Homeland Literacy Learning under Conditions of Brain Drain: A Case Study of Migrants' Left-behind Family Members in Latvia

12:00 pm, Wednesday, April 22, 2015
254 Van Hise Hall, 1220 Linden Drive
Speaker and Affiliation: 

Kate Vieira, Department of English

During the recent global recession, many skilled working age adults left their homelands to work abroad. Among the immigrant-sending countries was the former Soviet and newly minted European Union state, Latvia, whose net migration rate is higher than that of Mexico and comparable to many places with longstanding conflict. Both the popular press and Latvia's prime minister have referred to this mass outmigration as "brain drain," pointing to children being raised by grandparents, schools closing, and the iconic tragedy of Latvian civil engineers leaving Latvia to pick strawberries in England. Homelands clearly lose valuable knowledge, skills, and experiences when educated citizens emigrate. This talk shows, however, that in the process of "brain drain," educational resources may also be gained. As homeland family members communicate with loved ones abroad, both parties gain familiarity with communication technologies, such as email, video chat, instant messaging, and extended personal letters. Such migration-driven literacy practices and technologies, what I call "writing remittances," circulate within an informal economy of community-based literacy learning in migrants' homelands. Based on 27 qualitative interviews and ethnographic field notes in a migrant home community in Latvia, this talk details the economic and emotional value of this transnational community literacy learning. I recast emigration, a lamentable trend, as a crucial site of informal literacy pedagogy, with implications for homelands beset with high unemployment and poverty.


Dianna Murphy, 608-262-1473


Language Institute, Department of English, and Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA).