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“We build up this community together”: Examining multi-agency partnership of a Khmer heritage language program in California

Ravy S. Lao (University of California, Santa Barbara)


For most immigrant groups living in host countries, the fostering and maintenance of their heritage language and culture are placed as the sole responsibility of the immigrants and their families (Kloss, 1998). As such, the establishment of the majority of the heritage language schools in the United States has always been a private endeavor carried out by the ethnic communities themselves (Fishman & Nahirny, 1964; Zhou & Li, 2003). Previous studies have well documented independently run community heritage language schools across the United States (Chik, 2010; Needham, 1996; Shibata, 2000). However, this study provides a different framework for thinking about heritage/community language program development. Grounded in an ethnographic perspective and using constructs of discourse analysis and intertextuality, this ethnographic case study focuses on a community-based Khmer heritage language program in California, which was established in collaboration between the Khmer community members and public agencies. The data show the partnership to foster a home-community connection for all stakeholders involved, to provide multi-layer resources in sustaining the program, as well as to speak to the power and efficacy of community force. The findings suggest this multi-agency partnership framework offers weekend-language programs countless benefits which otherwise would not exist if they were independently run.

Center for World Languages