Looking in and speaking out: An investigation of the literacies and identities of Latina youth researchers

Date of Completion

January 2010


Education, Multilingual|Education, Secondary|Hispanic American Studies




Despite growing numbers of Latino/a youth within our nation and specifically within our K–12 population, schools consistently fail to provide culturally relevant, academically rigorous instruction for these students (Irizarry & Antrop-González, 2007; Nieto & Bode, 2008), resulting in a "push-out" effect (Fine, 1991). Latina students, in particular, face unique barriers to completing high school in four years (National Women's Law Center, 2009). ^ Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) endeavors are gaining attention from the educational research community in their ability to affirm identities and promote academic success among culturally and linguistically diverse students. However, the role of literacy and discourse in the affirmation, representation, and enactment of these identities is more often understood than explicitly outlined in an accessible way. This study examined how a group of five Latina high school students in a two-year Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) collaborative developed, refined, and asserted multiple identities discursively. ^ More specifically, in-depth interviews, writing samples, multimedia projects, class observations, and informal interactions were analyzed to address the following research questions: How do five Latina students use literacy to navigate and shape the various contexts that emerge from their participation in a multi-year YPAR project? What are the emergent identities that result from this participation and how do these students create and represent identities through literacy events (Heath, 1982) and/or identity texts (Paris, 2008)? ^ A framework of critical sociocultural theory guided this investigation. This framework recognizes the negotiation of identities and the transformation of individuals as they move through discourse communities, but extends this to give greater emphasis to the institutional, historical, and cultural contexts surrounding these individuals. ^ Findings suggest that the participants' engagement in critical literacy activities and discourse throughout the YPAR project contributed to the individual and collective development of a critical consciousness and an empowered voice, though these processes were complex and non-linear. Participants enacted and represented multiple identities related, but not limited to, their gender and ethnicity across the numerous and varied contexts of the YPAR experience. Implications for K–12 literacy educators and teacher educators preparing preservice teachers to work effectively with Latina students are also discussed in depth. ^