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Gonzalez Ybarra. Mujerista Literacies in an Ethnic Studies Course. RTE, Feb. 2020. Posted 05/18/2020/

González Ybarra, Mónica. “‘We Have a Strong Way of Thinking . . . and It Shows Through Our Words.’” Research in the Teaching of English 54.3 (2020): 231-53. Print.

Mónica González Ybarra describes an ethnic-studies course she taught in the summer of 2016 at an “(im)migrant housing complex” in a “semirural suburb in the Rocky Mountain region” (234; parentheses original). This complex, which González Ybarra calls “Comunidad Miravalle” (CM) (231), is home to “mixed-status families” whose heads of households work in agriculture or landscape; many inhabitants have lived in the community for more than ten years (234-35). González Ybarra moved from volunteering at a youth learning center in the complex to teaching a course called “Chicana/Latina Experiences” (235).

Arguing that increased scholarly attention to the literacies and voices of young women and girls of color still gives short shrift to Chicana/Latina youth, González Ybarra stresses the role of “community or nontraditional spaces of teaching and learning” for these populations (231). She examines the literacies of four young women who participated in the course during the summer of 2016, documenting the knowledge their cultural resources contribute to their meaning-making practices (236). In notes, she explains her decision not to necessarily italicize Spanish words and her use of the terms Chicana/Latina (249n1; 240n3).

In this seven-week seminar, the four women and six men collected and analyzed “oral, written, and digital testimonios from the community” and applied the results to broader sociopolitical contexts surrounding marginalized groups. The use and analysis of social media also provided resources as well as material for analysis. Students reflected in journals or via digital projects (236).

The four “young mujeres” featured in the article were high-school students at differing levels, identifying as either Chicana or Latina; all had “cultural, ethic, and national ties to México” (236). All ten students had known each other since they were children. González Ybarra recounts her own cultural connections as those of a “middle-class Chicana” with an immigrant family background and experiences attending largely white schools; she notes as well that because she has citizenship status that many of her students lack, she is afforded privileges they may not have, but states that her “cultural intuition”—her “critical knowledge” of Chicana/Latina environments—makes it possible for her to engage with the ethnic issues her students face (237, 238).

González Ybarra introduces the “trenzas framework” for studying the meaning-making practices in communities like that of CM. This theoretical approach differs from what is usually considered “normal, rigorous, and valid in qualitative research . . . in literacy education” in that it draws on cultural intuition, “humaniz[ed]” data-collection processes, and feminist theories to locate “intersections as well . . . as points of entanglement” in various approaches (237).

The methodologies she illustrates include the “testimonio.” This is a “performative text” that joins “individual experiences to a collective story—voicing the silences and exposing the knowledge located within marginalized bodies” (238). Students participated in “testimoniando,” sharing their experiences as Chicana/Latina youth in the larger white culture.

Equally in use were “pláticas.” These are “dialogic processes of meaning-making that take place in salas, at kitchen tables, and in other gathering spaces within Latinx/Chicanx communities” (239). Pláticas enable the use of “dichos (sayings,), consejos (advice), chismes (gossip. . .), and testimonios” as analytical resources beyond more traditional methods for investigating how cultural experiences shape knowledge (239). González Ybarra sometimes prompted in-class pláticas, but says that often they were student-initiated and -driven. She videoed and recorded these when they occurred in class, but reports that they occurred in other settings as well (239).

González Ybarra’s trenzas framework began with examination of her students’ use of and interactions with texts, broadly defined as encompassing modes such as “visual, aural, written, gestural, embodied, etc.” across a wide range of modalities. This examination included study of these textual moments across “raced-gendered bodies, space and place” including borderlands and homes (239). She used tools like screenshots and photos as well as scanned artwork to record these interactions.

“Thematic coding,” especially through “narrative writing,” allowed González Ybarra to build trenzas as an analytical methodology. However, citing E. Tuck and K. W. Yang, González Ybarra resisted the degree to which such coding created “settler orientations toward knowledge production” (240). As a third layering to counteract this tendency, González Ybarra turned to pláticas with the four mujeres of her study (240).

Central to the findings González Ybarra reports is the degree to which mujerista literacies focus on family and community, in particular the strength and wisdom of Chicana/Latina mothers. Drawing on quoted material from her four women students, González Ybarra sees feminism as practiced in these communities as “[em]bodied and [i]ntergenerational” (240); the experience of seeing their mothers and families resist threats to their survival from the larger culture, in González Ybarra’s view, becomes central to these young women’s world knowledge. She writes that her study belies the narrative that describes Chicana/Latina mothers as “submissive and subscribing to traditional gender roles”; on the contrary, she argues, the mothers supplied opportunities and models for resistance (241). The study points to a literacy that “center[s] the collective, situating literacies within larger sociopolitical discourses and lived realities of communities” (242).

Reports of exchanges between male and female students ground González Ybarra’s claim that the mujeres’ literacy is “disruptive,” as they speak up for the effects of larger systemic injustice on personal choice and against the potential for “othering” gay members of their communities (242-43). One plática she records, she argues, illustrates the young women’s sense of how public discourse can be dominated by “the young men, taking up space with their voices” (244). Finding their own space to express themselves, González Ybarra posits, allows them a better understanding of the politics of traditional school spaces.

Students’ deep reflection on the course reveals that, for one student, it served as a “spark” for otherwise silenced conversations (qtd. in González Ybarra 244), while another appreciated the vocabulary the discussions supplied for speaking to others about her realities (247). For González Ybarra, journal reflections reveal how the course led to “shift[s]” as students found a space to engage deeply with connections between their issues and lives (246).

The author notes that ethnic studies is not yet a consistent feature of traditional education and urges more effort to provide alternative opportunities to explore mujerista literacies. In such spaces, she contends, the degree to which these literacies disrupt normative narratives about Chicana/Latina youth become more visible (248). Her research, she writes, embodies a “mismatch” between the trenzas framework and traditional literacy research in that it

bring[s] together the lived realities of researchers, relationships cultivated within communities, pedagogical approaches, and critical theoretical orientations [that serve as] a legitimate lens for analysis to deepen ideas of literacy and literacy research. (248)