuals, but as members of a group.
However, in this narrative, the relevance relationships between ethnic categories and story actions are not explicitly proposed in discourse, but are built
exclusively through connections between identities and actions in the story
. Irrelevant mentions?
A third type of narratives where narrators identify characters through ethnic
mentions are stories where these identifications do not appear to be part of a
strategy to convey (implicit or explicit) generalizations about self and others.
However also in these cases, the analysis of the possible relevance of the mentions to the story world, often leads to implicit assumptions and beliefs about
intergroup relations and the way ethnicity affects everyday life. In the example
below, taken from Laura’s interview, the narrator conveys through the story an
image of how being Hispanic, white American or black affects the way people
are perceived and treated at work. The narrative was told in connection with
talk about difficult work experiences:
01 L:
Eso fue uno.
pero una experiencia desagradable que sí tengo de esas la puedo
pero de una que no fue en la universidad de [name],
despues de allí:, (.)
pero eso fue- ese trabajo lo tuve mucho antes que con la señora de Peru.
o sea con esa señora tenía trabajo tres veces a la semana, todas las
pero eso fue mucho antes, cuando llegamos,
un señor de allí del del mismo trabajo donde piden gente fue
y dijo que necesitaba aplicaciones para que trabajaran allí,
pues entonces a las tres nos dieron trabajo allí,
nos pidieron así uniforme y todo,
 Chapter 5
nosotras teníamos como dos meses,
pero no hablábamos nada de inglés, nada nada,
y entonces fuimos a trabajar allí,
y desde el primer día se nosporque solamente eran americanos blancos,
y se nos quedaban viendo así como bichos raros, así muy feo,
desde que íbamos caminando todos los estudiantes, uh,
y después llegamos,
entramos allí a trabajar y lo mismo,
nadie nos quería enseñar,
y le decíamos que nos ayudaran así,
nadie nos quería enseñar,
había otras señoras también que eran latinas que eranes como una especie de ayudante de mesera,
o sea ellos tienen sus como festines
y nosotros teníamos que pasarles así como charolas con comida y
limpiar todo, lavar y trastes y todo eso,
y entonces esa vez estuve yendo como dos días,
pero el ambiente era muy pesado,
los americanos, eran estudiantes los que estaban a cargo de eso,
a veces yo sent- como que hablaban de nosotras,
bueno yo no sé que decían
porque yo no les entendía,
pero yo sé que hablaban de nosotras
porque volteaban a vernos,
se reían,
y luego una vez, cuando si ya dejé de ir, fue que una morena nos gritó,
nos dijo groserías,
porque ellas, ella no nos decía lo que teníamos que hacer,
40 -> y entonces esa vez, yo fui con una charola de comida
y se la pasé a toda la gente,
pero todas nos ponían a trabajar, unas charolas tan pesadas!
Y esa vez estuve trabajando así mucho mucho,
fueron más de ocho horas,
y no nos habían dado de comer,
entonces ya estábamos bien cansadas,
y mi hermana, este se sentó,
me acuerdo que se sentó así en la cocina en un rincón
y yo me senté con ella,
y le dije que que tenía,
Identity as categorization
dice, “Me siento muy cansada”,
y le digo, “Bueno vamos a descansar tantito, mientras ellos comen,”
mientras estaban comiendo,
pues en eso una morena nos vio
y nos dijo que nos levantáramos,
nos dijo, nos dijo que éramos unas flojas,
bueno eso nos lo dijo otra señora que sí sabía hablar inglés,
y nos gritó
pero tenía unos gritos horribles, así,
y y yo me enojé mucho,
y yo le dije a mi hermana, “Vámonos, hay que dejarle botado todo y nos
pero mi hermana no quiso,
y allí nos quedamos,
y yo le dije a mi hermana que yo al día siguiente ya no iba a ir a trabajar
con ella.
64 A: Uhu.
65 L: Y la esa morena le dijo al este señor que con las que hicimos las
aplicaciones que ya no nos quería a nosotras tres, que porque éramos
unas flo:jas,
ni siquiera- y ese día nos dejaron salir como a las diez de la noche,
así nos tuvimos que venir caminando por toda la carretera,
68 A: Uhu.
69 L: Y ya casi veníamos casi @@llorando por todo el camino!
pero de eso es lo que más me acuerdo,
desde que llegué aquí de todos los trabajos, ése es el más desagradable
que tuve.
01 L:
That was one.
but I had an unpleasant experience that I can stand,
but another one that I can’t stand was in [name] university,
then from there,
but that was- that job I got much before the one with the lady from Peru,
I mean that lady I worked with three times a week, every week,
but that was much before, when we arrived,
a man from the same job center came,
and said that he needed applications to work there,
so the three of us got a job there,
they asked us to wear a uniform and all,
 Chapter 5
we had been there for two months,
but we spoke no English, nothing at all,
and so we went to work there
and since the first day they kept onbecause there were only white Americans
and they stared at us like strange animals, like that,
since we started walking around, all the students,
uh and then we got there to the work place,
and the same thing happened,
nobody wanted to teach us,
and we told them to help us like that,
no one wanted to teach us,
there were other ladies also who were Latinas that wereit was a kind of job like assistant waitress,
they have their like parties,
and we had to pass around trays with food and clean everything, wash
the dishes and all that,
and so this time I went for like two days,
but the atmosphere was very heavy,
the Americans, they were students those who were in charge of that,
sometimes I felt- as if they were talking about us,
well I don’t know what they were saying,
because I couldn’t understand them,
but I know that they were talking about us
because they looked at us,
and laughed,
and then once when I did stop going it was because a dark skinned lady
shouted at us,
she insulted us,
because they, she didn’t tell us what we had to do
40 -> and so that time I went with a tray of food
and passed it around
but all of them made us work with such heavy trays!
and that time I worked like a lot a lot,
it was more than eight hours,
and they had not given us anything to eat,
and so we were very tired,
and my sister, well she sat down,
I remember that she sat down like that in the kitchen in a corner,
and I sat with her,
Identity as categorization 
and I asked her what was wrong,
she says, “I feel very tired”
and I tell her, “Fine let’s get some rest, while they eat,” while they were
well a dark skinned lady saw us
and she told us to get up,
she told us that we were lazy,
well another lady who did speak English told us that,
and she screamed at us,
but her screams were horrible, like that
and I got really mad,
and I told my sister, “Let’s go, we should leave everything and go,”
but my sister didn’t want to,
and we stayed there
and I told my sister that the following day I would not go to work with
64 A: Uhu.
65 L: And that dark skinned lady told the man we did the applications with
that she didn’t want the three of us any more, because we were lazy,
and that day they didn’t let us go out before around ten at night,
and so we had to come walking all the way,
68 A: Uhu.
69 L: And we almost came @@@crying all the way!
but this is what I remember the most,
since I’ve come here of all the jobs, this has been the most unpleasant
that I have had.
In this narrative Laura describes an unpleasant incident that occurred when
she, her sister and her cousin, got one of their first job as waitresses in a large
American university. The first part of this narrative is mainly orientation since
all the clauses give background information on the girls’ situation at the point
when they got the job. Laura describes how they got a catering job at a local
university (lines 8–11), the length of their stay in the country (line 12) and
their situation with respect to language ability (line 13), what relations with
other people on campus (lineas 17–18) and at work (line 24) were like, the
lack of collaboration and assistance on the job (lines 21–23), and the nature of
their job (25–27). In line 28, Laura seems to be starting the story, but again
she produces more orientation regarding the atmosphere at work, which is
described as heavy and hostile (30–36). Lines 37–39 form the abstract of the
story, a brief summary of what happened, while the story proper starts in line
 Chapter 5
40 where Laura describes how one day she had been working particularly hard
passing around heavy trays of food and was very tired. Her sister was tired too
and they sat down together to rest. The main conflict arises between the girls
and a ‘dark skinned’ lady, when the latter orders them to get up and accuses
them of being lazy (lines 53–57). There is no actual resolution to the conflict
since Laura states that she and her sister stayed at work (line 62) even if she
got angry and wanted to leave. Lines 63 and 65 use internal evaluation to convey Laura’s stance towards the events and characters. In 63 she reports her own
words to convey her anger over the incident. On the other hand, the report of
the antagonist’s words to the employer (line 65) is meant to convey a portrayal
of this character as unjust and untrustworthy, since she had falsely accused the
girls of being lazy. In fact the events presented between lines 40–52, and 66–69
contradict what the black lady said, since the three girls are presented as working until ten at night and as being exhausted and desperate. Finally, the coda
(lines 70–71) evaluates the whole story as the worst experience at work. The incident takes place within a work environment that has already been presented
in the orientation by Laura as hostile. It is within this general frame of the
story that the ethnic identifications in lines 16, 24, 30, 37, 53 and 65 must be
The first identification of the students as “white American”, in line 16, is
presented as having story world relevance. In fact, it seems that this line constitutes an explanation for the actions described in lines 17 and 18. Students
stared at the three girls from the moment when they arrived on campus. The
status of 16 as an explanation is suggested by its placement and by the use
of the discourse markers because and and (Schiffrin 1987). In line 15 Laura
had started the utterance that is actually completed in 17 (“se nos quedaban
viendo”, “they kept on staring at us”), but then self repaired and continued
with the following ‘because they were all white Americans and they kept on
staring at us”. The use of the marker because indicates that the utterance that
it prefaces is an explanation for something that was said before. In this case,
we suppose that Laura was going to complete her utterance as in 17, and that
she didn’t because she proposed an explanation for the action that she was
describing. Being white American would thus be presented as an explanation
for staring. In addition, the two utterances (‘there were only white Americans’,
and ‘they stared at us like strange animals’) are conjoined by the marker and,
which also establishes a relationship between the two predicates. Thus Laura is
proposing a causal relationship between being white American and staring at
three [non-white] girls. As a consequence, this mention is presented as relevant
to the story world in that it implicitly explains some of the actions described
Identity as categorization
within it. This kind of relevance could also explain the identification of the students as Americans in line 30–36, since their mockery of the girls would be a
further demonstration of hostility.
The other ethnic identifications in line 24, 53 and 65 appear nonetheless irrelevant both in the story world and in the interactional world. The fact that the
ladies who worked with Laura are identified as “Latinas” does not seem to have
any bearing on the actions described in the story world, and does not support
an argument that is being proposed, although the utterance is not completed
and therefore no definite conclusions can be drawn on it. Also the identification of the lady as dark skinned (lines 37, 53 and 65) does not seem to have
direct story world relevance. The fact that the lady shouts at the girls and complains about them with the employer has no relation with her being black. This
identification appears therefore to be more informative than is required and
not relevant to the point being made.
Nonetheless, based on the CP, we assume that the narrator is in fact conveying some point through the use of these particular identifications and that
therefore she constructs the actions that occur in the story world as in some
way related to the ethnic identity of speakers. However, such relation is not explicit. One way of looking for the possible relevance of this mention is to derive
it from common assumptions and beliefs about ethnicity as reflected in the
theses put forward in the argumentative stories or in their evaluation sections.
For example, the argument “blacks are hostile/aggressive to Hispanics” would
make the mentions in line 37, 53, and 65 relevant to explain her behavior in
the story world. The relevance of the description of the co-workers as Latinas
(line 24) is not clear given that the utterance containing it was interrupted,
but it could be tied to the previous evaluative clauses (21–23) describing how
no one on the job wanted to help the girls. In this case the mention would
frame the action of the fellow workers as a violation of the belief that “Hispanics should help each other.” The ethnicity of characters would be tied to their
action through violation or confirmation of assumptions about them.
As these example illustrate, speakers may make ethnic mentions more or
less relevant to the story world, the interactional world, or both. The degree
of relevance of ethnic identifications can thus vary from higher (interactional
world) to lower (story world). There are also narratives in which ethnic identifications truly appear as “extrathematic detail.” This is the case with many
narratives about work that are opened through orientation clauses containing
apparently irrelevant details on the nationality of employers or fellow workers.
Let us look for examples at Willi’s narrative, discussed in chapter three, of an
episode that happened during his first work experience with a moving com-
 Chapter 5
pany, when he picked up many of the items that were being thrown away and
brought them home to furnish his apartment:
01 Y el primer día que fui a trabajar f[ue el primer=
[todos llegamos así,
=día que03 Todos llegamos sin trabajo.
04 Es igual eh?
05 Que fui a buscar trabajo,
06 conseguí afortunadamente.
07 conseguí trabajo afoI: 08 Adónde fuiste?
W: 09 Con unos chinos a hacer una mudanza,
10 estaban tirando todo.
11 o sea llegamos,
12 nos instalamos en un departamento y todo,
13 pero no teníamos ni platos ni cubiertos ni nada.
14 entonces este el primer día que trabajé fue con unos japoneses,
15 fue con un- si unos japoneses y este, a una mudanza.
16 y todo lo estaban tirando a la basura, televisión y todo!
01 And the first day that I went to work it w[as the=
[We all=
=came like that.
=first day that03 We all came without a job.
04 It’s the same right?
05 That I went to look for a job,
06 I found it luckily.
07 I found a job luckyI: 08 Where did you go?
W: 09 With these Chinese to help with a move,
10 they were throwing everything.
11 I mean we arrived,
12 we settled in the apartment and all,
13 but we had no plates or silver ware or anything.
14 so well the first day that I worked it was with these Japanese,12
15 it was with a- yes these Japanese and well, in a move.
16 and they were throwing everything in the trashcan, television and all!
Identity as categorization 
In this story the nationality of the employers mentioned in orientation clauses
(lines 09 and 14–15) is an extra-thematic detail that has no apparent bearing on the story, and does not seem to convey any particular meaning related
to identity.
Yet, the analysis of the different narratives and of the different ways in
which ethnicity may be mentioned, shows that ethnicity has a general relevance
for these speakers as a category for identification, independently of particular
story worlds. Speakers and listeners do not orient to it to the same degree in all
contexts, but the presence of ethnic mentions at all these levels shows that there
is a potential saliency of this category, at least in connection with stories about
work. This social saliency derives from some of the conditions of production of
the narratives: i.e. from the categorization practices to which immigrants are
exposed and in which they participate and from their daily interaction with
people from foreign countries.
. Ethnic identities in interactional and story world contexts
In the previous sections I have argued that ethnicity is a pervasive identification category, and that it is used by narrators in different stories to negotiate or
to convey stances and beliefs about other social groups and about themselves.
These stances, values and beliefs vary according to the narrator, the topics discussed in the interactional context, and the narrated world evoked. Narrators
have been shown to sustain conflicting and contradictory evaluations about
characteristics and behaviors related to the identity of other ethnic groups, and
a variety of beliefs and moral stances. The case of stories about blacks is exemplary since we have seen the development of positive and negative stances, of
solidarity and rejection and of varying combinations of oppositions and alignments with other ethnic groups in different narratives. Equal variability has
been found in the positioning of narrators towards themselves and others as
characters in the story world. We have seen that some narrators position themselves as passive in the story world and in the interactional world. For example, Toño portrays himself as not reacting physically or verbally towards his
antagonists (both the robbers and the policeman), and does not engage in external evaluation to explain his views about others with the interviewer in the
interactional world. On the other hand, we have seen narrators who present
themselves as both verbally reactive in the story world (Raquel and Leo) and
as engaged in constructing a specific image of others and/or of themselves in
the interactional world with the interviewer. Both Leo and Raquel constructed
 Chapter 5
a morally defined self who explicitly discusses beliefs about what is good and
what is bad, acceptable or unacceptable. Thus, although it is common for narrators to use ethnic categories to build images of themselves and others and
to explain behaviors and attitudes, these images and explanations have a great
variability as identities get constructed in different circumstances. Narratives
centered on ethnicity thus confirm the flexibility and context sensitivity of
identification processes in interaction.
However, there are also some interesting commonalities among the interactional and narrated contexts that give rise to these types of stories. With respect to interactional contexts, we have seen that ethnicity is used as a categorization device not only in open discussions about group identity such as talk
focusing on relationships with others at work or in other social domains, but it
is also typically invoked in narratives about bad experiences where group identity is not at stake. Ethnic identity is therefore used as a basic construct in the
explanation of conflict.
In parallel fashion, looking at the action structure of the stories where characters (mostly antagonists, but sometimes both antagonists and protagonists)
are identified ethnically we find some similarities across speakers and contexts
in that most of the narratives are built around an aggressive action (verbal or
physical) carried out by an antagonist or antagonists against the narrator as
protagonist (or sometimes another character) who is not presented as being in
a position to respond. This action structure including roles, actions and reactions seems to be repeated across stories with ethnic mentions, and can be seen
therefore as a sort of shared schema or script13 that is being built for representing and understanding relations with other groups in conflict situations. Out of
the 26 narratives that presented ethnic mentions, 10 recounted episodes of exploitation, racism and even violence at work, 5 recounted episodes of physical
aggression in public spaces, 3 recounted episodes of verbal aggression in public
spaces, and 2 recounted episodes of discrimination in public spaces. Only six
of the narratives did not have an action structure centered on a conflict provoked by an aggressive action, and ethnic identifications in them appeared to
be functional to comparisons between self and others in terms of behaviors
or customs.
Identity as categorization 
. Conclusions
Let us go back to the questions that I asked at the beginning of this chapter:
1. What kinds of identifications do narrators routinely use to introduce characters?
2. How do narrators make those identifications relevant to the story world
and to the interactional world?
3. What kinds of (narrated and interactional) contexts bring about these
I have shown that the most salient identifications in narratives are ethnic identifications, that they are made relevant by narrators in connection with explicit
arguments and positions concerning attributes and behaviors typical of other
groups, or in connection with implicit interpretations on how others are or
behave. The latter are conveyed through management of narrated episodes as
exempla of how membership into groups affects everyday experiences and interactions. I have also argued that ethnicity appears as prominent in the telling
of conflict situations evoked in discussions about relationships with others or
in the telling of bad experiences. Finally, I have shown that while the interactional positioning of narrators, their arguments and descriptions of self and
other identity changes, the story worlds in which the narrated events take place
are to a certain extent similar, in that they are characterized by a schematic action structure in which the narrators as characters (and other protagonists with
whom they align themselves) are victims of many types of aggressions and are
not in a position to react. Finally, I have argued that the general saliency of
ethnicity appears to be connected on the one hand to the wider context of
practices of ethnic labeling in North American society, and on the other hand
to the experience of dealing with work environments in which people of different nationalities, cultures and often also different languages, come into contact.
The latter explains the potential importance of nationality (and therefore the
presence of ‘irrelevant mentions’ in the narratives) since coming from different
countries may affect not only linguistic communication between fellow workers or between workers and bosses, but also communication in the wider sense
of the word. However, the way ethnicity is managed as an identification category in the narratives of this corpus is also related in complex fashion to the
local context of the interview. Personal interviews require that immigrants engage, as a group, in the exercise of reflecting on their experiences at work, their
relationships with other bosses and fellow workers, their perception of the environment. The identity that they present at this level should be seen as directly
 Chapter 5
tied to this exercise of open reflection. In this context, immigrants tell narratives in whose schematic structure and evaluation they emphasize (openly or
implicitly) to the interviewer their identity as an underprivileged community,
constantly threatened by economic and linguistic disadvantage, therefore often
unable to communicate and to defend their rights and to choose alternative
paths that may lead them to achieve greater economic and social freedom.
Chapter 6
Identity as social representation
Negotiating affiliations
In Chapter 5 I have discussed categorization both in terms of the identification categories that appear to be salient in the narratives told by immigrants in
this corpus, and of how these categories are used by narrators. In this chapter
I further examine the relationship between categorization and identity construction through the analysis of the links between identification strategies and
representations about self and others. I investigate these relations through a
deeper analysis of how immigrants apply the description Hispanic to themselves and others in connection with different story and interactional worlds.
I argue that narratives told by speakers who belong to a group may present
recurrent schemas at the level of self and other representation. These schemas
present recurrent patterns in terms, for example, of roles and actions, and of
narrators’ evaluations of them. The presence of schemas points to the existence
of shared representations about self and other identity that, in turn, may be
seen as basic to the construction of a collective identity. However, categories for
self and other identification are subject to continuous negotiation according to
situation, speaker and topic being discussed.
I argue that in order to investigate group identity we need to attend to both
shared, schematic representations and local negotiations about specific aspects
of identity in that they represent different, at time conflicting, constructions
about the self. While schematic representations that speakers build about circumstances, roles and relationships constitute the basis for expectations about
what identities imply in terms of characteristics and behavior, interactional negotiations over identity show rejections, reformulations and renegotiation of
expectations and definitions of new patterns. In other words, in my view we
need to capture elements of stability and elements of variability in the representation and negotiation of identity in order to understand how particular groups articulate their identity in particular moments in time. In the next
 Chapter 6
section I review the notion of ethnicity and its application to Mexican immigrants’ perceptions of themselves and others as Hispanic. I then illustrate
how the construction of self in narrative can be linked to van Dijk’s (1998)
notion of identity as related to shared representations. Finally, I analyze ways
in which schematic representations explain some traits attributed to characters
described as Hispanic in particular story worlds, but also ways in which speakers negotiate that ascription according to strategic concerns that arise in the
interactional world.
Ethnicity: Some definitions
We have seen in Chapter 5 that as a result of social processes of categorization, ethnicity becomes a very salient category for self and other identification for immigrants who arrive in the United States. Such importance is mirrored in the frequency with which the ethnicity of characters is mentioned in
narratives. We have also started to see how ethnicity is locally constructed in
narrative discourse in response to specific topics, but also how it is related in
complex ways to different worlds of experience. Although ethnicity is such a
prominent category both in public discourse and in the narratives that we have
been examining, there is nothing essential or objective about it. Social scientists have struggled for years and still fundamentally disagree not only over the
criteria that may be invoked in the definition of the concept, but also over the
possibility of an objective definition. Scholars who have attempted definitions
of what ethnicity is have invoked psychological, cultural, economic, biologic
criteria, or a mix of them. In Barth’s view (1969) for example, ethnicity is an
individual’s membership in a group that shares a common ancestral heritage
involving the biological, cultural, social and psychological domains of life. He
emphasizes the relationship between ethnicity and the creation of boundaries.
Edwards (1985) stresses the centrality of the psychological dimensions since he
regards ethnicity as defined by loyalty to a group that has an observable common past. Farley (1988) gives preeminence to social and cultural factors such
as nationality, language, and religion as defining properties of ethnicity. Buriel
& Cardoza, (1993) equate ethnicity with psychological affiliation since they argue that, regardless of variations in the biological, cultural, and social domains,
if a person identifies with a particular ethnic group, then she/he will be willing
to be perceived and treated as a member of that group.
These definitions also reflect a fundamental divide between “primordialists” and “circumstancialists” (Glazer & Moynihan 1975; Scott 1990). The for-
Identity as social representation 
mer conceive of ethnicity as created around primordial and affective symbols
and stemming from objective biological attributes (van den Berghe 1987). In
contrast, the latter stress the influence of different types of circumstances in the
emergence of specific ethnicities. Among the factors that have been mentioned
as important to determine the permanence or change of ethnic affiliations, are
the relative economic and social power of ethnic groups within society (Hagendoorn 1993), their participation in political changes and social movements
(Bell 1975; Horowitz 1975), and psychosocial factors such as isolation and loss
of values in modern communities (Anderson 1983). According to circumstancialist theorists, individuals respond to all these factors when defining their
ethnicity. They believe that ethnicity itself is not necessarily a salient category
in all circumstances. Furthermore, groups and individuals evolve in the way
they define the characteristics of their ethnic group and in the way they draw
the line between themselves and others. In a recent survey on the concept of
ethnic identity in communication research, Leetts, Giles and Clément (1996)
underline not only that there is no comprehensive and unified theory of ethnicity in the social sciences, but also that different ways of operationalizing the
concept produce very divergent empirical results in applied research.
In many of the definitions that I have reviewed there is a sense of ethnicity
as a property of individuals, an objective quality. However, discourse centered
studies (Bukholtz 1999; De Fina 2000; Bailey 2001; Maryns & Blommaert 2001)
have attempted to ground the notion of ethnicity (like the notion of identity
in general) in interactional work, so that ethnicity is seen “not as a representational term that indexes a more abstract quality of the individual; rather it is the
basis for inferences about the individual within a specific social circumstance”
(Banks 1988: 17–18).
Many recent studies have analyzed the connections between ethnic identities and the use of ethnic labels for self-definition (Imbens-Bailey 1996; LouwPotgieter & Giles 1987; Hecht & Ribeau 1988) pointing to the fact that labels are
associated with attitudes that groups hold toward each other (Buriel & Cardoza
1993). Although there are no analyses centered on Mexican immigrants, the use
of labels has been examined in the case of Mexican Americans. The choice between terms such as ‘Chicano’ or ‘Latino’ for self-identification, for example,
has been linked to different social factors such as age, social class and generation (Hurtado & Arce 1986; Gómez 1992; Buriel & Cardoza 1993; Estrada
1993; Berry 1993). Most of the investigations quoted have used questionnaires
as methods of investigation. In one of the few qualitative studies on this topic,
Oboler (1995) looked at the different perceptions of the term Hispanic as expressed in interviews by 21 Latin Americans of different origin and social class.
 Chapter 6
She found that acceptance of the label varied among her informants based on
the social class to which they belonged, with middle class immigrants willing to
accept to be identified as Hispanics more readily than lower class immigrants
. Identity as representation
Definitions of identity and group affiliations are, however, not stable but sensitive to the social constraints posed by the situations in which they become
relevant and the perceived roles of subjects and interlocutors (see Rampton
1995). In addition, open reflections on self and other labeling do not reveal
anything about how labels are actually used in discourse. Thus, the categories
used to define self and others cannot be taken as having inherent meanings,
since they are applied and understood in different ways according to the context in which they appear. The narratives centered on ethnicity that were examined in Chapter 5 clearly show that immigrants attribute different implications to ethnic identity depending on the discourse activity and the story world
evoked, and that these implications are open to interactional negotiation. As in
the case of personal and group identity in general, specific discourse occasions
provide an arena for the construction and reflection of images about oneself
and others. The study of identification in narrative discourse affords the possibility to analyze the way categories are used by specific groups in discourse
and also to discern elements of these representations that may have greater stability than others, together with points of conflict and negotiation. In fact we
have seen that in narratives where others were ethnically characterized, certain
patterns relating to roles, actions and identities were emerging. For example,
stories of intergroup conflict presented a stable pattern in terms of action and
character roles: an aggression of some kind constituted the complicating action and the protagonist(s) figured as victim(s) who did not respond (or only
responded verbally) to the aggressor(s). The perpetrators of the aggression varied, although some groups (Central Americans and blacks) were more likely to
be presented as aggressors. The emergence of this pattern in story structure is
an indication of the existence, or at least the building up, of schemas about
group relations.
The schemas on which narratives are built can be seen as contributing
to the creation and fostering of shared representations about self and others. Shared representations are described by van Dijk (1998: 69–70) as basic
schemas that allow individuals to answer questions about themselves and others in relation to who they are, who belongs to their group, what they do or are
Identity as social representation
expected to do in specific social circumstances, what basic values characterize
their world ethics, etc. According to van Dijk there is a strong connection between group identity and shared representations in that the identity of a group
is based on those common representations about self and others and these, in
turn, are the basis for group ideologies. The patterns that emerge in narratives
represent typical associations between actions and identities and between these
and related evaluations. These patterns can be seen as corresponding with aspects of shared representations in that stories constitute models of particular
worlds in which certain identities are normally linked with certain actions and
therefore also with judgments about self or others.
This is not to say that group identity can be exclusively reduced to or
equated with shared representations since identity is a process constructed
within social practices and subject to continuous evolutions and modifications.
Identities are not merely mental concepts, but the processes of construction
and negotiation of identities certainly draw from and contribute to mental representations. On the other hand, identities are not just discursive constructions
emerging in local interactions. They reflect and constitute in complex ways
ideologies and representations of roles and relationships that go beyond the
immediate context of interaction, and that often only become apparent when
we transcend the boundaries of local discourse and look at other contexts and
speakers. Partners in interaction develop creative understandings of categories
that are already charged with social meanings, that are used in other practices
outside the local discourse and whose implications are in many ways tacitly
presupposed by interactants. For example, interactants build on intertextual
relations, creating subtle links with discourses that are circulated in the larger
social world, and building new meanings over the old ones, or reaffirming
certainties and stereotypes.
. Being Hispanic in different story worlds: The chronicles
Story worlds and the roles and actions that characters play in them constitute interesting starting points to understand important aspects of the discourse management and of the constitution of categories of identity, since
narrators construct their identities as characters in opposition/affiliation with
other characters and in relation to social circumstances. Story worlds frame
and set boundaries to identities. They are reconstructions of lived experiences
and therefore illustrate how certain aspects of one’s own or others’ identity
become central or peripheral and what are the “working definitions” of spe-
 Chapter 6
cific identifications. One way of looking at these aspects is comparing the appearance of the same identifying terms when applied to self and to others in
different story worlds, and analyzing their interplay with different expressions
identifying both self and others. Below, I illustrate the insights that this kind of
approach can afford on the identities displayed by speakers through the analysis of the application of the term Hispanic to others and to self in different
story worlds: the worlds related to the border crossing and the worlds related
to the experiences after the crossing. A first step in the analysis is to compare
all ethnic references to self and others in the two sets of narratives.
When we contrast the ethnic identifications applied to others in stories that
refer to life in the U.S. to those that appear in chronicles that relay the passage
through the border and the first contacts with the host land, we find in fact
important differences between the way characters are identified in the two sets
of narratives. In Tables 1–4 below, I present a summary of ethnic identifications
used in chronicles and narratives of personal experience indicating the number
of times that they are used in both contexts.
For the sake of simplicity, the terms are presented in the tables in the masculine singular, although in the stories they are usually inflected for gender
and number.
Terms used to refer to North Americans include americano blanco (white
American), americano (American), gabacho and gringo (which also mean
Table 1. Ethnic references to others in chronicles
Terms in Spanish
de+name of city
dark skinned
dark skinned
From+name of city
Puerto Rican
Latin American of mixed ancestry
Number of mentions
Table 2. Ethnic references to self in chronicles
Terms in Spanish
Number of mentions
Identity as social representation 
Table 3. Ethnic references to others in stories
Terms in Spanish
americano blanco
del salvador
de Nicaragua
de Guatemala
white American
dark skinned
from Mexico City
from El salvador
Salvadoran (pej.)
Central American
from Nicaragua
Number of mentions
Table 4. Ethnic reference to self in stories
Terms in Spanish
Number of mentions
American but are both somewhat pejorative), negro (black), and moreno/morenito (dark skinned). As we saw in Chapter 5, the latter is the “politically correct”
version of negro. Morenito is formed adding the suffix -ito to the word moreno.
This suffix is a modifier usually indicating affection. It seems that the term
americano is basically used for white Americans, since there are no contexts
in which there is an alternation between americano and negro or moreno for
African American characters, while alternation between americano and americano blanco is found in the case of white Americans. The term cholo refers to
 Chapter 6
Latin American people of mixed ancestry: half Indian and half European. The
word hispanote in Table 2 is a modification of hispano. The addition of the
suffix -ote to a root has emotional meanings; it can indicate affection, irony, or
both. In Table 3, we find the term chilango, commonly used to denominate people who come from Mexico City. salvatruco, is a pejorative term for Salvadoran,
literally meaning “save tricks”.
As we can see, comparing Table 1 and 3, the most important difference
in reference between the two types of story worlds evoked is that in chronicles the majority of other mentions refer to Hispanics and white Americans
(17 out of 26, taking into account that the terms “gringo” and “gabacho” are
used for white Americans), while in the stories the biggest single group of other
mentions (21 out 46 including the term Central American) is composed of individual nationalities, although references to Hispanics, (8), white Americans
(9), and African Americans (7) are still numerous. A parallel difference is apparent in Table 2 and 4, which show that the only ethnic reference to self in
the chronicles characterizes the protagonists as Hispanics, while in stories immigrants also refer to themselves as Mexicans. This difference in the choice of
terms for identifying both others and themselves points to differences in focus
in the construction of experience, with the border crossing chronicles constituting identities within worlds that represent the first contacts with the new
land, and the narratives of personal experience constituting identities within
the domains of work and public life as settled immigrants.
In the chronicles, others are mostly categorized either as gringos or as hispanos, while self-reference is limited to the expression hispanos. This generality
in the reference reflects some fundamental aspects of the construction of the
experience of crossing the border, and the expectations that underlie it. The
story world of the chronicles is a world divided in two halves: on one side,
the United States and on the other side, the rest of the continent. The border
physically and symbolically separates the gringos from the people who live everywhere else South of it. Most importantly, for immigrants who are pushed
into crossing illegally, the border constitutes a potential barrier to the realization of their plans and dreams. Thus, narrators who tell the border crossing
seem to stress that the most salient trait of characters who appear in them is
their identity as gatekeepers and/or legitimate inhabitants of the new land, as
opposed to their identity as strangers, who either have come to the U.S. from
the other side of the border, or originally belonged to other side.
A second factor that may have some influence on this polarization of identities are the immigrants’ expectations about ethnic composition in the United
States before the crossing. The immigrants commented in their interviews that
Identity as social representation 
before arriving in the United States, they did not expect to find the ethnic variety that actually characterizes this country and that they imagined the host
country as exclusively inhabited by gringos, white Americans. Therefore the
presentation of gringos or Americans on the one side, and Hispanics on the
other as the basic ethnic categories of the story world described in the chronicles, could also reflect the narrators’ representation of themselves as characters
lacking experience with the subtler distinctions that operate in the various social domains in which immigrants find themselves once they start their new life
in the United States.
One important question that these narratives pose is that of the implications of being Hispanic in the story worlds depicted. In the chronicles such implications are directly linked to the implications of being gringo, gabacho, and
americano in that definitions of self are always formulated in contrast or opposition to definitions of others. An interesting fact about the characterization
of white Americans in the chronicles is that these are never called americanos
(Americans) as they are sometimes called in stories that refer to experiences
after the crossing. Rather, they are always referred to either as gringos or as
gabachos, both terms with usually negative connotations in Mexican Spanish,
as opposed to americano that is more neutral. In contrast, in the narratives of
personal experience the term americano is used both in conflict and in nonconflict stories. This absence of neutral terms in the chronicles seems consistent with the polarization in the story worlds of the border crossing between
insiders and outsiders in the host country and therefore with the opposition
between Hispanics and white Americans on a positive/negative polarity.
In fact, in the chronicles characters that are identified as Hispanic are usually figures that provide help or guidance in situations where immigrants are at
a loss or in difficulty, while (usually) the opposite is true for American characters. The fact that Hispanic characters are expected to behave in ways that show
solidarity with immigrants as figures in the story world is not only related to
their frequent appearance as “saving figures” often in opposition with Americans as “opposing figures”, but also to evaluations expressed by narrators in
episodes of the chronicles dealing with these issues.
I illustrate this kind of evaluations and expectations with two episodes
taken from Virginia’s chronicle. Virginia crossed the border through a checkpoint with the help of a coyote who provided her with false papers. She was
rejected the first time, but was able to go through the second time. The participants in the interview were Ismael, myself, Virginia, and her husband, Ciro.
Virginia told me the story of her crossing from Tijuana in response to my question on how she had managed to arrive to Washington D.C. The transcript
 Chapter 6
starts with her description of the first attempt to cross the border and of the
rejection by the local authority. The episode in (1) reports the encounter with
the first border officer, while the episode in (2) describes the second attempt at
01 V: pero si siempre yo sentía así que,
si no o sea yo decía, “Pus qué me va a hacer o qué?”
porque luego yo veía que pasaban a unos
y chin ya les daban unas patadas aquí en el trasero,
decía, “Hijo!”
o sea que más me espantaba yo no?
y luego entraba una señora
y allí sentada!
y llore y llore la señora,
y diciéndole quien sabe qué tanto en inglés a la señora,
a mi me tocó una hispana, de allí, pero bien grosera,
me trató bien mal.
y yo decía, “Pero cómo es posible!
si somos del mismo país!
me trata así” y e[so,
16 C:
17 V: o sea que sentía yo, me sentía yo muy mal
y decía este, “Pus qué me irán a hacer?” no?
01 V: y ya esa vez no:, me tocó un gringo
y ya este, y de los mismos nervios que yo tenía pero no me temblaban las
sino que yo sentía que por dentro osea todo me temblaba no?
y le di los papeles
y se me cayó u:no!
dije yo osea luego luego pensé, “Ya ya me agarraron!”
no: me da mis papeles
y dice, “Ok”.
01 V: but I always felt that,
yes I mean I said, “What are they going to do to me or what?”
because then I saw that some went across
and man they kicked them in the butt,
Identity as social representation
I said, “God!”
I mean I was more and more afraid right?
and then a lady came
and she was sitting there!
crying and crying,
and {{they)) told that lady who knows what in English,
I got (to deal with) a hispanic woman, from there but really rude,
she treated me very badly,
and I said, “But how is it possible,
if we come from the same country!
she treats me like that” and [all,
16 C:
17 V: I mean I felt, I felt very bad,
and I thought, “Well what are they going to do to me right?”
and this time I got (to deal with) a gringo
and so, and because of my own anxiety,
but my hands did not tremble,
but I felt inside that I was all trembling right?
and I gave him the papers,
and one fell on the floor!
I said I mean then then I thought, “They got me now!”
No: he gives me my papers,
and says, “Ok”.
In these two episodes Virginia relates her encounters with border officials. Both
episodes, (as well as the chronicle itself), focus on the fear that the protagonist
felt not only of being rejected, but also of going through a process about which
she knew nothing, but could only fantasize. In the first part of episode 1, Virginia presents herself wondering what the immigration officers would do to
her in case she was discovered, as she observed how other immigrants were
kicked out (lines 01–05). She describes how her anxiety increased at the sight
of other people’s troubles (lines 06–10) and then depicts her encounter with
the immigration officer. The latter is introduced as a “Hispanic woman from
there ((Tijuana))” (line 11) who treated her really badly (line 12). This treatment is presented discursively as contrary to expectations mainly due to the
use of the marker pero, (but) in the utterance “pero bien grosera” (“but really
rude”) (line 11). In fact, the Spanish marker pero (like English but) signals that
the proposition expressed in the utterance prefaced by it has an argumentative
 Chapter 6
direction that is opposite to the argumentative direction of another, implied,
proposition (see Puig 1983). In this case, pero connects two utterances :
a. “I got (to deal with) a Hispanic woman”
b. “(she was) very rude”
The presence of pero establishes an opposition between utterances a and b
through an implicit proposition (r) that could have been derived from a. In
this case, the proposition expressed in the utterance “she [the Hispanic woman]
was rude” goes in the opposite argumentative direction with respect to a possible implicit proposition:
“she [the Hispanic woman] was very kind” (not r).
Since the latter is treated as implicitly derived from utterance a, Virginia is
actually conveying the idea that she expected a Hispanic officer to be kind to
her. The reasons for such expectation are explained later through her internal
evaluation in lines 13–15 :
and I said, “But how is it possible
if we come from the same country!
she treats me like that and all.”
Virginia shows that she believes that coming from “the same country” should
be a basis for solidarity and that such unfriendly behavior is surprising. This
evaluative point has some similarity with the one expressed by Raquel in her
story about the fight with the women from El Salvador in the bus (Chapter
5), where she stressed that people “who speak the same language” should help
each other.
This explicit comment on the expectations about how being Hispanic can
affect relationships in this story world provides some background for the mention of the officer being a gringo in line 01 of the second episode that comes later
in the chronicle. In the opening of this part of the narrative, Virginia introduces
the officer exactly with the same words that she had used to introduce the ‘Hispanic woman’: and this time I got (to deal with) a gringo (01), but she also uses
the expression this time, thus creating a contrast between the two situations.
There is no expectation of clemency with the gringo, in fact given what has
been discussed before, we can assume that Virginia’s expectations about this
person’s attitude to her were negative, since an American officer would have
even less in common with her than a Hispanic one. This expectation explains
why she was sure that she would be caught just because she had dropped one
Identity as social representation 
of her papers (lines 05–06). But here again there is a violation of expectations
when the gringo says: “Ok”, and lets her pass.
To summarize, the mention of the ethnic origin of the border officers seems
to respond to implicit assumptions about how being gringo or Hispanic will affect the relationship with the protagonists in those circumstances. But it is also
interesting to notice how the opposition between Hispanic and gringo as categories of identification that can have certain consequences on the story world,
is discursively created through the privileging of certain aspects of the officers’
identity. It is in fact clear that the Hispanic woman was a Mexican or a Chicana,
since Virginia describes her as a Hispanic woman from there (Tijuana) (line 11)
and then as a person who comes from the same country (line 14). In this circumstance, the choice of the description Hispana strongly confirms the role played
by story worlds in the presentation of salient ethnicities in the introduction of
characters, and therefore also my analysis of how the border chronicles stress
the general opposition between Hispanics and Americans rather than more
specific distinctions. As mentioned, the expectations of solidarity and kindness
towards in-group members attached to being Hispanic by Virginia, are also
derived from the role that characters labeled as Hispanic usually have in the
chronicles since they appear as “helping figures”. The expectation that gringos
will be unhelpful is less directly implicated in Virginia’s chronicle, but it can be
derived also from the frequent association between American characters and
negative behaviors (such as refusals to help) in other chronicles.
I illustrate both situations with examples from different chronicles. In the
example below, Leo is narrating an episode in which he arrived in a village
that was close to the point where he and his friends were planning to cross
to the other side. Leo and his friends had been traveling for some time before
getting to that village and were hungry and tired. In that situation, a character
described as Hispanic intervenes to help them
01 L: Llegamos a ese pueblillo
y luego pus íbamos a entrar al pueblillo,
en eso nos vio un hispano,
dice, “Ustedes son mojarras1 verdad?”
“No pus si” que acá,
@dice, “Escóndanse allá” dice “porque ahí viene migración@,”
ya nos escondimos no? entre las hierbas,
dice, “Qué quieren o qué hacen aquí o qué?”
“No ps vamos p’allá,”
“Y con quien vienen o qué?”
 Chapter 6
“No pus, con nadie,”
y como traíamos los cinco dolar,
ya traíamos mucha hambre,
dijimos, “Qué onda no seas gacho no?
venos a comprar algo para comer,”
“No pus si” dice, “No hay problema,
pero ustedes quédense aquí porque si no se los va a llevar la,=
18 A: =migración.
19 L: la migración,”
“No pues si,”
nos trajo dos bolsas de ese de pan este, del pan blanco,
nos trajo dos bolsas y un paquete así de jamón,
y él fue a su casa y nos sacó unas sodotas y papas y todo,
y ahí nos llevó y ahí escondidos abajo come y come no?
pus ahí estuvimos,
dormimos ahí, y todo,
01 L: We arrived in this village
and then we were going to enter the village,
and then a Hispanic guy saw us,
he says, “You are wetbacks right?”
“Yes indeed” and so on,
@he says, “Hide there” he says “because here comes the border patrol,”
so we hid right? in the grass,
he says, “What do you want or what are you doing here or what?
“Well we are going to the other side.”
“And who are you with or what?”
“Well, with nobody,”
and since we had the five dollars,
we were very hungry,
we said “Listen, don’t be bad,
go and buy us something to eat,”
“Yes ok” he says “no problem,”
“But you stay here because otherwise the,=
18 A: =border patrol,
19 L: the border patrol is going to get you,
“All right,”
he brought us two bags of bread, of white bread,
he brought us two bags and a packet of ham this big,
Identity as social representation 
and he went to his house and he got some big sodas and chips,
and he brought it there and we [were] hidden there eating a lot,
so there we stayed,
we slept there and everything,
In this episode the implications of being Hispanic are not discussed, but the
character so described acts according to expectations. In the circumstances depicted the arrival of an unknown person immediately raises the question of
identity because a stranger could either be associated with the police, or willing to call the police. The stranger, presented as a Hispanic guy (line 03), asks
the young Mexicans if they are wet-backs (line 04), a question that could be
dangerous if issued by an authority or by somebody who felt hostile towards
illegal immigrants. But the question turns out to be a pre-sequence to a suggestion to hide from the border patrol (line 06). Leo reports how the stranger
continues the interaction with questions on the identity of the immigrants and
their situation (lines 08–11) and how the young men become confident enough
to ask for his help in buying food (line 14–15). The stranger not only agrees to
help them, but also volunteers further advice on how to avoid the border patrol
(lines 16–19) and then comes back with the food (lines 21–24). Thus his behavior corresponds with Virginia’s expectation about Hispanics being helpful.
Another example shows a similar pattern where somebody described as Hispanic has an important role in helping an immigrant in the border crossing.
The following episode is taken from Toño’s chronicle. At the moment when the
recount starts, Toño had already crossed the border, but he had been robbed of
all his money during the crossing, so he had called someone in Mexico asking
for money to continue the trip.
01 T: entonces, se vino el camión,
me dejó,
yo estaba sentado en la terminal
y estaba otro señor,
y no traía ni un quinto ni pa’ comer,
me dice un muchacho, “No quieres?”
me dío unas papitas de esas que venden en la terminal,
sí, va el security y me dice,
empiezan los securities en la terminal, “Boletos!”
el que no tiene boleto lo sacan,
le digo, “Tu boleto” me dice el security pero en inglés,
le digo “No traigo”,
le digo este, “Estoy esperando un dinero que me van a mandar”, verdad?
 Chapter 6
le dije en inglés,
pero a mí no me gusta hablar en inglés así cuando se platica,
le dije en inglés
y luego dice, “No, te vas a sacar”,
y hablé,
le pregunté que quién era el gerente ahí, el manager, el manager de la
y fue una muchacha, una hispana,
le digo, “Sabes que?”, le digo, “tú sabes que ya pedí el dinero , pero no me
llegó completo verdad?”
este, “Porque no, no” dice este, “Pues vamos,”
ya me llevó con, a la seguridad
y le dice, “Saben que, este muchacho se va a quedar aquí hasta las seis de
la mañana” dice.
01 T: then the bus came,
it left me,
I was sitting at the bus terminal,
and there was another guy,
I didn’t have a cent even to eat,
the young guy tells me, “Do you want some?”
he gave me some potato chips, the kind that they sell at the bus terminal,
right, the security guard comes and tells me,
security guards at the terminal they start, “Tickets!”
they throw out those who have no tickets,
I tell him, “Your ticket” the security guard tells me, but in English,
I tell him, “I don’t have it,”
well I tell him, “I am waiting for some money that they are going to send
to me, right?
I told him in English,
but I don’t like to speak in English like that when having a chat,
I told him in English,
and then he says, “No, you are getting out,”
I went
and I said,
I asked him who was the manager there, the manager, the bus terminal
Identity as social representation 
and a girl came, a Hispanic,
I tell her, “You know what?”, I tell her, “You know I have already asked for
the money, but I haven’t got it all, right?”
well, “Why don’t we,” she says well, “Let’s go,”
so she took me, to the security guards
and she tells them, “You know what? This guy is going to stay here until
six in the morning” she says.
The circumstances in which the girl described as Hispanic acts are typical in
these narratives: The main character is in difficulty and needs help. In this case,
he has lost his money and is therefore unable to pay for a hotel, for food, or for
a new bus ticket. In line 08–17 Toño introduces the security guard and reports
his dialogue with him, underlining that the dialogue occurs in English and
that he doesn’t like to speak in English in informal conversations. The guard
is presented as an antagonist, since he does not want to let him stay in the bus
terminal without a ticket. At this point, Antonio asks for the manager and he
introduces the manager as a Hispanic girl (line 21). The girl acts in the usual
friendly manner. She listens to Toño and then walks up to the security guards
and tells them to let him stay in the bus terminal. Notice that Toño’s mention
of the language spoken and his attitude about it lines 14–16 indicates that the
problem with the guard could have been a problem of understanding, therefore the exchange with the manager could have been smoother because of the
possibility of communicating with each other. But, whatever the possible interpretations of these comments about Toño’s ability or willingness to speak in
English, the fact is that the Hispanic lady is presented as a “friendly” character and a helpful hand in a difficult predicament exactly like the man in Leo’s
The role of Hispanic characters as helpers is also clear in the following
episode in Ciro’s chronicle where the protagonists are in a difficult moment
because they got lost during their journey across the country, ended up in the
New York area, but were unable to secure a job:
01 C: no pues pos nos desanimamos y esto
y vimos la ciudad muy fea
pus si da miedo ((..))
ya agarramos,
“Pus vámonos muchachos”
“Y qué hacemos?”
“Dicen que, que puedes ((..)) encontrar una persona hispana”,
“Oiga que nos dice donde hay trabajo?”
 Chapter 6
“No pus que aquí en esta ciudad,”
((To Ismael)) “Cómo se llama esta ciudad que hay pura fábrica, como se
11 I: New Jersey
12 C: “En New Jersey hay trabajo.”
“Bueno vamos mañana órale!”
01 C: no well we got discouraged and all that
and the city seemed very ugly
well it does scare you ((..))
so we started,
“Well let’s go boys”
“And what shall we do?”
“They say, that you can ((...)) find a Hispanic person”,
“Listen, can you tell us where there is work”?
“Well here in this city,”
((To Ismael)) “How do you call that city full of factories, how do you call
11 I: New Jersey
12 C: “In New Jersey there is work.”
“Ok let’s go come on!”
In this part of the episode Ciro describes the discouragement that he and his
companions felt when they got to New York and found themselves without a
job, but also lost in a city that scared them (lines 01–03). The following action
is described through the reported dialogue among the boys. When one of them
asks the others what they should do, another one is reported as responding
with the idea of looking for a “Hispanic person.” (line 07) The person is presented in 09 as providing the immigrants with the information they need in
order to continue with their journey. The difference with the previous episodes
is that in this case the search for a Hispanic as someone who can help is explicit. We see that the pattern PROTAGONIST NEEDS HELP-HELP IS PROVIDED is repeated in this episode in connection with the presentation of a
character as Hispanic. There appears to be, in other words, a schema that relates
Hispanic identity with positive actions towards the protagonist and therefore
presumably also supports positive evaluations of that specific identity.
The opposite pattern is generally found for characters that are described as
American, and notice that Americans mentioned in the chronicles are always
white Americans. See for example the following text from Sergio’s chronicle:
Identity as social representation 
y, y luego ahí había unos gringos que iban a trabajar,
a hacer de electricidad, soldadura y todo eso,
otro chavo que estaba con el que yo me vine, su hermano, el mayor,
le dijo al gringo que que si me podía llevar a Houston,
para que yo me viniera par acá,
y le dice, “No! no pus no!”
porque cómo? mucho problema llevar a un mojarra no?@@
and, and then there were some gringos who went to work,
who worked as electricians, solderers and all that,
another guy who was with the person I came with, his elder brother,
told the gringo if if he could take me to Houston,
so that I could come here,
and he answers, “No! definitely not!”
because how? too much problem to take a wetback right?@@
In this extract Sergio was talking about his first job in Texas where he was working in a construction site. He wanted to leave Texas to go to Washington and
join his brother, but he had no money. That is why his friend asked one of the
gringos introduced in this story in line 07 to take him to Houston. The gringo
refuses because he does not want to take the risk of helping a wetback (line 11).
The pattern is repeated in the following episode from Leo’s chronicle where
he reports another attempt to ask for food to strangers in a town after crossing
the border:
01 L: y si ya seguimos así (.)
luego: pasando Rivera cual es? (.)
o sea en Rivera ya casi saliendo de Rivera (.)ya casi saliendo de Rivera
nos este al otro día, al otro día andamos pidiendo comida,
en eso nos metimos por una calle ya en Rivera pero del pueblito no?
05 A: Uhu.
 Chapter 6
06 L: nos metimos a una calle
y le fuimos a tocar a un señor, pu:m,
que sale un gavacho!
acá en Inglés y acá: “What do you want” quien sabe qué
y @@@ nos sacó de allí todos no?
10 A: @@@
11 L: No pus salimos corriendo!
01 L: and so we went on like that (.)
the:n after Rivera which one is it? (.) I mean in Rivera almost coming out
from Rivera (.) almost coming out from Rivera we well the day after, the
day after we were asking for food, and in that we went on a street in
Rivera but in the village right?
05 A: Uhu.
06 L: we went on a street
and we went to knock at a man’s door, pu:m,
and a gavacho comes out! in English here, “What do you want” who
knows what
and @@@ he threw us all out of there right?
10 A: @@@
11 L: Well we got out running!
As we can see from all these episodes there is often a link between the presentation of Hispanics as “helping figures” and of Americans as the opposite, and
the utterance of comments about language, so that the possibility of linguistic
communication is clearly one of the strong elements for the presentation of the
category Hispanic as having a positive connection to the self and one indicating
affinity in these kinds of circumstances. At the same time, these connections
with the language also point to the fact that Mexicans understand the category
Hispanic as characterized by common language.
However, the schemata about group relationships that have been presented
as emerging in chronicles are not to be taken as iron rules, but merely as patterns that are found consistently. As such, they do not exclude the presence
of counterexamples where characters violate expectations. For example in the
passage below an American woman offers help to Ciro and his friends :
01 C: caemos a Nueva York a la una de la mañana
02 I: A Manhattan?
03 C: Si ((...)) cantinas y mujeres! así, híjole!
Identity as social representation 
y nosotros, “Híjoles! Y ahora?”
“No muchachos hay que salir de aquí porque no aquí si no:::”,
“Yo he visto en películas que-”
“Como la llevamos?”
nos fuimos al supermercado
y una gringa, gordita ella bien simpática, se preocupó harto,
“Vénganse yo les doy trabajo y que mi- pero díganle a mi suegra que son
amigos, ((...)) que son amigos de mi esposo porque mi suegra me
((...)) y ya por fin que, “No pus que si hay trabajo pero que para tres,”
01 C: we find ourselves in New York at one o clock in the morning.
02 I: In Manhattan?
03 C: Yes((...)) bars and women! Like that, Jesus!
and we, “Jesús! and now?”
“No guys we need to come out of here because here it’s not good”,
“I have seen in films that-”
“How shall we do it?”
we went to a supermarket
and a gringa, chubby and really nice, got very worried,
“Come I’ll give you a job and my- but tell my mother in law that you are
friends, ((...)) that you are friends of my husband otherwise my mother
in law will scold me.”
((...)) and so in the end, “There is work but only for three people,”
In this episode, from Ciro’s chronicle, the narrator describes one of the many
occasions in which he and his friends got lost while traveling within the U.S. It
often happened in the chronicle that the protagonists were told that there were
jobs available in a certain place and they drove in that direction, but they often
lost their way, turning up somewhere else. In this episode Ciro explains how
he and his friends got lost and arrived in New York by chance. Ciro describes
the exchange of negative impressions evoked by the city among the protagonists (01–06) and their uncertainty about what to do (line 07). No solution
was found, but when the protagonists went to the supermarket, help was unexpectedly provided by a “chubby and nice gringa” (line 09) who offered the boys
a job (lines 10). Ciro later relates how the decision was made not to take the job
 Chapter 6
because only three of the friends would have been given employment. But here,
contrary to what typically happens, the “helping character” is an American.
. Being Hispanic in different story worlds: Experiences after settlement
How related is the type of presentation of Hispanic characters in the chronicles
to the story worlds of the border crossing? In other words, are there ‘historical’ changes in the roles of Hispanic characters in the narratives that refer to
life after settlement with respect to the chronicles? The narratives discussed in
examples (1) through (8) illustrate that narrators relating their crossing from
Mexico to the Unites States jointly construct a story schema in which somebody
who is Hispanic acts as a friend in difficult situations and therefore is portrayed
(and sometimes openly evaluated) as collaborative and, in general, generous.
A Hispanic character is seen as someone who is closely related to a character
belonging to the in-group because he/she speaks the same language and sometimes comes from the same country. Evaluations of this character (and implicitly of his “category of membership ”) are therefore usually positive. Conversely,
a white American character is seen as a possible obstacle to the development of
the action and gets associated with negative behavior. The membership category “American” is therefore also implicitly presented as not connected to the
in-group. These properties of story characters lead to the existence of possible shared representations about belongingness to the category Hispanic and
about typical behaviors and traits of people from other groups that are classified as belonging to the category. These shared representations would be part
of the definitions of one’s and others’ identity for Mexican immigrants.
Does the discourse management of the identification category Hispanic
change in the narratives that deal with experiences after settlement? To a certain extent, there is a permanence of the schematic representations that we saw
in chronicles. Hispanic characters appear as sympathetic and helpful also in
these kinds of narratives. As an example, we can look at the closing section of
a narrative told by Ciro in which he finds himself in difficulty and is saved by
a Hispanic man. The narrative is about a fight that Ciro had with an employer
who accused him of not doing his work well. The fight escalated when the employer, after getting in his car with Ciro, asked him to close the door and Ciro
accidentally slammed it. At this point the employer ordered him to get off the
car in the middle of the street. This part of the narrative starts when Ciro is
left alone:
Identity as social representation 
01 C: y era lejos era allá por Bethesda desde aquí en el ‘Seven Eleven’!
no conoces!
03 A: Pues si
04 C: Híjole, yo ya que vi un señor hispano dije, “Oiga señor disculpe, no sabe
por donde puedo llegar a Silver Spring, al Seven Eleven?”
dice, “Y qué anda haciendo aquí?”
ya le conté mi aventura.
“Uh” dice, “Hay gente muy mala!”
“Pero de verdad hombre yo no sabía que su camioneta,
“Yo entendí que que más duro y el me dijo que no tan duro!”
ya me llevó a su casa,
me dió de almorzar el señor ese de de comer,
y ya me vino a dejar,
dice no, “Es que no te voy a dejar tarde porque tengo que hacer cosas.”
si! me vino a dejar.
pero le digo que que son experiencias que no se me olvidan
01 C: and it was far away around Bethesda from here from the ‘Seven Eleven’!
and you don’t know the way!
03 I: Yes!
04 C: God! When I saw a Hispanic man I said, “Listen Sir, excuse me, do you
know which way I could take to Silver Spring, to the Seven Eleven?”
he says, “And what are you doing here?”
so I told him my adventure,
“Uh” he says, “There are very bad people”
“But really man I didn’t know that his van,
I understood that he said harder and he told me not so hard!”
then he took me to his house,
that man gave me lunch something to eat,
and he came to take me home,
he says, “I am not going to take you home late because I have things to
yes! he took me home.
but I tell you that these are experiences that one does not forget
Its is apparent that in this narrative there is a recurrence of the schema that we
have seen at work in the chronicles in that the Hispanic character represents
the “helping figure” when the protagonist needs that help. However, there are
developments in this respect in the narratives of personal experience after the
 Chapter 6
crossing in that Hispanic characters can become direct antagonists and be associated with aggressive behavior and negative evaluations. This change is related
to a reorganization of the “ethnic space” in which the category Hispanic does
not embrace all those who are not “gringos” and unite them under the similarity of language and origins, but can be selectively applied to others and to self
as a category for division, inclusion and exclusion. We saw in fact that in stories
about settlement narrators start using individual or transnational categorizations for characters together with general ethnic labels such as Hispanic, Latino,
White, Black, etc., and also that they oppose specific individual labels to the
“common label” Hispanic/Latino, to indicate distance from specific national
groups (see Raquel’s story about Salvadoran girls in Chapter 5).
These changes in character identification related to the story worlds depicted, are also linked to the differences in the interactional worlds in which
the two types of narratives emerge. While chronicles are elicited as explanations of past events and invoke the narrators’ identity as travelers, narratives
of personal experience are often inserted in open discussions about identity
in the present, they are used to support positions about the role and place of
immigrants as social agents at work and in society, they respond to the need
to explain, justify, defend those roles or positions. Thus the construction of
sameness and difference and the definition of the boundaries between in-group
and out-group varies according to topics and the position of interlocutors. In
addition, since narratives of personal experience are not as monologic as the
chronicles, ascriptions of identity are negotiable and do get negotiated with
the interlocutors. An important change that occurs with narratives that refer
to life after settlement is the more frequent appearance of characters identified as Hispanic in conflict stories. I give an example of a narrative of this kind
below from the interview with Leo, his wife Evelina and his brother Sergio:
01 S:
04 L:
05 S:
y como venía sucio y todo dijo, “Uh,”
con su cara dijo todo, no?
como se me quedó viendo dije “M:”!
Mejor te cambiaste de asiento@.
No, me quedé allí no? pero ps me sentí mal porque se me quedó viendo
así como ahi viéndome con mala cara.
06 L: La otra vez una señora también verdad?
con la que iba[ a cachetear a la señora que iba=
07 E:
L: =a cachetear,
na más que pus cómo le voy a pegar a una señora,
Identity as social representation 
21 E:
23 L:
24 E:
25 L:
29 I:
30 L:
pero yo ya enojado
me vale gorro si es señora o no es señora, la neta
Porque no voy a dejar que me peguen tampoco!
Pero qué te hizo?
Porque iba subiendo al bus no?
y en eso yo estaba yo estaba echando este estaba echando para el transfer
la señora venía pasando con unas bolsas,
y era hispanis,
no más que era morena así como [..],
venía pasando
y me dice ((with despise)) “Get out of my way!”
y volteó así, y[[y me empujó no?
[Hasta lo empu[jó y todo=
=y yo cuando vi que ella le empujaba[yo me iba también=
[y cuando volteé, yo volteé así me
dijo que me quitara no?
=para encima de la señora
Y luego yo como estaba morena y eso yo dije, “A lo mejor no habla no
habla español” no?
pero esta me dice, “Qué pasó qué”?
ella ya estaba hasta atrás en el bus,
yo, “No esta ruca de quien sabe qué!”
((imitating the angry lady)) “A mi no me diga ruca pinche quien @sabe
me empezó a decir pero en[ español!
[Oh [..] ilegal que esto,
Me dijo ilegal!
y que el otro que vienen aquí a,
y le dije [....]
pero le agarré y le, acá no?
yo no, o sea unas groserias yo le dije ah, le dije,
y me hizo así con su bolsa,
Yo creo pensó que yo me iba a dejar como los los inditos no? que les
empiezan a hablar en inglés o acá y ya ((...))
yo le dije, “Tu no me pones a mi para que ((...))”
me quería pegar con su bolsa
 Chapter 6
y le dije, “Pégame y te golpeo”, acá,
y cuando vio que le iba a dar el el ((...)) mejor se hizo para atrás,
ya no dijo nada.
Pero ella de dónde era?
Era como mexicana verdad?
Ah hispana también.
Una hispana era hispana
pero me estaba hablando no más en puro[ inglés.
01 S:
04 L:
05 S:
06 L:
07 E:
11 A:
12 L:
13 A:
14 L:
21 E:
22 E:
23 L:
and since I was dirty and all she said,“Uh,”
with her face she said all, right?
And since she kept on staring at me I said, “M:!”
You decided to change seats@.
No, I stayed there right? But I felt bad because she kept on staring at me
like that like looking at me with a bad face.
The other time a lady also right?
With whom I was going [ to slap the lady that I was=
=going to slap,
except that how can I hit a lady,
but I was very angry,
I don’t care if she is a lady or not, the truth,
because I am not going to let somebody hit me either!
But what did she do to you?
Because I was getting on the bus, right?
and I was putting coins in for the transfer right?
the lady was passing by with the bags,
and she was Hispanic,2
just that she was dark skinned like[..],
she was passing,
and she tells me,((with despise)) “Get out of my way3 !”
and she turned like this[
[and she pushed=
[she even pu[shed him and all=
=me, right?
=and when I saw that she was pushing him[I was=
[and when I turned around
like that she told me to get out,
Identity as social representation 
24 E: =going to throw myself on the lady,
25 L: and then since she was dark skinned I thought, “May be she doesn’t
speak Spanish well, right?
but she tells me, “What is going on”?
she was already at the back of the bus,
and I, “No this old hag whatever whatever”
29 I: @@@@
30 L: ((imitating the angry lady)) “Don’t call me old hag whatever whatever!”
she started telling me but[in Spanish!
32 E:
[Oh ((...)) illegal and this,
33 L: She called me illegal!
and all and that you come here to,
and I told her ((...))
but I got hold of her, like that right?
I don’t,I mean I told her insults, uh, I told her,
and she went like that to me with her bag,
39 A: Uhu.
40 L: I think that she thought that I was going to let her do like the Indios4
right? When they are spoken to in English and that’s it((...))
I told her, “Do not do that to me so that ((...))”
she wanted to hit me with a bag,
and I told her, “ Hit me and I hit you” and all that,
and when she saw that I was going to give her the ((...)) she better backed
didn’t say anything else.
46 A: But where was she from?
47 L: She was like Mexican right?
48 A: Oh Hispanic, Hispanic too.
49 L: A Hispanic she was Hispanic
but she was talking to me [only in English
51 E:
Leo produced this narrative as a second story (Ryave 1978), after his brother
Sergio had told a first story to back up a claim that there was discrimination by
blacks against Hispanics. Sergio’s narrative was centered on a conflict with two
black ladies who had looked at him with despise on a bus. The end of the story
is reproduced in lines 01–03 where Sergio describes how the ladies looked at
him with disgust and Leo asks him if he changed his seat. Leo links his evaluation of a similar experience that he had on the bus with this narrative (lines
06–12), but does not tell the story until I explicitly ask him to (line 13). I do
 Chapter 6
so because of his emotionally charged evaluations of the antagonist’s behavior and of his reactions to her (lines 09–12). The story follows the pattern described for stories of inter group conflict in that the complicating action starts
and develops following an aggression on the part of the antagonist: a push and
an order to get out of the way (lines 18–20). In this case, the reaction of the
protagonists is very strong in that both Leo and his wife, Evelina, report that
they fought back. Evelina describes how she was going to hit the lady (lines 22
and 24), while Leo depicts himself as engaged in an exchange of insults (line
28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 37) and in the physical act of grabbing her (line 36). The
antagonist is plainly described as a Hispanic woman (line 16) who does not
want to speak Spanish although she knows it. In fact Sergio underlines in the
evaluation that he thought that she was not Hispanic because she looked dark
skinned to him (line 25) and that when he spoke in Spanish she understood
him and reacted (line 30–34). In Evelina and Leo’s joint reconstruction of the
dialogue that took place between the two antagonists (lines 31–34) the lady did
answer back to Leo in Spanish but she called him ‘illegal’. This line in the dialogue is very significant because by accusing Leo of being an illegal worker,
the lady underlines her distance from him and their difference in the light of a
possible community given by their speaking the same language. It is also interesting that unlike other stories of inter group conflict, in this narrative there is a
resolution in which the narrator presents the protagonist as prevailing over the
antagonist. It is also interesting to notice how emotionally charged this narrative is. A very strong negative affective orientation (Ochs & Schieffelin 1989) is
encoded through many linguistic devices. External evaluation is one of them,
since Leo explicitly condemns the antagonist’s attitude, establishes his right to
react, and differentiates himself from what he calls the “Indians”, i.e. the native
Latin American Indians, who, besides being the most exploited minority in
Latin American countries, are also well known for their tolerance and submission (line 40). However, there are also a number of “affect keys” interspersed
throughout the narrative Notice for example, the performance devices that Sergio uses to mimic the voice of the antagonist as a ‘negative’ voice (lines 19 and
30), the use of affectively charged words in his own responses (the insulting
pinche ruca (old hag)), the emphasis given to actions through the repetition of
crucial lines uttered by Evelina (lines 21 and 32), the use of pronouns to mark
opposition (line 40 She thought that I was going to let her do), the increase in
pitch (line 30). All these devices convey anger and a strong sense of rejection.
Here we also see that the identity of the woman as Hispanic, which Leo presents
as salient, is subject to negotiation (see my question in line 46) and eventually
accepted as relevant to the action by all participants (line 48).
Identity as social representation 
This narrative illustrates how, although the category Hispanic is used both
for self and for other categorization in chronicles and narratives of settlement,
in the latter, it is used in more subtle and polemic ways to unite and divide,
to express identification, but also distance. In fact it is true that being Hispanic
(or Latino, since no clear distinction is marked in discourse between the two
terms) carries throughout the chronicles and the narratives of personal experience a positive valence associated with “group belongingness” (defined by
community in language and/or in country). Yet, it also carries all the weight
of an “imposed” identity, an identity that overrides other, important, distinctions. Therefore, the construction of one’s own identity within this category in
narratives of settlement (and at the same time within talk over present identity)
clearly shows ambiguities and conflicts between defensive identifications, positive identifications, self-ascribed or other-ascribed characteristics and therefore
a great variation in the implications of being Hispanic in different story worlds
and in connection with different topics. As Louw-Potgieter & Giles notice, the
idea that people have relative freedom of choice regarding identification with
a group “ignores the fact that some groups, or some group members, possess
more power than others and, by virtue of this power, can impose their notion
of identity upon the less powerful” (1998: 106–107).
These conflicts and ambiguities emerge clearly in narratives where immigrants describe themselves as Hispanics since this identity can be managed as a
positive choice, or as an imposition by others, as an affirmation of belongingness, or as a negation of sameness, depending on the topic of discourse and the
story world evoked. The following openly argumentative narrative provides an
example of the management of being Hispanic as a choice. Ciro told the story
in response to a question on being an illegal immigrant.
01 A: Pero es que ven que aquí hay mucha gente que está en contra de los
ilegales no?
Mucha gente que dice que que no tienen que venir aquí y que no se qué,
este, qué piensan de eso ustedes.
04 C: Uhu
05 V: Si.
06 C: Bueno yo pienso por ejemplo de que de eso, pues en mi caso mío
personal y en el de todos no?
venimos a trabajar,
no venimos a, pus a qu[itarle nada a nadie.
09 V:
[a robarles.
10 A: Uhu.
 Chapter 6
11 C: El simple hecho de que nos paramos en una zona de empleo tres
mexicanos, tres negros y tres gringos, de que primero se van a trabajar
dos hispanos y un gringo y un moreno si es cierto.
casi por lo regular la gente hispana trabaja muy duro, no?
13 A: Uhu.
14 C: Sera que en nuestros países estamos acostumbrados a lo duro,
trabajamos muy grueso
y no sé si ese sea el motivo de que muchos nos tienen coraje por eso.
17 A: Eso digo yo.
18 C: Porque, en las centrales de trabajos a mi en Immokalee en Flórida me
entramos a trabajar dos hispan[os20 A:
[Cómo se llama? Immokalee?
21 C: Immokalee, es cerca de Miami.
22 A: Ya.
23 C: Entramos a trabajar dos hispanos allí
y ya para media semana ya habíamos entrado los ocho mexicanos que
porque nos vieron como trabajamos,
y los morenos no!
echaban dos cajas,
se sentaban un rato
y uhm se fumaban @un cigarro.
Y no los hispanos no.
31 V: Pe[ro es este32 C:
[Una porque vemos que venimos a trabajar
y dos porque venimos, necesitamos el trabajo,
si nosotros tuviéramos un poquito de trabajo no mucho,
y que nos pagaran muy bien en México,
no tendríamos nada que venirnos,
en los años de los sesentas no había mucho ilegal mucho, por lo mismo
que todavía uno podía sobrevivir,
ahora, que si ellos (.) el gobierno sabe bien, si ellos pusieran un hasta
aquí como cuando la ley Simpson Rodin, no estaríamos aquí.
01 A: But you see that here there are many people that are against illegal
workers right?
many people that say that you should not come here, and other things,
well what do you think about that.
Identity as social representation
04 C: Uhu=
05 V: =Yes.
06 C: Well I think for example that in my personal case and in everybody’s case
We come to work
we do not come to, well to ta[ke anybody’s job=
09 V:
[to steal.
C: =away,
10 A: Uhu.
11 C: The simple fact that we stand in a working area three Mexicans, three
blacks and three gringos, and that first two Hispanics get the job and
then one gringo and one dark skinned is true,
generally Hispanics work very hard right?
13 A: Uhu.
14 C: May be because in our countries we are used to hardship,
we work very hard,
and I don’t know if this is the reason why many are angry at us because
of that,
17 A: That’s what I say.
18 C: Because, at job centers it has happened to me in Immoktalee in Florida
that happened to me,
we started working two Hispani[cs20 A
[What is it called? Immoktalee?
21 C: Immoktalee, it’s near Miami.
22 A: I see.
23 C: We were two Hispanics who got the job there
and by the middle of the week the eight of us Mexicans that came had
got a job, because they saw the way we worked,
and the dark skinned didn’t!
they moved two boxes,
and they sat for a while,
and uhm they smoked @a cigarette,
and the Hispanics didn’t.
31 V: Bu[t its’s well32
[First because we see that we come to work
and second because we come, we need the work,
if we had some work even a little not much,
and we got paid well in Mexico,
we would have no reason to come here,
 Chapter 6
in the sixties there were not many illegal workers, precisely because one
could still survive,
now, if they(.) the government knows well, if they put a stop to it like
with the Simpson Rodino Law, we would not be here.
The narrative produced by Ciro represents an attempt to build and negotiate a
positive identity in the context of a discussion on the role of undocumented immigrants. The question that elicited the story was in fact directed at soliciting
Ciro and Virginia’s opinions about negative attitudes towards “illegal workers” (01). I posed the question openly referring to an intertext, the voice of
‘many people’, which can be identified as the voice of the mainstream, echoed
through the mass media, the political apparatus, and circulated in every day
conversations. This open recourse to the intertext allows me as an interviewer
to distance myself from negative positions on immigration (since these are presented as the voices of others, not my own) while managing to elicit a response.
But the wording of the question frames Ciro and Virginia’s possible responses
as a defense and as involving their identity not as individuals, but as undocumented workers. Ciro, in his response, accepts to take up a collective identity through the pronoun we (which could refer to undocumented workers or
to Mexican undocumented workers). He then articulates the defense arguing
that he and all undocumented workers come to the U.S. to work, not to take
people’s jobs (lines 07–08) or, as Virginia adds, to steal (line 09). This defense
clearly responds to an implied, shared voice in the intertext that describes undocumented Mexicans as either taking away jobs who legitimately belong to
members of local communities, or as delinquents. The equation between undocumented immigration and crime is, in fact, one of the well-established arguments of the anti-immigrant rhetoric.5 Between lines 11 and 12 Ciro also
starts developing his claim that Hispanics work harder than local groups, a
claim related to the statement that undocumented immigrants come primarily
to work. He illustrates the claim by saying that if the same number of Mexicans, of blacks and gringos stand in line for a job, the Mexicans will be chosen in
a higher proportion than the others. Notice that in the claim, Ciro uses first the
self-including reference we Mexicans and then the reference Hispanics basically
as equivalent terms, since he uses them to designate the same referents. This
equivalence is maintained throughout his narrative. In line 12 he elaborates on
his claim saying that Hispanics work very hard, and then alternates this referring term with the pronouns we and us in lines 14, 15, 16. In particular in (14)
he uses the expression in our countries, in the plural to indicate that Mexico is
Identity as social representation
one of the countries from which Hispanics come, and therefore that Mexicans
are a subset of the group Hispanics.
The narrative starting in line 19 illustrates the claim through presentation
of personal experience, a typical function of argumentative stories (see Chapter
5), since the lived nature of the experience gives more substance to the claim
and makes it rhetorically more convincing.6 The narrative centers on the following events: when Ciro and his companions were in Florida, all of them eventually got hired because the employer saw how hard they worked in comparison
with blacks who did not work so hard. Notice that Ciro refers to himself and
to his companions as Hispanics in line 19 and 23, and then switches to the eight
of us Mexicans in line 24. Again he opposes the in-group (Hispanics/Mexicans)
to the out-group: the blacks, who do not want to work as hard. The opposition
between blacks and Hispanics is again repeated in line 30. Then, Ciro switches
back to the pronoun we in the evaluation of the story where he reiterates that
the reason why Mexican (or Hispanic) illegal immigrants arrive in the U.S. is
the need to work (lines 32–36) From this point he goes on to argue that if the
government had no interest in maintaining an illegal Mexican work force, there
would be less illegal immigration (line 38).
Thus in Ciro’s argument there has been a shift from my focus on undocumented workers to a focus on Mexicans, and then on Mexicans as Hispanics.
In fact we have seen that he uses the referring terms Hispanics and Mexicans
as equivalent in his story. His argument and the shifts in reference, show that
he considers being Hispanic part of the identity of being Mexican. To be hardworking is a trait that characterizes Hispanics (and therefore also Mexicans)
and it opposes them (as immigrants) to local groups. The assumption of a positive Hispanic identity in this story is strategic in that it allows Ciro to reject
a characterization of Mexican undocumented workers as parasitic but also to
share the responsibility of entering the country illegally with a wider group of
people. This narrative shows that self-identification as Hispanic, and with specific traits characterizing the group, can be an argumentative move to sustain a
positive image of the self.
However, we have seen that disaffiliation is also present in discourse about
Hispanics in narratives about everyday experiences. Self-characterization as
Hispanic in those narratives does not necessarily imply a positive choice, but
can also be presented as the result of identification by others. This is the case
with stories of conflict where immigrants report different kinds of troubles.
A very clear illustration of this conflicting use of the self-reference Hispanic,
comes in a story where Juan described the first time the police stopped him
 Chapter 6
when he was driving and how this produced in him an irrational fear. After he
told me the story, I inquired about its outcome:
01 A:
02 J:
03 A:
05 J:
15 A:
Y no the hizo nada el policía?
No. Ni un ticket ni nada.
Pero por?- Ah! the paró en la calle,
estabas manejando.
No, iba, iba manejando entonces,
traemos ahorita una camioneta,
la fuimos a comprar a Pennsylvania,
trae unas placas de cartón no?
yo creo que por eso, no, nos pararon no?
bueno, primero me alcanzó (.) mmmh,
vió que todos éramos hispanos,
y luego nos detuvo.
(.) y ahí nos dijo, que los pape:les ya, todo esto ya,
pero, no nos dijo nada.
A: And the policeman didn’t do anything to you?
J: No. Not a ticket nothing.
A: But- Why?- Oh! He stopped you on the street,
you were driving.
J: No, I, was driving and so,
we have a new van now,
we went to buy it in Pennsylvania,
it has provisional tags right?
I think that this is why they did, they stopped us right?
well, first he caught up with me (.) mmmh,
he saw that we were all Hispanics,
and then he stopped us.
(.) and so he asked us, for our papers, all that,
but, he didn’t say anything.
A: Uhu.
In the story world evoked in this narrative, Juan was with Mexican relatives,
nonetheless in line 11 he identifies himself and the others as Hispanics. This
identification is functional to his proposed interpretation of the reasons why
he was stopped by the policeman. His first answer is that he was stopped be-
Identity as social representation
cause he had provisional tags (line 09), but later he reformulates his explanation (as indicated by the use of well, a marker that according to Schiffrin, 1987
often accompanies repairs) and presents a sequence in which the policeman
first reaches the car, then sees that all the occupants are Hispanics, and finally
stops them. The temporal ordering of the action is constructed as to present being stopped as a consequence of being identified as Hispanics. In this case Juan,
like Ciro, has merged his identity as Mexican with his identity as Hispanic, but
the merging is a polemic more than a positive choice, since it is the result of
the look of the policeman, a look that in a way recasts an attitude of people in
position of authority in the United States.
. Conclusions
In this chapter I have shown that in order to capture the development of aspects of the identity of a group, it is necessary to attend to patterns involving
actions, roles and evaluations, but also that since these patterns tend to crystallize something which is both evolving and profoundly context dependent,
exclusive reliance on schematic representations to analyze identity should be
avoided. I have looked at the evolution of a sense of self in relation to the category Hispanic, as an unavoidable point of reference for Mexicans who come to
the United States. I have shown that both in the identification of others and of
oneself as Hispanic it is possible to find elements that define belongingness. In
fact, certain traits and certain behaviors are consistently assigned to Hispanic
characters and these elements lead to positive evaluations of the way Hispanics are and of the things that they have in common with Mexicans. I have also
shown that there are aspects of stability in these patterns in that they recur in
narratives that refer to different moments in the experience of migration and
different sets of story worlds. In that sense these patterns may constitute the
basic material for building self-representations that are in turn, basic to identities. Within these patterns being Hispanic implies being to a certain extent in
the same community.
However, communities are built in different ways according to different
worlds so that for example, the in-group is opposed to a rather undifferentiated out-group in the chronicles, while the boundaries of in-group and outgroup become more permeable in the narratives relaying experience after settlement. The definitions of what being Hispanic means and who is Hispanic
also have been shown to be sensitive topics of interaction that make negotiation and conflict more salient. Thus, in open discussions about their role in
 Chapter 6
society, Mexicans may stress their identity as Hispanics with certain characteristics, but they may also underline distance and division, the lack of a community with shared values when faced with other kinds of questions. In addition,
narrators have also been shown to manage identification as Hispanics as an
other-assigned identity, the product of oppression and discrimination by society’s others. These insights in the use of a particular category of identification
show the centrality of close analysis of text and talk in the study of what identifying categories mean, but also the multiple determinations that operate on
discursive constructions themselves.
Chapter 7
At the beginning of this book I argued for the need to study “subjective” factors in migration in order to gain a deeper understanding of the processes of
adjustment and adaptation that immigrants go through when moving to a new
country, and therefore also to be able to fight stereotyped visions, prejudices
and ignorance about them. I attempted to contribute to this enterprise from
the particular perspective offered by discourse analysis, since I consider discourse not simply a tool for the expression of meanings that pre-exist in people’s minds, but a practice constitutive of reality and therefore central to our
understanding of how meanings are generated. In particular, I attempted to
show that narrative is an ideal locus for the study of identity since narratives
are always subjectively and culturally determined versions of personal experience, and narrators consistently use linguistic mechanisms and strategies that
can be related to conceptions of the self, its role, and its relationships to others.
In the following sections I summarize the findings presented in the book
in relation to the questions posed in the introduction. I describe what we learn
from the analysis about the identity of the Mexican immigrants interviewed
in terms of the projection, representation, and re-elaboration of social roles
and relationships, and of their expression of membership into communities.
I then discuss how my work relates to current developments in the study of
storytelling and identity. I conclude with an analysis of perspectives for future
research and open questions.
Social roles, agency and membership into communities
In Chapter 3 I analyzed the encoding of social roles, particularly the implicit
conception of the relationship between individual and community in the narratives of personal experience told by the immigrants. I looked at pronominal
choices as I argued that by using pronouns in certain ways speakers may em-
 Chapter 7
phasize individual or collective orientation both in terms of presenting themselves as individual or collective protagonists in the story world, and in terms
of stressing the personal or general significance of their experiences. I characterized the narrative discourse of these immigrants as other-oriented. Other
orientation was related to the frequent use of the pronoun nosotros in personal stories, to its distribution in different clause types, to instability in the
choice between the pronouns yo and nosotros in the narratives, and to the use
of pronouns (like tu, Usted, and se) that represent various levels of detachment from the self as a specific individual. I also found that the Mexican immigrants interviewed told many stories that were mainly in the nosotros form, and
that they often did so in response to questions about individual experiences.
This tendency to tell collective stories in response to individual questions was
found also in the interviews when immigrants responded to tu questions with
nosotros answers. While stressing other orientation, immigrants also appeared
to present their experience as not unique, but potentially shareable with other
immigrants who might find themselves in the same situation. They underlined
the non-uniqueness of their stories and their generalizability in codas and often
shifted the focus from themselves as the center of the story to other characters,
or to the interviewer.
In Chapter 4 I looked at another aspect of the expression of identity in
narrative discourse: the construction of agency in relation to social experience.
This time I analyzed a different set of story worlds, those related to the crossing of the border, and a different type of narrative, the chronicle. Agency was
studied in reported speech in relation to linguistic strategies used to represent
actions performed by characters in the story. The analysis centered on the initiation of speech acts, looking at the role of different agents initiating them,
and at the types of speech acts that were initiated. I concluded that the narrators did not stress an agentive role for themselves in the story worlds depicted,
since although their words as protagonists were often reported, the speech acts
that they reported were mainly internal reactions. I also found that in chronicles agency increased with the group both in the sense that actions that were
never reported as realized by narrators in individual chronicles (such as proposals), were realized by the chorus in collective chronicles, and in the sense
that in collective chronicles more agentive acts (such as requests) were more
frequent than less agentive acts (such as internal evaluations), when narrators
spoke as groups.
These findings need to be put in perspective since the chronicles narrate
the border crossing experience, and the way that experience is presented by
immigrants cannot be readily generalized to other story worlds. Nonetheless,
Conclusions 
comparing the findings of these two chapters and keeping in mind that they
deal with different story worlds, possible commonalities in the implicit roles
that narrators are assigned in stories become apparent. In both cases there is a
stress on the connection between the individual and the people who surround
her/him. In personal narratives, the individual is often presented as a member
of a collectivity formed by her/his relatives or friends. In the chronicles the individual is presented as more agentive when he is a member of a group. This
tendency to stress the importance of group agency also underlies the detailed
representation of group negotiations in reported speech in the chronicles. The
interdependency between self and others is also underscored through reporting of the positive intervention of strangers in the chronicles, who are often
depicted in the role of helping characters with respect to the immigrants. Thus,
in both data sets I have found that Mexican immigrants use different linguistic
mechanisms and strategies that underscore the importance of the role of the
collectivity over the role of the individual in their life. At the same time, they
implicitly underplay their agency and personal involvement/initiative as characters in particular worlds of experience and tend to narrate stories in which
they do not stand out as protagonists, but rather impersonate roles that are not
central in the unfolding of the action. We have seen that these aspects of the
conception of identity are not openly discussed by the immigrants, but emerge
implicitly through the manipulation of specific linguistic resources
In Chapters 5 and 6 I analyzed identification categories and strategies in
orientation clauses and in abstracts of both narratives and chronicles, and
found that in narratives referring to both sets of story worlds, ethnicity stands
out as the main category for the description of characters. I showed that ethnicity was contextualized in different ways in stories. Sometimes it was explicitly incorporated in argumentative narratives that were told to back up a variety of positions about the differences and similarities between immigrants
and members of other groups. In other narratives, it was contextualized as a
category invoked by characters in the story world. Still in other cases, the ethnicity of characters was simply mentioned, but not explicitly related to specific
story world or interactional world meanings. I concluded that besides its contextual meanings in particular stories, ethnicity has also a social meaning to
immigrants that goes beyond what is told in specific stories and said in specific
interactional worlds.
In Chapter 6 I analyzed meanings associated with self and other characterization as Hispanic. I showed that narratives center on relatively stable relationships between identities and actions and that these recurrent patterns
can be seen as reflecting schematic representations about self and others. In
 Chapter 7
the case of the description Hispanic for example, I showed that there is a general tendency to treat Hispanic characters as helping characters (and a corresponding tendency to treat American characters as unhelpful) and that being
Hispanic is usually presented as having positive connotations and as constituting a category of shared membership. However, I also discussed how membership ascriptions and schematic representations are subject to interactional
negotiations, changes and contextual determinations of all kinds. Immigrants
discuss and contradict expectations derived from the characteristics that they
usually connect with being Hispanic, and charge that identity with continuously evolving meanings since associations of self with certain ethnicities and
distancing from them often appear to be strategic moves related to the domain
of discourse and the world of experience evoked.
. Storytelling, discourse, identity
The analyses and results presented in this book allow us to answer some questions about the relationship between narrative and identity, but also leave others open to discussion. I believe that I have shown how for example a discourse
analytic approach to narrative can afford an understanding of explicit and implicit aspects of the construction of identity by members of a particular community. Identities emerge through the narrators’ manipulation of linguistic
choices that construct specific relationships with aspects of the story worlds
depicted, of the interactional world in which the stories are told, and of the
social context that frames the more local context. Although these relationships
are always simultaneously created, the analysis can focus on one or the other
in order to highlight a particular aspect of the construction of identity. When
we focus on the relationship between linguistic choices (such as choice of pronouns, of voicing devices or identifying expressions) and specific story worlds,
we can gain insight on the roles that speakers assign to themselves and others in those story worlds, and therefore examine ways of representing the self
in those circumstances. In this type of analysis, we address a level of identity
that is more projected than openly discussed. Comparison of the positioning
of narrators with respect to different story worlds can lead us to discover commonalities or differences in the representation of the self from one world of
experience to another. For example, when I compared the use of pronouns in
the stories and the attribution of speech acts in the chronicles, I concluded that
both choices had in common a greater stress on collective than on individual
agency. When I compared identification categories in the chronicles and in the
Conclusions 
narratives of personal experience, I found that there were important differences
in the saliency and use of ethnic categories.
Other interesting aspects of identity construction emerge when we focus
on the relationship between the narrators’ linguistic choices and aspects of
the interactional world. I have explored this question when I analyzed ways
in which ethnic identifications are contextualized by speakers in relation to arguments that they make about themselves and others in ongoing discussions
with the interviewer. In these cases the analysis of identity in storytelling leads
to a more explicit level of construction, that of the conversational negotiation
about who we and others are. Such facets of identity are also highly sensitive
to the relationships between interviewers and interviewees. However, the contexts pertinent to the expression of identity in story telling are not only the
narrated story worlds and the local interactions in which the stories are produced. I argued that the telling of particular stories and the way identities are
constructed, should also be understood in relation to aspects of the wider social
context in which they are produced. Among these aspects, the dominant discourses about immigrants stand as one of the most important. This intertextual
dimension is crucial to the analysis of identity in stories since the identities that
are built in discourse are also shaped in response to the need to fight or confirm socially constructed narratives about the self. Thus, when Mexican immigrants produce argumentative stories supporting the point that Hispanics are
hard working, for example, (see Chapter 6), they are responding to, and establishing a dialogue not only with questions posed by me as an interviewer, but
also with invisible interlocutors who produce discourses about undocumented
immigrants circulating in society.
Finally, the representation/construction of the self in different worlds of
experience and in different interactional contexts cannot be understood without reference to wider social processes and cultural expectations that frame
and surround the migration of Mexican workers. A concrete example of ways
in which social processes impact on narrative identity is the generalization of
specific classification practices as tools for the interpretation of reality; in this
case, the centrality of the construct of ethnicity, which is commonly used as an
interpretive frame in the United States, has been related to ethnic mentions as
a generalized practice in story telling by immigrants.
Tracing these multiple connections between particular identity claims or
self representations and the contexts that interact with them is extremely complex, but is also a necessary task if one is to avoid both essentialist claims and
anecdotal analyses. If on the one hand it is true that the identities that people build in discourse are never the same, are partly co-produced with the
 Chapter 7
interlocutors, and are highly sensitive to the constraints of the interactional
context, on the other hand it is also true that local contexts are framed by social and historical circumstances and that narrators rely on implicit and shared
understandings about themselves and others, on dominant ideologies and on
established social relationships. The current debate over identity opposes representational views against interactional or performative views.1 The former are
often associated with the assumption that identity is based on cognitive categories that are reproduced in discourse, while the latter are associated with
the assumption that identities are constructed in discourse through members’
orientations (Edwards 1998). Although such theoretical approaches have generated very different models of narrative analyses, they need not be seen as
incompatible. While the claim that identities cannot be treated as properties of
individuals and that they need to be seen as emergent in context is valid, it is
also true that a host of cultural and cognitive factors intervene in the process.
Thus for example, in the particular case that I analyzed in this book, the strategies of other orientation and depersonalization and the diminished agency that
emerge in the narrative discourse produced by Mexican immigrants can partly
be related to the local context of interaction, partly to the context of the socioeconomic reality in which they live, and partly to the cultural background of
the narrators. The focus away from the individual as the protagonist of narratives related to migration and settlement, appears in part as a response to a
perception of the interviewer as a possible judge of the situation of illegality
in which immigrants live and as a member (although a sympathetic one) of
the dominant culture. However, there is also a clear dependence on collective
support and social interconnection in the everyday life of immigrants and in
their fight for survival. Finally, there is a cultural background that stresses the
role of family and social ties over the role of individual as an arbiter of his/her
own destiny. All these contexts interplay with the specific discourse on identity
that the immigrants interviewed produced. These interconnections point to
the need to look at both representational and performative aspects in the process of identity construction and to attend to its locally constructed character,
but also to its ties with existing discourses, cognitive representations, ideologies
and social relations.
Summarizing, I have stressed the interplay of linguistic choices and strategies in story telling with different contexts: the narrated story worlds, the interactional worlds (both local and global), and the wider worlds of social experience. I have argued that the analysis of the way language choices relate to
these different contexts allows us to look at different aspects of the expres-
Conclusions 
sion of identity, all of which constitute the pieces of a mosaic that is always
in the making.
Story telling reflects the interplay of all these levels of meaning, but also
constitutes a type of discourse practice. When immigrants tell stories they create new meanings, they circulate and constitute images of themselves and others, interpretations of the migration process and of their roles in it. Other immigrants often act according to what they hear from stories and form opinions
based on stories. In all these senses, story telling like other discourse genres, is
an unfolding social activity in that it both reflects and makes the world as it is.
. Concluding remarks and perspectives for future research
The limitations of a study of this kind are evident: I have been dealing with
stories told by fourteen immigrants, a very small universe that has nonetheless presented me with an immense challenge in terms of transcription and
analysis. A methodology like the one employed in this work does not allow
the handling of much larger corpora and therefore the generalizability of its
findings is necessarily limited. Yet, a discourse analytic approach does not seek
general truths, but rather a deeper understanding of the problems it seeks to
There are some questions that I have answered, but many other questions
have surfaced along the way, and are open to further investigation. For example, in order to look for commonalities in the presentation of self, I have overlooked possible differences even within the small group of informants that I
have investigated. Although I have not discussed gender, there are important
differences between men and women in the way they talk about themselves.
I have not been able to address this question because of the limited number
of informants that I had. This is certainly a very important topic to pursue in
the future.
Another topic to pursue in the future would be for example the variability of storytelling practices among different groups of Mexican immigrants,
such as documented and undocumented workers, or recently arrived and more
established individuals. Further research could explore for example ways in
which story telling practices change if we compare different groups of immigrants and answer questions like the following: Do story topics change? Do
ways of representing the crossing change? Is the focus on individual achievement stronger among more established immigrants? Do they still stress their
ties with friends, family and other workers?
 Chapter 7
Also, although I have theoretically recognized the impact of the interviewing context in the telling of the narratives, my analysis of the influence of this
context on the way immigrants talk about themselves has been limited by the
fact that I had no data from other contexts. The analysis of narratives told
spontaneously by immigrants in other contexts would be another important
direction of research in order to compare ways in which identities are built in
different interactional encounters and with different interlocutors.
Recognizing the limitations that I have discussed, I think that the value
of this study lies in having attempted to exemplify in what ways a discourse
centered approach to the question of the interplay between migration and the
expression of identity can enhance our understanding of those processes. A
discourse centered approach recognizes the complexity of the relationship between the way groups and individuals represent themselves and the different
facets of those experiences. It also recognizes the processual nature of the formation of identity and its different contextual determinants, it does not imply
that immigrants display certain identities because of a cultural essence, or because they belong to a certain class, or because they have a certain place in the
production world. It stresses the fact that immigrants say certain things about
how they and others are, portray themselves in certain roles, build similarities
and oppositions with others in ways that are not fixed, but can change according to what they are talking about and who they are talking to. Furthermore, my
approach recognizes that immigrants use their linguistic resources in original
ways, but also within the limits imposed by the surrounding social discourses
and social practices.
To characterize the picture that emerges from this kind of analysis, I would
use the metaphor of the mosaic. A discourse-based study of identity produces
an image that is made of many small pieces, all of which contribute to build
the whole.
Appendix 1
Interview log
Preguntas generales
¿Cómo se llama?
¿Qué edad tiene?
¿En qué trabaja?
¿Fue a la escuela? ¿Hasta qué edad?
¿Está casado-a? Tiene hijos?
¿Dónde nació?
¿Habla inglés?
¿Qué idioma se habla en su casa?
¿Hace cuánto tiempo esta acá?
¿Ha vuelto a México alguna vez?
La emigración
Cuénteme cómo llegó aquí.
¿Qué recuerda de cuando llegó?
¿Qué impresión le hizo el país?
¿Qué diferencia vio con México?
¿Cómo encontró trabajo?
¿Cómo encontró casa?
Cuénteme algo que le ha pasado y que recuerda mucho, algo que le impactó
de manera especial (de manera positiva o negativa).
El presente
¿Cómo es su barrio?
¿Qué le parece la vida aquí?
¿Cómo es la gente aquí?
¿La gente de aquí es diferente a la gente de México?
¿Con qué tipo de gente tiene contactos?
¿Usted se identifica con un grupo o una comunidad?
¿Cómo se siente en su trabajo?
¿Qué hace en el tiempo libre?
 Appendix 1
El pasado
26. ¿Cómo era su familia? Cómo era su pueblo?
27. ¿Qué recuerda más de su vida de antes?
28. ¿Cual fue el acontecimiento que más influenció su vida y su manera de ser?
El futuro
29. ¿Cuáles son sus objetivos en la vida?
30. ¿Usted ha cambiado estando aquí? ¿De qué manera?
31. ¿Piensa quedarse o volver?¿ Por qué?
General questions
What is your name?
How old are you?
What is your profession?
Did you go to school? Until what age?
Are you married? Do you have children?
Where were you born?
Do you speak English?
What language do you speak at home?
How long have you been here for?
Have you gone back to Mexico since you came?
The migration
Tell me how you got here.
What do you remember most of when you came?
What impression did you get about this country?
What differences do you see with Mexico?
How did you get a job?
How did you find a house?
Tell me something that happened to you here that you remember very
much, something that made an impression on you (in a positive or negative
The present
18. What is your neighborhood like?
19. How do you like life here?
Interview log 
How are people here?
Are they any different in Mexico?
With what kind of people are you in contact?
Do you identify yourself with any group or community?
How do you feel on the work place?
What do you do in your free time?
The past
26. How was your family? How was your village?
27. What you remember most about the life you had life before?
28. What event influenced your life and way of being the most?
The future
29. What are your objectives in life?
30. Do you feel that you have changed living here? How?
31. Do you plan to stay here or to go back to Mexico? Why?
Appendix 2
Transcription conventions
[ ]
-> (line)
Independent clause
Non linguistic actions
Noticeable pause
Uncertain transcription
Falling intonation followed by noticeable pause (as at end of
declarative sentence)
Rising intonation followed by noticeable pause (as at end of interrogative sentence)
Continuing intonation: may be a slight rise or fall in contour (less
than ““.”” or – “?”); may be not followed by a pause (shorter than
“.” or “?”)
Listing intonation
Self interruption
Latched utterances by the same speaker or by different speakers
Emphatic stress
Very emphatic stress
Vowel or consonant lengthening
Overlap between utterances
Highlights key phenomena.
Laughter (the amount of @ roughly indicates the duration of
. See “Legal and Illegal Immigration to the U.S.”, Report by the Selected Committee on Population. U.S. House of Representatives, 96 Congress, Second Session, Serial C, Washington
D.C. (1978: 2).
. See Allen, M. (2001, September 5). Mexico still focused on illegal workers. The Washington Post, p. A2.
. See the debates over Propositions 185 and 227 in California.
. Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, show that the Hispanic population has
reached 35.3 million in the U.S. thus becoming the largest minority in the country. More
than half of these 35 million individuals declare to be Mexican.
. Few studies on this topic exist. See Buriel & Cardoza (1993) on ethnic labeling; Chavez
(1994) on perceptions about the place of individuals in communities; De la Mora (1983) on
psychosocial factors in the definition of self among Mexican immigrants.
. See Goffman (1981) and his notions of participation frameworks and production formats
that explain how discourse activities are differently organized in terms of production and
. See Bauman (1986) on the concept of narrative as ‘performance’, i.e. as a discourse genre
governed by rules dictating how it should be best constructed and presented to an audience.
. See Rampton (2001) on Interactional Sociolinguistics as a tool to seek answers to wide
social problems.
. Sherzel’s observations about anthropological linguistics are illuminating of the way the
relationship between discourse and culture is viewed here. He says: “Increasingly, contemporary research in linguistic anthropology takes discourse as its starting point, theoretically
and methodologically, for linguistic and cultural analysis. As distinct from viewing texts as
metaphors (in the sense of Geertz 1973), an increasing number of researchers, each in quite
different ways, analyzes discourse, large and small, written and oral, permanent and fleeting, as not only worthy of investigating in its own right, but as embodiment of the essence
of culture and as constitutive of what the language-culture-society relationship is about”
(1987: 297).
. I use the term interactional world to refer to the domain of the interaction in which
narratives are told. The difference in my use of the terms interactional world and storytelling
world is that the latter refers to the immediate context of the telling of a story, while the
 Notes
former refers more in general to the speech activity of which the telling of a narrative is a
particular moment.
Chapter 2
. All the names used to refer to the immigrants in this study are pseudonyms.
. Bakhtin (1986) repeatedly talked about the fundamentally dialogic nature of discourse
as the ability that utterances have to echo, respond, or anticipate other utterances. Both
Fairclough (1992) and Wodak and Reisigl (1999) conceive of intertextuality (or, interdiscursivity) as the property of texts and discourses to combine with each other in various ways.
Although they refer more to the combination of different genres and their relations with
orders of discourse, the fundamental idea of the relatedness of texts is present also in their
. Proposition 187, voted in California in 1994, required public officials to check the legal status of students before they were enrolled in schools or allowed to receive medical
. See Mehan (1997: 261) on this point: “Us vs. them arguments connect to the principle of
individualism, which a diverse body of historical, philosophical and anthropological scholarship (Lukes 1973; Sennett 1977; Bellah et al. 1985) has substantiated is a dominant social
value in the U.S., whereas we’re all in this together arguments connect to the principle of the
public good, which has not enjoyed the same privilege in U.S. society.”
. This is not a pseudonym since Ismael accepted to be mentioned by his real name.
. See Labov & Waletsky (1967) and Labov (1972) on this point.
Chapter 3
. See Schiffrin (1988), who distinguishes between at least four kinds of topics: Speaker
topic, interactional topic, text topic, and entity topic. What I am talking about here is close
to her notion of text topic.
. See for example the data cited by O’Connor (1994: 111) in her study of autobiographical
narratives told by prisoners, where she found a great predominance of narratives in the first
. Willi talks about Chinese employers, and then about Japanese employers. Likely the confusion is due to the fact that Mexicans tend not to differentiate between the two nationalities
in everyday discourse as if Chinese and Japanese were the same. The alternate use of the two
terms is found in popular anti Chinese rhymes for example.
. It is common experience for Mexican immigrants to go to commercial establishments
that become job centers, and wait in line for potential employers who come and choose the
workers that they want for that day.
Notes 
. See Mülhausler & Harré, (1990: 168–206) on how switching from I to you to one allows
speakers to shift away from self-involvement and responsibility.
Chapter 4
. Historically, the border has had a great symbolic significance in the life of Mexican
immigrants for almost a century and a half. For a discussion, see García (1996).
. See Chavez (2001, Chapter 8) on the treatment of the border as a “war zone” by American
mainstream newspapers.
. The word “mojarra” is a pun. It means “illegal immigrant”. The joke derives from the
association between the word “mojado” (“wet”, also used to designate illegal immigrants
who cross the border swimming) and “mojarra” (a type of fish).
. Acts marked with an asterisk are not mentioned by Searle, but were added in order to
describe the illocutionary force of acts found in the data. Examples of acts with an asterisk
that are frequently reported such as consultations and interrogations, are discussed in the
. Colloquial expression used to refer to the United States.
. According to Erickson and Schultz (1984: xi) in “gate keeping encounters” typically “two
persons meet, usually as strangers, with one of them having the authority to make decisions
that affect the other’s future.”
Chapter 5
* Parts of this chapter were published in my article (2000) Orientation in immigrant narratives: the role of ethnicity in the identification of characters. Discourse Studies Vol. 2(2),
. See Gudykunst and Smith (1988: 1) on this point: “Language is one of the major factors
used to categorise others”. Language use also plays a major role in the development of social
identity in general and ethnic identity in particular.
. I use the term “ethnic” broadly to refer to categorizations based on race, nationality and
color. Although I am conscious of the possible differences between these categories and of
the lack of an objective description of their referents, I adopt them in order to reflect the
labeling practices that are widespread in the U.S.
. For the sake of simplicity, ethnic descriptions are reproduced in the table in the masculine
singular without specification of gender and number.
. Rampton (1995: 8) states for example that in Great Britain people in subordinate positions are invited to think of their political situation in terms of nation and ethnicity. In his
words: “Cultures are seen as discrete, ethnic essences, and these ethnic essences are regarded
as the central influences in shaping a person’s character. Gilroy calls this perspective “ethnic
 Notes
absolutism”. It obscures the fact that individuals form complicated and often contradictory
patterns of solidarity and opposition across a range of category memberships.”
. See Klor de Alva (1988: 114): “Latinos differ ‘racially’ (that is, in physical characteristics)
according to national group, within their own national groups, and even among members
of the same family, particularly among Caribbean. There are many Dominicans and Puerto
Ricans who are considered black by Americans. The first two waves of wealthy and middle
class Cubans were composed primarily of light skinned refugees. ........Poor, dark skinned
Mexicans and Central Americans contrast with the white immigrants from inland Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, and other Latin American countries. Therefore, a meeting of Mexicans looks racially different from a gathering of Puerto Ricans or Dominicans, or a group of
. According to Omi (1999: 27) “racial and ethnic categories in the U.S. have historically
been shaped by the political and social agendas of particular times.” This author shows how
categories used in the Census at different times reflect changes in economic or political
priorities set by the State or by powerful social groups.
. See again Omi (1999: 2) and his comments on the dilemma that U.S. scientists face: “On
the one hand, they routinely utilize racial categories in their research and regularly make
comparisons between the races with respect to health, behavior, and (as the Bell Curve
controversy reminds us) intelligence. On the other hand, most scientists feel that racial
classifications are meaningless and unscientific.”
. See also Günthner (1995) on stories as illustrations of general rules that often involve
other ethnic groups.
. The word gabacho is, like gringo, a mostly pejorative term for (white) American.
. Labov (1972) called internal evaluation the evaluation that is done by the narrator without stopping the story-action. Internal evaluation can be more and more embedded within
the story world and includes: the reporting by the narrator of her own voice, the reporting of another character’s comments and evaluated action, i.e. action which is described in
evaluative terms.
. Immigrants told me that they use the word moreno (which can be translated as dark
skinned), as the politically correct term for black.
. See Note 3 in Chapter 3 about Willi’s confusion between Chinese and Japanese nationality.
. van Dijk (1988) describes both schemata and scripts as models for organizing knowledge. The concept of schema has been applied to explain how people understand events,
people and objects. The notion of scripts has been used to describe, “The knowledge people have about the stereotypical events of their culture.” (p. 58). However here I am talking
about a schema in the sense of a representation of roles and actions that is being built in
discourse and that because of its occurrence in different narratives acquires the potential for
becoming a shared model.
Notes 
Chapter 6
. Mojarra is a pun. Mojarra in Mexican Spanish is a kind of fish, but here there is an
intentional association with “mojado” (wet back).
. Leo pronounces the word “Hispanis”, but he means “Hispanic.”
. In English in the original.
. Native American Indians are the poorest, most exploited population in Mexico and other
Latin American countries. They are also considered particularly tolerant and not aggressive.
Here Sergio actually uses the suffix -ito (inditos) that has the effect of literally ‘diminishing’
these characters even further.
. The literature on this topic is too extensive to be adequately represented. However, see for
example Martin Rojo & van Dijk (1997), and Mehan (1997).
. Günthner (1995: 149) explains the function of stories as exempla. According to her, the
exemplum “does not consider that which is evoked as unique; on the contrary, it seeks to
reveal a general law or structure by providing a particular case.” Stories of personal experience are particularly strong exempla since they present the speaker as a witness and therefore
provide first hand experience. This kind of proof is highly valued in everyday argument (see
Müller & Di Luzio 1995 for a discussion).
Chapter 7
. See Wortham (2001: 5–12) for a discussion of the differences between representational
and performative approaches.
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Abstract 12, 98, 157, 164, 173
Agency 22, 51, 53, 72, 93, 101, 105,
115, 125, 127, 217–220
see also collective agency
represented agency
diminished agency
agentive roles
Agentive roles 113
Antagonist 163, 178
Argumentative narratives 152, 165,
Argumentative stories 151, 169
Bakhtin, M. 5, 25, 30, 43, 94
Bauman, R. 6, 18, 20, 95
Benveniste, E. 15, 52
Border 101, 113, 188
see also crossing 101–103, 186,
202, 218
Bourdieu, P. 29
Bruner, J. 6, 16, 17
Categorization 18, 21, 139–145, 147,
see also self categorization
other categorization
Choral speech 130
Chronicles 14, 49, 98–100, 104, 121,
185, 218–220
see also of the border crossing
individual chronicles
collective chronicles
Coda 12, 49, 98
see also story codas
Collective agency 79
Collective cronicles 125
Complicating action 12
Conditions of production 29, 31,
Constructed dialogue 95
Context 9, 26
see also local and gobal context
interactional context
Contextualization 5
Conversational Maxims 147
Cooperative Principle 147
Coyote 103, 113, 114, 125, 129
Depersonalization 51, 72,
see also in stories 79–84
Detail 117–119, 146
see also extrathematic detail
Dialogue 93, 95, 117
see also reported dialogue
constructed dialogue
Diminished agency 122, 131
Direct speech 104
Discourse practice 22, 223
Ethnic 144
see also identification 49, 141,
identity 49, 143, 183
 Index
Ethnicity 182–184
Evaluation 12, 66, 89, 98
see also internal evaluation
Exemplum 169
Extrathematic detail 164
Fairclough, N. 5, 19, 43
Generic reference 164
Goffman, E. 7, 25, 94
Grice, P. 147, 150
Gumperz, J. 5
Hill, J. 55, 96
Hispanic 143–145, 162, 168, 182,
185–187, 189, 202–204, 206–209
Identification 16, 140
see also strategies 8, 23, 139
Identity 8–9, 15–30, 51, 93, 139,
143, 181, 220
Ideology 16, 158, 163
Immigrants 2–4, 9, 90, 145, 183, 223
see also undocumented
Immigration 42–43
Indirect speech 104
Individual chronicles 112
Interactional context 18, 28, 48, 145,
177, 222
Interactional world 231
see also relevance 150
Internal evaluation 165
Intertext 42
Intertextuality 29, 43
Keying 7
Labov, W. 6, 12, 13, 45, 48–50, 57,
84, 96, 97, 146
Labov, W. & Waletzky, J. 6, 12, 13,
45, 48–50, 57, 84, 96, 97, 146
Latin American 144, 186, 188, 208
Latino 142, 144, 183, 187, 204, 209
Local and global context 26–30
Migration 31–40
see also process
35, 101
Narrated world 96, 177
Narrative 6, 11–14, 48,
see also genre 11
Identity 19
strategies 8, 90
Narratives 11, 17, 48
as data 6
in interaction 27
see also of personal experience
argumentative narratives
prototypical narratives
Narrativization 17
Ochs, E. & Capps, L. 12–13, 21, 27,
Orientation 12, 61, 66, 146–147
see also to others 89
speaker orientation
social orientation
Other categorization 8, 49, 209
Other-representation 3
Pecheux, M. 29, 140
Performance 17, 20
see also devices 24
Personalization 51, 74, 88
Polanyi, L. 13, 21, 27, 48, 95, 98, 146
Positioning 17, 122
Pronominal choice 23, 51–55, 92
Pronouns 52–56
see also in Spanish 57
in English 58
Pronoun switches 52, 70, 76, 83
Prototypical narratives 14
Reference 52, 54,
see also generic reference 164
Relevance 147–149
see also interactional world
story world relevance
Repair 70, 74, 76, 162
Reported dialogue 95, 123
Reported speech 93–97
Represented agency 97
Resolution 12, 158, 163
see also result
Result 12
Sacks, H. 27
Schema 178, 198, 234
Schematic representations 29, 140,
Schiffrin, D. 20, 78, 96, 147, 151,
174, 215
Self categorization 8, 49, 209
Self-reference 55, 188, 213
Social orientation 50, 55
Social practice 11, 19, 54
Speaker orientation, 52
Speech acts 97, 106, 109
Stories 12–15, 48–49
see also of personal experience
14, 57
argumentative stories
Story codas 84–89
Story world 25
Story world relevance 165
Storytelling 22
see also world 24, 53, 95, 96, 231
strategies 19
Tannen, D. 19, 95, 96, 117, 146, 150
Temporal juncture 48, 57, 98
Undocumented immigrants 7, 26,
43, 44, 103
van Dijk, T. 5, 22, 29, 140, 151, 157,
182, 184, 185
Voicing 8, 23, 165, 220
Voloshinov, V. 94
In the series STUDIES IN NARRATIVE (SIN) the following titles have been published
thus far, or are scheduled for publication:
1. BROCKMEIER, Jens and Donal CARBAUGH (eds.): Narrative and Identity. Studies
in Autobiography, Self and Culture. 2001.
2. SELL, Roger D. (ed.): Children’s Literature as Communication. The ChiLPA project.
3. DE FINA, Anna: Identity in Narrative. A study of immigrant discourse. 2003.