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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Syncretic Literacy: Multiculturalism in Samoan American Families


On the basis of research on the Samoan American community of urban Los Angeles, the authors argue against two common misconceptions of multiculturalism:

(1) that language is a precise indicator of cultural orientation; and (2) that members of multicultural communities are in one culture at a time.

The notion of syncretic literacy is introduced to account for the ways in which the same language (in this case, Samoan or English) can be used for distinct cultural practices and the ways in which different cultural practices can be merged within the same literacy activity.

This report examines an exchange in which a six-year-old Samoan American boy involves members of his extended family in completing his homework. We see that English is sometimes used in ways that are consistent with the socialization practices typical of traditional learning environments in the home country and that different family members adopt distinct cultural strategies in their interaction with the boy within the same activity.

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