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  • Schooling and Post-Immigration Experiences in Latinx Children's Literature
  • Yoo Kyung Sung (bio) and Kristi DeMar (bio)

This study investigates the representation of immigrant children's school experiences in Latinx literature published in the United States within the past ten years. In an attempt to rehumanize the discussion surrounding Latinx immigrants without denying their voices, Sung and DeMar look beyond the media snapshots of children in border-town detention centers and into their picturebook depictions in school spaces.


School experiences are frequently inseparable from one's childhood, taking place in both the homeland and the new community. School is the first intangible asset that an immigrant child builds, then leaves behind with their departure. School is also often the first somewhat familiar social culture as they adjust to a new society. In this study, we investigated the symbolic meaning of schools and their multiple connotations to immigrants in twelve selected books.

The purpose of this study is to investigate how Latinx children's post-immigration experiences are represented within school spaces in a range of texts for young readers in the United States. Moreover, we aim to show how postcolonial attitudes are embedded in subtle ways through school structure. Recent trends in children's literature lend to the portrayal of school roles held by young immigrants, roles that more accurately represent the richness of childhood. For this reason, we focus on books published in the last ten years.

In an attempt to rehumanize the discussion surrounding Latinx immigrants without denying their voices, we look beyond the snapshots of children in border-town detention and into their depictions in school spaces. We use Tomás and the Library Lady as an anchor text to guide the study and pull from postcolonial theory and the theory of childhood as a social space in our analysis of the selected texts. The twelve books in this study range in their portrayal of Latinx immigrant youth and the agency they possess. [End Page 15]

Inspired by Richard Ruíz's promotion of bilingualism and rejection of US restrictive monolingual language policies, we borrow from his language planning theory that denotes three orientations of language in society: language as problem, resource, and right (15). Ruíz developed this theory to support bilingual students facing US monolingual language policies and the common practice of forced assimilation. We repurpose it to explore the meaning of school in our selected books, using a framework of school as a problem, resource, and right in the new land of Latinx children. In creating our own framework of school features, we aim to challenge dominant and oppressive systems within education. Finally, we analyze the trajectory of immigrant children in Latinx literature to assess what has improved within the field and what remains to be changed.

Latinx Children's Literature and Zero-Tolerance Policies

The history of Latinx children's literature in the United States goes back to the 1920s, with the depiction of Latinos as highly exotic, and the steady reappearance of siestas, fiestas, and piñatas (Naidoo 46). Issues with inaccurate, stereotypical representations continued into the late 1980s, when more Latino authors began writing higher-quality children's literature. Recent trends in Latinx children's literature finally reflect current social issues, like immigration reform and same-sex families (Naidoo 53).

Pat Mora's Tomás and the Library Lady is one of those higher-quality books, celebrating twenty-two years since its publication in 1997. In Tomás and the Library Lady, the text extends beyond depicting Tomás's family as migrant workers in seasonal mobile working environments. When Tomás meets the library lady, he gets to experience the power of imagination through books. This episode strengthens and forms stability in Tomás's status as an immigrant by promoting literacy through books and storytelling (Socolovsky 152). Also, Tomás's story implies immigrants are not passive recipients of aid, but great resources to the United States, as Tomás teaches the librarian Spanish. Influenced by Tomás and the Library Lady, we extended the notion of libraries as places of literacy to schools, using the conceptual framework of childhood as a social space (James et al...