Kate Vieira. American by Paper: How Documents Matter in Immigrant Literacy.

Mary A. Caldera


As Kate Vieira notes in her introduction, she did not set out to write a book about papers. Instead, she was interested in testing claims that literacy is the “key to upward mobility, national belonging, civic participation, and ultimately assimilation” (2). She found, however, that her study participants frequently invoked papers when she asked about literacy; for them, “papers and literacy are intimately linked.” Vieira’s research challenges the theory that literacy is a means of achieving assimilation. She argues that literacy and papers are seen by migrants as a means of mobility—social, economic, and physical—and that papers serve as “a material lynchpin in the process of writing and being written” (9).

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