First Advisor

Keith Walters

Date of Publication

Spring 6-8-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics




Women immigrants, Women-owned business enterprises, Minority business enterprises, Economic development projects, Identity (Philosophical concept), English language -- Study and teaching -- Foreign speakers, Entrepreneurship



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 123 pages)


Researchers have explored immigrant identity in various contexts, but few studies have examined identity in low-income immigrant women entrepreneurs. To address this research gap, I conducted in-depth interviews with eight low-income Latino immigrants who were starting their own businesses and receiving support through a local microenterprise development program (MDP). The study explored how participants' microenterprise efforts affected their identities and their investments in learning English.

The research found that entrepreneurship promoted positive identity construction by providing opportunities for participants to develop personal and cultural pride, strengthened parental roles, and interdependence with the community. These benefits helped participants decrease family stress and increase optimism for the future, regardless of the microenterprises' financial success. Participants reported that their families were healthier and their children were doing better in school, suggesting a broad impact beyond the business owner. This finding indicates that MDPs and other social service programs should have explicit goals related to increasing participants' symbolic resources. In the language-learning realm, this study introduced the construct "relationship with English," extending Norton's (2000) notion of investment in language learning. The relationship construct encompasses the situated nature of immigrants' English use, investment in learning, and feelings about using English. The businesses helped most participants improve their relationship with English by providing motivation and informal learning opportunities. The non-English speaking participants improved their relationship with English by finding ways to use English even without working on their ability to speak. This finding suggests that social service agencies, ESL programs, and employers should broaden their view of immigrants' capabilities to use English and to invest creatively in their own learning. Another significant finding was that participants demonstrated signs of internalized racism, which can make it hard for immigrants to see their own strengths. New research could help MDPs and other social service providers address internalized racism and decrease its negative impact on identity construction. Looking ahead, long-term studies of MDP participants could help optimize program design, extend learnings to other types of programs, and help providers, policymakers, and funders allocate resources for maximum effect.


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