AAAL 2024: Invited Colloquium

Language, learning, and teaching in the Texas borderlands


 Patricia Sánchez, University of Texas at San Antonio


María Fránquiz, University of Texas at Austin

Colloquium Abstract

Life in the Texas borderlands can best be described as existing between worlds and navigating shared spaces:  members of these communities straddle multiple spheres of language, culture, and identity that do not necessarily split into an even binary. This is particularly true for populations of bilingual Latinx students and their families—who have either recently arrived as immigrants or are long-term Tejanos. In this colloquium, Latinx teacher educators (who prepare bilingual teacher candidates) present work from various locations in Texas. We will hear from Mexican immigrant communities in Central Texas; the Salvadoran-American experience in Houston; and border dwellers who live along the literal Texas-Mexico border. In addition, these scholars will shed light on how institutions, such as the home, the church, the family, can both foment and discourage the preservation of home languages. 
Bilingualism and biliteracy are not always guaranteed in the borderlands; the hegemony of English is a powerful force even in communities where generations of family members have spoken both English and Spanish. However, through borderland texts, linguistic brokering, “dichos,” and other translanguaging efforts, a particular resiliency is forged among those living in cross-cultural spaces.
This colloquium consists of 5 papers, where each presenter or group of presenters will share the contours of their study participants’ “bordered” spaces and how language, learning, and teaching intersected at their research sites, respectively. A discussant will help connect the 5 papers for the audience so that we may appreciate the collective, inspirational research taking place in the Texas borderlands; such efforts may encourage many of us to think differently and enact transformation in our own realms.

“Todo p'adelante, nada para atrás”: Transborder journeys of migration, learning, and success

Patricia Sánchez, University of Texas at San Antonio

Abstract: In an attempt to disrupt the harmful narratives of both undocumented border crossers and recently arrived immigrants, this presentation examines how young Mexican immigrant adults navigate the challenge of living in borderland spaces. I will discuss how trinational governmental agreements legislate the “movement of bodies” across borders as well as the symbolic and real impacts of geo-political borders (Durand et al., 2001; Gerrard, 2017). Participants in this study resided in Central Texas; they were interviewed about their economic hardships, their linguistic challenges adjusting to a new society, as well as their familial or cultural “dichos” (sayings) that they embraced to both fulfill their aspirations and look toward their new realities and trajectories (Hornberger, 2007).
Findings focus on the resilience and future aspirations of participants. Nation-status weighed heavily on the expectations and outcomes of this group of study participants (Gonzales et al., 2019). For those who were children when they arrived in the US, they luckily received their permanent residency upon the start of their college-going years. Other participants still struggle with their current undocumented status. There is a marked quality of inner strength and forward-thinking among the participants we interviewed. Life stories like the ones in this study “humanize” the immigration experience to the US. We need more work similar to this to counter the de-humanization and criminalization of immigrants—a mantra our country regularly takes up and recycles into its politics.

Translating and translanguaging: Home biliteracy practices of Latinx students in Texas 

Myriam Jimena Guerra, Texas A & M San Antonio
Lucila D. Ek, University of Texas at San Antonio
Gilberto Lara, University of Texas at San Antonio

Abstract: Research on children’s language brokering highlights the complex language and literacy processes involved in this bilingual practice (McQuillan & Tse, 1995; Orellana et al., 2003). In their linguistic brokering, children often translanguage which is more than simply mixing two or more languages García (2009). Rather, bilinguals draw from one linguistic repertoire to produce a diversity of translanguaging practices (Orellana & García, 2014), which they use for meaning-making and to accomplish literacy tasks.
The data presented here come from a larger qualitative study that examined Latinx emergent bilingual students in and across homes and elementary school in a Latinx community in Central Texas. For this paper, we analyzed the home data. We analyzed the corpus of data including participant observation fieldnotes; summaries and transcripts of audio and video recordings of home visits; interview transcripts; and children’s written work. Data were coded for themes and patterns, and Discourse Analysis (DA) (Gee 2014) was used to analyze the talk-in-interaction.
We found that: 1) rich language varieties exist in the students’ homes, including Spanish, English, and varieties of Spanish (Mexican Spanish, Central American Spanish, and South American Spanish); 2) students’ translanguaging at home was a resource that fostered their biliteracy—they translanguaged in digital literacy practices that built and maintained long distance family relationships; and 3) students engaged in language brokering practices to assist family members and relatives and to contribute to family well-being. Translanguaging was a resource for translating. This research has implications for how researchers and educators can help bridge the home-school divide by documenting and leveraging home literacy practices and knowledges.

Entre pajilla, popote, y straw: The language socialization practices of a Salvadoran-American

Kenya Vargas,  University of Texas at San Antonio

Abstract: Using autoethnographic methods, I reflect on my experiences growing up in Houston, navigating varieties of Spanish, including Salvadoran Spanish and “standard” Spanish, along with US English. I concentrate on how I learned these languages through a language socialization framework to examine how language is acquired and used through interactions and social activities in which an individual participates (Baquedano-López, 2008; Ochs & Schieffelin, 1995). In my development of Spanish, I engaged in implicit socialization through interactions with my Salvadoran family at home and explicit processes in institutions such as church and school. I was socialized through formal instruction of literacy practices in English but practiced learning implicitly at home as a translator for my parents. These practices led me to support educational programs that allow children the opportunity to socialize bilingually. 
I also look at the educational trajectory of language experiences through a Latina/Latino Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) lens, which draws on the challenges of the Latina/o/x community. I address challenges associated with the drawbacks as a Latina/o/x while considering my language(s). These issues include examining ideologies that prevent opportunities for Latina/o/x children to learn in their first language. Instead, they are often marginalized as the risk of gentrified bilingual programs becomes a concern in our nation (Freire, 2016). Hearing about these experiences may encourage others to reflect on their journeys and can contribute to the shared cultural and linguistic experiences of other Latina/o/x individuals (Arreguín-Anderson et al., 2018). By continuing my formal education and pursuing a doctorate, I hope to work alongside programs that support first-generation Latina/o/x students or with future teachers and researchers to promote instruction that supports and values student identities from non-dominant groups.

Using textos fronterizos in bilingual teacher preparation to build pedagogical Spanish competence and ideological clarity 
Christian E. Zúñiga University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley 

Abstract:  The hyper bilingual/biliterate context of the US-Mexico border offers a rich space for bilingual language practices. Yet, many bilingual teacher candidates (BTCs) raised in the borderlands express insecurity about their pedagogical Spanish abilities, especially as they relate to teaching. This can impact their professional development as well as their effectiveness in the classroom. It is the role of bilingual teacher educators to ensure BTCs have the confidence and knowledge base to succeed in the classroom. This presentation uses perspectives of holistic bilingualism/biliteracy and culturally responsive teaching to describe an exercise developed by a bilingual teacher educator that draws on texts from the border community and culminates with using an excerpt from Carmen Lomas Garza’s picture book, Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia. The exercise aims to support BTCs as they gain the confidence to study language not solely as a medium but as an object of instruction. 
Using a comparative analysis of English and Spanish, the presentation emphasizes how knowledge of language elements and cross-linguistic features can be a venue for building BTCs’ confidence, set them up on a continuing journey of their pedagogical Spanish language development, and be a window towards the ideologicial clarity (Bartolome & Balderrama, 2004) needed to value and leverage bilingual/biliterate practices in borderland communities. The presentation discusses implications towards supporting BTCs’ linguistic competence, highlighting the holistic nature of bilingual processes, and engaging in critical dialogue about language.

No hablan con sus abuelos”:  Family language barriers amongst transnationals in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands

David Martínez-Prieto, University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley

Abstract:  After the seminal research of Petrón (2003, 2006), the identities of transnational (or individuals who move from nation to another), pre-service language teachers have been analyzed from different perspectives. While some scholars have emphasized the trajectories of transnational pre-service teachers as victims of discrimination across nations (i.e., Mora Pablo et al., 2015), other studies have pointed out the agency of transnationals as agents of social change (i.e., Martínez-Prieto, 2020). 
In alignment within this latter perspective, this study examines the perspectives and strategies that transnational bilingual pre-service teachers (n=5) use to counter language barriers within their own families in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), at the US Mexican border. In other words, this investigation analyzes the strategies transnational pre-service teachers utilize to promote communication amongst members of the same family (i.e., grandparents and grandchildren),  who, due to migration and schooling in different countries, do not share the same mother tongue. Operating from the intersections of social agency (Bourdieu, 1991), preliminary findings of this study suggest that: 

  1. Transnational pre-service teachers believe that bilingualism is superficially promoted in Texan schools. While transnational pre-service teachers foster bilingualism in their families, the preponderance of English in educational settings eventually separates older Spanish-speaking family members from the younger generations.
  2. Translingual interactions occur naturally within family members in the US-Mexican borderlands, for which participants use simultaneous Spanish-English interactions to break down language barriers amongst their parents and children.
  3. For transnational pre-service teachers, translanguaging can serve as a point of departure to promote intergenerational communication. However, they recognize that Spanish-English language compartmentalization can also serve to promote communication in their families, especially in terms of formal instruction.

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