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Del Otro Lado

Literacy and Migration across the U.S.-Mexico Border

Susan V. Meyers

Publication Year: 2014

In Del Otro Lado: Literacy and Migration across the U.S.-Mexico Border, author Susan V. Meyers draws on her year-long ethnographic study in Mexico and the United States to analyze the literacy practices of Mexican-origin students on both sides of the border.

Meyers begins by taking readers through the historical development of the rural Mexican town of Villachuato. Through a series of case studies spanning the decades between the Mexican Revolution and the modern-day village, Meyers explores the ever-widening gulf between the priorities of students and the ideals of the public education system. As more and more of Villachuato’s families migrate in an effort to find work in the wake of shifting transnational economic policies like NAFTA, the town’s public school teachers find themselves frustrated by spiraling drop-out rates. Meyers discovers that students often consider the current curriculum irrelevant and reject the established value systems of Mexico’s public schools. Meyers debunks the longstanding myth that literacy is tied to economic development, arguing that a “literacy contract” model, in which students participate in public education in exchange for access to increased earning potential, better illustrates the situation in rural Mexico.

Meyers next explores literacy on the other side of the border, traveling to Marshalltown, Iowa, where many former citizens of Villachuato have come to reside because of the availability of jobs for unskilled workers at the huge Swift meat-packing plant there. Here she discovers that Mexican-origin families in the United States often consider education a desirable end in itself rather than a means to an end. She argues that migration has a catalyzing effect on literacy, particularly as Mexican migrant families tend to view education as a desirable form of prestige.

Meyers reveals the history and policies that have shaped the literacy practices of Mexican-origin students, and she raises important questions about not only the obligation of the United States to educate migrant students, but also those students’ educational struggles and ways in which these difficulties can be overcome. This transnational study is essential reading for scholars, students, educators and lawmakers interested in shaping the future of educational policy.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

My deep thanks first and foremost go to Anne-Marie Hall, who believed in this project from the beginning, as well as to several other friends and mentors at the University of Arizona: Amy Kimme Hea, Rachel Lewis Ketai, Adela Licona, Stephanie Merz, Laurie Morrison, and Star Medzarian Vanguri....

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Introduction: “So You Can Buy a Taco over the Internet”

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pp. 1-18

Jacqueline is the hope of her family. A bright, driven young woman who aspires to be the first in her family to attend college, she represents two prior generations’ investments in education: her grandmother’s strain to scrounge together enough money for basic school supplies, and her mother’s truncated career, cut short by an unplanned pregnancy during her sophomore year of high school. These challenges aside, Jacqueline’s family, which hails from a...

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1. Crisis and Contract: A Rhetorical Approach to Transnational Literacies

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pp. 19-40

On the morning of March 10, 2010, downtown Chicago’s Federal Plaza filled with more than a thousand demonstrators who had come to protest the U.S. government’s ongoing failure to make progress on the DREAM Act,4 a long-standing legislative proposal targeted at educational access for immigrant youth. As a focal point for the event, eight young men and women stood up and publicly proclaimed their status: undocumented. Not having been...

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2. “Aren’t You Scared?”: The Changing Face of Oppression in Rural, Migrant-Sending Mexico

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pp. 41-60

Aren’t you scared?
This was the most common phrase that I heard from community members in Villachuato, not only during my initial weeks in the town but throughout the ten months I spent there. “A big house like that,” people would say to me. “And you’re all alone there. Aren’t you scared?”...

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3. “They Make a Lot of Sacrifices”: Foundational Rhetorics of the Mexican Education System

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pp. 61-87

In fall 2007, the new seventh grade language arts textbook that arrived in Villachuato featured a smiling teenager playing on his laptop. In the background, other children listened to music, read a variety of books, and worked on computers. At the time, regular phone service had existed in Villachuato for less than a decade, and internet was almost completely inaccessible. Home computers were extremely rare, and only a third of middle school students...

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4. “They Didn’t Tell Me Anything”: Community Literacy and Resistance in Rural Mexico

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pp. 88-111

Once a year, just before Easter, the otherwise quiet town of Villachuato comes alive. During the preceding weeks, streets and homes begin to fill with extra cars—their license plates from Iowa, Minnesota, California, Nebraska—and family members. As relatives from the United States flood into the town, English adds itself to the cadence of daily life, and children compare notes with their cousins about life “on the other side.” Toward the center of town, the...

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5. “So You Don’t Get Tricked”: Counternarratives of Literacy in a Mexican Town

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pp. 112-128

The library in Puruándiro (figure 5.1) is a one-room collection of books, computers, and children’s theatrical materials. Although the five computer stations boast free internet access and large, flat-screen monitors, the book collection itself is modest, comprised of eight or ten thinly populated shelves, ranging in material from religious studies, to science, to literature. Stopping by for archival materials, I was offered five books: the full extent of historical material available about Puruándiro and other municipalities in the...

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6. “Like Going from Black and White to Color”: Mexican Students’ Experiences in U.S. Schools

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pp. 129-150

Despite good intentions—so clear to me from the passionate tone of her interview—the response of Marshalltown teacher Sharon Kuntz to her trip to Villachuato in 2003 was tempered by a sense of lack. Not what was there so much as what was not: a lack of resources, resulting in outdated pedagogical practices. Similarly, Gaby, another Marshalltown teacher who recently visited schools in Villachuato and surrounding areas18 reported that, “It was very...

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pp. 151-164

This study opened with a consideration of the experiences of students who migrate from Mexico to the United States—and sometimes back again. In a context that is becoming not just binational but transnational (Waldinger, 2011), these young people experience literacy in ways that merit attention both because such experiences influence students’ life outcomes and because they demonstrate how literacy itself is changing in an increasingly...

Appendix / Interview Questions

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pp. 165-170


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pp. 171-174


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pp. 175-186


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pp. 187-195

Author Biography

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pp. 196-196

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809333431
E-ISBN-10: 0809333430
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809333424
Print-ISBN-10: 0809333422

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 19
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 886116663
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Del Otro Lado

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Education -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Education -- Mexico -- Villachuato -- Case studies.
  • Literacy -- Social aspects -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Villachuato (Mexico) -- Emigration and immigration -- Case studies.
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