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Vol. 10 No. 2 (2007)

Just who do you think I am? The name-calling and name-claiming of newcomer youth

  • Dawn Allen
October 15, 2012


For immigrant-receiving societies that also claim to embrace diversity, there is a constant tension between constraining individual agency (the ability to have and act on choices) and recognizing individual rights. In a previous article, the author highlighted the ways in which newcomer youth are constrained by school discourses (e.g. programs, curricula, codes of conduct, evaluation criteria, ways of speaking, valuing, thinking) that emphasize those students’ linguistic deficiencies. This article explores the students’ agency despite the constraints of those discourses. The article begins with a focus on some of the reasons for the tension between individual agency and the discourses of the integration programs of Montreal secondary schools. Next, the article briefly presents a theoretical frame (connecting identity and agency), which is then used to interpret the integration experiences of four newcomer adolescents in a francophone secondary school in Montreal. The author concludes that French is too often experienced as a barrier to rather than a source of agency and proposes that French be learned through more inclusive practices right from the beginning of newcomers’ experience in Quebec.