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  • Knowing and Unknowing Transnational Latino Lives in Teacher Education: At the Intersection of Educational Research and the Latino Humanities
  • Sofía A. Villenas

Researchers in the field of Latino Diaspora and immigrant education have long been concerned with addressing the crisis in the educational achievement of Latino immigrant/Diaspora youth, some of whom are dropping out at rates of more than 25% in school districts across the United States (Kohler & Lazarín, 2007). Decades of scholarship in immigrant/Diaspora education have sought to counter deficit-oriented perspectives which place the blame on families and youth for school failure (Zarate & Conchas, forthcoming). At worst, such perspectives have historically served to label Latino parents as backward, incompetent people who do not care about their children’s education (see Villenas & Deyhle, 1999, San Miguel & Donato, forthcoming). At best, they have served to frame Latinas/os as parents who through no fault of their own cannot provide their children with the necessary skills to succeed in school. Most insidiously, these perspectives essentialize and homogenize Latinas/os rather than recognize the incredible diversity of experiences, identifications, and histories (Villenas & Deyhle, 1999).

Qualitative and ethnographic research in immigrant/Diaspora education has contributed significantly to prospective and practicing teachers’ unknowing of Latino families as culturally deficient. Engagement with this scholarship in teacher education has opened the possibilities for a more complex knowing of Latino families’ and youth’s lives. With long-term engagement in communities and with the tools of observation and interviewing, qualitative researchers have challenged deficit perspectives by exploring the unique and varied cultural, language, and literacy practices of the home space and framed these as strengths (Delgado-Gaitán, 1992; Delgado-Gaitán & Trueba, 1991; González, 2001; Guerra, 1998; Orellana, 2001, Zentella, 1997). For example, pioneering educational ethnographer Concha Delgado-Gaitán (1988, 1992, 1994) systematically recorded and described the juegos [games], canciones [songs], cuentos [stories], consejos [narrative advice], and the reading and writing of cartas [correspondence] among Mexican families in a California community. Norma González, Luis Moll, and Cathy Amanti described Mexican [End Page 129] families’ vast funds of knowledge pertaining to education, work, agriculture, religion, medicine, migration and economics, among many other forms of knowledge (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). These funds of knowledge are proposed as intellectual resources which can inform and transform the school curriculum and create bridges between home and school. These portraits of Latino families serve as ways to know Latino families in terms of what they do have. Simultaneously, they contribute to unknowing Latino families from the perspective of a void or what they do not have in comparison to mainstream middle-class norms. Latino qualitative educational research has also offered conceptualizations of culture that move away from the notion of culture as traits that people possess, to a consideration of culture as active and social. The focus is on how people participate in historically located, linguistic and cultural “repertoires of practice” (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003) and “hybrid” cultural practices (González, 2004).

Certainly, in the aforementioned pioneering studies, the transnational dimensions of Latino lives have always been present, most often front and center, yet by and large taken for granted. It has simply seemed as obvious as the juegos, cuentos, and consejos so painstakingly described and brought to light by Concha Delgado-Gaitán (1992). Latina/o researchers may say to themselves, “of course Latino immigrant parents and children of Latino immigrants live the emotions, attachments, and understandings that come from belonging to two countries,” even if the second generation has never visited the country of origin (Sánchez & Machado-Casas, this issue). We have always known this. Yet how do we express, document, and theorize this knowing and being within transnationalism? The research articles of this special issue of the High School Journal entitled, “At the Intersection of Transnationalism, Latina/o Immigrants and Education,” truly represent a collective pioneering effort towards naming, documenting, and theorizing Latinas/ os’ schooling and education within transnational spaces. These studies present educators across borders with the possibility for more complex ways of knowing Latina/o students’ transnational lives and for recognizing the experiences and identities that are fashioned in these spaces as strengths rather than deficits (see Sánchez...


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