Sarah C. Bishop e-mail(Login required)

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Sarah C. Bishop e-mail(Login required)


This paper explores the power of representation within the context of undocumented immigrants’ uncertain future in the United States. Guided by forty oral history interviews with undocumented immigrant narrators conducted in New York City, I trace the origins and evolution of reclaimant narratives, that is, the experiential, partial, public, oppositional, and incondensable stories that the narrators use to assert their right to speak and to reframe audience understanding. This project elucidates how the narrators interpret and respond to the thematic commonalities in mainstream portrayals of undocumented immigrants in United States discourse, and how, given the power of representation, these portrayals come to have an outsized effect on the national conversation about immigration. I synthesize existing scholarly analyses of mediated portrayals of immigrants, and put the interviewees into conversation with foundational scholars of media’s persuasive potential and limitations. The narrators testify to how their encounters with secondhand mediated portrayals of immigrants influence their decisions about whether to cultivate a public voice and participate in firsthand narrative immigrant activism. Ultimately, this work offers a critical exploration of the ways undocumented immigrants harness the power of storytelling as a means of self-actualization to mitigate the fear and uncertainty of life without legal status and to advocate for immigration reform.


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Special Issue: Articles: Political Communication in Uncertain Times. Digital Technologies, Citizen Participation and Open Governance