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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)


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Noguerón-Liu and Hogan. Transnationalism and Digital Composition. RTE, Feb. 2017. Posted 07/06/2017.

Noguerón-Liu, Silvia, and Jamie Jordan Hogan. “Remembering Michoacán: Digital Representation of the Homeland by Immigrant Adults and Adolescents.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.3 (2017): 267-89. Print.

Silvia Noguerón-Liu and Jamie Jordan Hogan present a study of the use of visual elements, including digital images and information, by adults and adolescents from immigrant communities as they constructed documents reflecting their transnational identities.

The authors worked with two women and two middle-grade students with ties to the Mexican state of Michoacán. The women were participants in three semester-long sessions of a “digital literacy program for immigrant adults” designed for parents of children in a largely Latinx community; the seventh-graders were enrolled in a “digital story-telling program” meant to help them succeed in U.S. classrooms. Both programs were located in a small Southern city (272-73).

Noguerón-Liu and Hogan applied three theoretical concepts. Transnationalism theory allowed investigation of how “individuals maintain multiple social networks and links to both their home and host communities” (269). They examined multimodal production through “critical artifactual literacies” that featured how the objects and material practices in which composition occurs affect the writing process through the various “affordances” offered by different “modes”; this study focused on the mode of images (270).The study further addressed the use of images and digital modes in the genre of testimonio, “a first-person narrative told by the protagonist and witness of events, usually recorded by an interlocutor,” which features a call to action (271-72). Throughout, the authors used a “participatory approach,” in which they worked side-by-side with the women and students to consider how the writers made choices and constructed meaning from the available resources (271).

A goal of the study was to assess “how transnational ties shaped various aspects of the digital writing process for all participants” (276). The authors argue that their study’s intergenerational focus usefully complicates common views that immigrant adults maintain the “cultural heritage” of their home communities while children develop more “hybrid practices” (270). Noguerón-Liu and Hogan found that the differences between the adults and adolescents they studied were more complex than generally assumed.

Interviews and results of focus groups were coded to investigate how participants maintained transnational ties, while coding of “field notes, interviews, and writing samples” permitted examination of how visual media “elicit[ed] discussion” during the composition process (275-76).

A major distinction revealed by the study was that the adults concentrated on sharing cultural information and revisiting memories while the adolescents focused on worries about safety and violence (278, 284). “Diana” created materials depicting church activities and “Mireya” elaborated on a mountain setting near her hometown that she wanted her daughter to see. In contrast, “Jackie” seemed caught up in the story of a bus accident that made her worry about her family’s safety, while “Diego” collected videos and references to drug-cartels and police corruption in his hometown (277-78).

Another important aspect of the study was the degree to which search-engine algorithms influenced participants’ options and choices. Searches foregrounded images from news reports, which most often showed violent events from the towns. Mireya abandoned digital searching for images because she considered violence irrelevant to the values she wanted to convey (280). After this experience, Noguerón-Liu and Hogan discussed options for reducing exposure to violence in the middle-grade sessions, but were unable to find completely satisfactory filters that still gave the students the information they needed (280).

The authors found dealing with emerging images of crime and violence a challenge in their roles as mentors and co-composers. Diego drew heavily on available videos of men with guns to ground his concerns about drug-cartel power in his community, and the researchers found themselves “interject[ing] [their] own assumptions about conflict” as they facilitated the students’ efforts (281). They found themselves among the interlocutors for participants’ testimonio about their experiences, ranging from witnessing miracles to reporting violence (283). This role required the researchers to “negotiate [their] own biases and concerns about crime-related information (which aligned with the concerns of adult participants) and the urgency in adolescents’ accounts about the danger their relatives faced back home” (283).

Noguerón-Liu and Hogan stress the diversity and agency that participants displayed as a result of their varying experiences with transnational networks. The two adults made specific decisions about which images they considered relevant to their purposes, consciously avoiding depictions of violence. Noguerón-Liu and Hogan caution that the prevalence of images of violence arising from news stories accessed by search engines can obscure other features of immigrants’ home communities that the immigrants themselves wish to foreground (286). At the same time, the researchers’ experiences as interlocutors for testimonio led them to argue that “transnational practices should not be reduced to symbols or folkloric dance, but can be expanded to include the solidarity, concern, and healing connecting individuals to their home countries” (286).

The authors note that their study highlights the “limitations of digital files” in ways that should concern all practitioners of multimodal composition instruction (285). Individual images juxtaposed without context can influence interpretation. The authors point to the importance of keyword choice as a means of expanding the available material from which multimodal writers can draw (285).

Noguerón-Liu and Hogan contend that “a listening-and-learning stance in practitioner inquiry” will best support agency and choice as transnational students decide how they want to depict their homelands and their ties to them. Teachers’ “[n]ew ways of listening and seeing” will facilitate immigrants’ efforts to “reimagine Michoacán and other conflict-ridden regions in complex and hopeful ways” (287).