The Laundromat as the Transnational Local: Young Children’s Literacies of Interdependence
by María Paula Ghiso — 2016
Background: The learning of students from (im)migrant backgrounds has long been a consideration for the field of education. The “transnational” turn in research has brought to the forefront the need to account for students’ language and literacy practices as situated within multiple national affiliations, fluid migration histories, global technological networks, and plural identities. Understanding the global/local dynamics of young children’s literacies across contexts can help us consider how the literacy curriculum specifically, and educational institutions more broadly, may be reimagined to be more attuned to their transnational experiences.
Focus: Informed by Chicana and transnational feminist theories, this study examines how first grade Latina/o emergent bilinguals interacted with a literacy curriculum that sought to value their transnational experiences and multilingual repertoires, specifically by integrating photography and writing as a platform for children to inquire into community experiences they identified as salient. The curricular invitations were designed as a Third Space (Bhabha, 2004, Gutiérrez, 2008) that unsettled the often-reified boundaries between what counts as academic literacy learning in school and the practices and experiences of Latina/o children in out-of-school contexts.
Research Design: A total of 103 six- and seven-year-olds over the two years participated in this ethnographic (Heath & Street, 2008) and practitioner research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) study. One hundred and one identified as Latina/o, and all qualified for free and reduced lunch. Data sources (children’s writings and photographs; audio recordings; interviews with the teachers and children; researcher reflective memos; and fieldnotes of participant observation in the school and community) were coded using thematic and visual analysis, with attention to how specific textual or discursive features functioned socioculturally.
Findings/Conclusions: I focus on one of the prominent themes in the data—the community space of the Laundromat—to discuss how the children participated in literacies of interdependence that linked individual flourishing with community wellbeing through their care work in supporting their families. I use the term literacies of interdependence to refer to young children’s multilingual and multimodal literacy practices that both reflected and enacted their cultural practices of mutuality. Through transactions with neighborhood spaces as texts, the children surfaced multiple and contrasting narratives of immigration and inquired into their transnational identities. Findings from this study point to how researchers and educators may be more attentive to Latina/o children’s values and practices of interdependence and understand the “transnational local” as embodied in concrete spaces within their lived experiences.
The intersection of immigration and education has been the site of scholarly inquiry across disciplines (Malsbary, Dabach, & Martinez-Wenzl, 2013), including sociology, anthropology, ethnic and cultural studies, bi/multilingualism, and literacy (e.g. Bartlett, 2007; Enciso, 2011; Gándara & Hopkins, 2010; Olsen, 2008; Suárez-Orozco, Suárez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008). Researchers have sought to understand the relationships between students cultural and linguistic backgrounds and the institution of schooling, investigating issues such as structural barriers to achievement, experiences of racism and exclusion, and the funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992) that too often go unrecognized in schools (Valenzuela, 1999). The transnational turn in education research has brought to the forefront the role of globalization and mobility within students lived experiences across home and school. Concepts such as cosmopolitanism (Appiah, 2006; Nussbaum, 2008), global cultural flows (Appadurai, 1996) and transnational localism (Mignolo, 2000; Saldívar, 2012) reflect the blurring and transcending of national boundaries. For young children and families of (im)migrant backgrounds, a local context may entail multiple national affiliations, fluid migration histories, global technological networks, and plural identities. These cultural identities can be . . . enabling, enlightening, and enriching structures of attachment and feeling (Moya, 2000, p. 8) that reflect values and orientations to the world. Childrens language and literacy practices thus need to be understood within transnational frameworks that attend to mobility, plurality, and knowledge.
Children growing up as emergent bilinguals (García, Kleifgen, & Falchi, 2008) in diverse contexts find themselves at the nexus of such transnational dynamics. Yildiz (2012) introduces the term postmonolingual as a means of interrogating how the monolingual paradigm has established direct links between language and citizenship. Within the fields of language and literacy education, the reification of the monolingual paradigm can be seen in two seemingly contradictory but compatible phenomena. On the one hand, high-stakes testing and mandated curricula privilege school-based literacy practices in standard English and often disregard students funds of knowledge in the process. On the other, dual language programs valorize bilingual practices as separate and distinct entities that are tied to an authentic mother tongue that children possess as a result of immigrant heritages. Both approaches may not necessarily reflect many young childrens transnational experiences, their hybrid language and literacy practices, and the blended nature of their social worlds.
The contradictions transnational youth navigate within diverse spaces are a theme I have been interested in across my educational and professional lifespan. As a Latina immigrant to New York City, I grew up bilingually in a neighborhood that could be characterized as superdiverse (Vertovec, 2007) before the term gained academic currency: with flags from South American and Asian countries adorning local businesses, shopping at the Colombian bakery, Argentinean butcher, Chinese supermarket, and South Asian sweets shop, hearing many language varieties on the street and in community spaces, and building a pan-Latino identity (Alcoff, 2006) while negotiating what it means to be a hyphenated American. I attended a public school in English with classmates from many formerly colonized nations as well as a Spanish-language school on Saturdays. In the latter context I was positioned as too American, in the former as not American enough. When I became a public school bilingual teacher in New York after college, I felt fortunate to be part of a program that supported multilingual literacies. However, in my capacity as an educator, I also experienced tension between the schools curricular policies and childrens fluid literate practices: for example, by being required to categorize each child as having a singular dominant language (which was often mapped on to ethnic categories) and by feeling as if I had to suppress my students and my own translanguaging capabilities in order to align with the dominant conception of academic literacy espoused within the program model. As an educational researcher, the complexity and contradictions of transnational students experiences became a site of scholarly inquiry.
In this article, I present research from an ongoing study that draws on Chicana and transnational feminist theories to investigate the language and literacy practices of Latina/o first graders as they participated in curricular invitations using photography. I focus on one of the topics prevalent in the students work, the Laundromat, as an illustrative case that can help us understand the transnational local as concretized in the quotidian lives of young children. I explore how the children engaged in literacies of interdependence that linked individual flourishing with community wellbeing through their care work in supporting their families. I use the term literacies of interdependence to refer to young childrens multilingual and multimodal literacy practices that both reflected and enacted their cultural practices of mutuality. Within community spaces such as the Laundromat, children participated in literacies that displayed an ethics of care, were attentive to social inequality, and situated transnational experiences as an epistemic resourcedimensions of interdependence produced and mobilized through interactions with texts. The children also captured these community spaces in their photographs, instantiating them into multimodal texts that could then be engaged with in the literacy classroom through critical inquiry.
A focus on care has long been a consideration for feminist theorizing because women as a group disproportionately shoulder the burden of care in virtually all societies (Tong, 2009, p. 7). Transnational feminism, especially the work of women of color that is informed by (post)colonial studies, continues to be concerned with gendered oppression, but emphasizes differences in womens experiences and the intersectionality of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language, religions, and other aspects of identity (Crenshaw, 1991). While these intersections often congeal into a matrix of domination (Collins, 2000), they may also reflect interdependent ways of knowing and being that run counter to patriarchal structures and can be mobilized to forge solidarity across groups (Campano, Ghiso, Yee, & Pantoja, 2013; Hames-García, 2011). Mohanty (2003) notes that cross-cultural feminist work must be attentive to the micropolitics of context, subjectivity, and struggle, as well as to the macropolitics of global economic and political systems and processes (p. 501). Experiences of oppression are both locally constituted and entangled within broader social and political dynamics, and thus need to be simultaneously considered.
In describing the relationship between particular experiences and more universal understandings, Mohanty (2003) explains:
[D]ifferences are never just differences. In knowing differences and particularities, we can better see the connections and commonalities because no border or boundary is ever complete or rigidly determining. The challenge is to see how differences allow us to explain the connections and border crossings better and more accurately, how specifying differences allows us to theorize universal concerns more fully. (p. 505)
Situated understandings of individuals mutually constitutive identities can help to illuminate more global relationships. Alcoff (2006) argues that identities are hermeneutic horizons comprised of experiences, basic beliefs, and communal values, all of which influence our orientation toward and responses to future experiences (p. 287). Minoritized identities can be profound sources of knowledge about how the world is structured hierarchically and how we might build coalitions across different experiences toward social justice ends (Hames-García, 2011). This is what scholars have referred to as the epistemic privilege of minoritized identities (Campano, 2007; Moya, 2002).
One example of epistemic privilege is what Gloria Anzaldúa (1999) and other Chicana feminists (e.g., Moraga, 2011; Saldívar-Hull, 2000) refer to as a mestiza consciousness. These scholars theorize how occupying positions in the borderlands of multiple worlds, beliefs, and identities can disrupt binary thinking and create new possibilities for action. The knowledge base of the new mestiza is attentive to overlapping oppressions and colonial histories; it entails an insider/outsider subjectivity that tolerates ambiguity and contradiction as a means of unsettling and resisting imposed norms (Anzaldúa, 1999, p. 101). A central tenet of Chicana and transnational feminisms is to raise questions regarding the nature and location of knowledge and the mechanisms for its legitimation. This intellectual project entails challenging objectivity as tied to a patriarchal positivist rationality and theorizing minoritized epistemologies that link the personal and the political and view dissonance as productive. Delgado Bernal (1998, 2002) has articulated how such counter epistemologies might influence educational research through more democratic processes that listen to the testimonios and cultural intuition of marginalized communities. This call for more expansive and culturally informed methodologies has been taken up by scholars who strive to document and take action on the experiences of students, families, and community members within unequal educational structures (Calderón, Delgado Bernal, Pérez Huber, Malagón, & Vélez, 2012; Saavedra, 2011).
My research brings together transnational and Chicana feminist theories of identity and experience with literacy studies. Chicana feminist frameworks provide a lens through which to understand how emergent bilingual children navigate U.S.-based experiences as part of ethnic communities that are being criminalized within the current immigration climate. The children also claim transnational identities across Latin America and beyond, and their literacies are positioned within global cultural flows (Appadurai, 1996) and colonial legacies (Ghiso & Campano, 2013). Transnational feminisms that emphasize interconnection of experiences (Tong, 2009) can help illuminate the relationship between students particular experiences and more global dynamics. A methodological focus on literacies offers an empirical base for analyzing how children participate in and contribute to an ethos of interdependence through everyday social practices.
LITERACY AND IMMIGRANT STUDENTS
One way to understand the experiences of children from (im)migrant backgrounds and their participation in schools is through attention to the role of literacy as a social and ideological practice (Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Street, 1995). This orientation conceptualizes literacy not as a neutral, stable, and universal set of skills, but as multiple practices actively constructed and negotiated within given contexts and hierarchies of power, and through a range of semiotic resources that include modes beyond the linguistic (Kress, 2003). An important dimension of this ideological model of literacy (Street, 1984) is to examine the regulation of what counts as literacy in particular settings, which by extension constructs who is (or is not) labeled as literate. Researchers have documented a range of literacy practices that shed light on cultural funds of knowledge such as testimonios (Saavedra, 2011) or consejos (Trinidad Galván, 2001), as well as the ways these community literacies are often delegitimized within institutions such as schooling (Heath, 1983). Practices in local contexts, however, need to be linked to global considerations (Brandt & Clinton, 2002), an emphasis which has been taken up by transnational literacy scholarship (Lam & Warriner, 2012). Bruce Horner (2013) urges researchers to put renewed emphasis on temporal dimensions to highlight literacies emergent character and thus prevent the stabilizing of text or context (p. 4) that may characterize them as insular or static. A return to the relationship of temporality to spatiality reflects global patterns of mobility within and across locations while retaining the historicity of particular contexts.
Investigations of transnational literacy practices have highlighted the rich epistemic resources of children derived from community experiences of immigration, global connections, and border-crossing subjectivities (e.g., Hull & Schultz, 2002; Hull, Stornaiuolo, & Sahni, 2010; Medina, 2010; Martínez, 2010; Valdés, 2003). In her work in California, Marjorie Orellana (2001, 2009) examines how Latina/o children work to support their families and their school communities, including through translation that productively engages their multilingual and transnational knowledge. Orellana deliberately chooses the term work to frame childrens participation within their households, schools, and communities, rather than other possible framings such as play or learning, in order to shed light on how the children of immigrants support, sustain, and sometimes change institutions (2001, p. 367) and to make visible childrens contributions that are often outside dominant constructions of childhood. According to Campano (2007), the care networks and transnational experiences of students from immigrant, migrant, and refugee backgrounds constitute a form of epistemic privilege (Moya, 2002): critical understandings about global inequities and how we might create more just educational arrangements. Despite a body of research documenting the assets of our diverse student populations, these are becoming increasingly difficult to leverage in school contexts that are under unprecedented pressure to demonstrate gains on high-stakes assessments through standardization.
Students fluid and multiple language and literacy practices can be contrasted with the rigidity of certain literacies that continue to regulate the movement and participation of (im)migrant populations. Lam and Warriner (2012) note that nation states still monopolize the means of coercive power within their borders and adjudicate discourses of national loyalty, citizenship, language ideology, and policies of language in education (p. 195). For immigrant children and their families, this includes the literacies that circumscribe civic inclusion/exclusion such as through documentation status (Mangual Figueroa, 2012; Vieira, 2013), English-only policies (Gándara & Hopkins, 2010), and White middle class norms of academic achievement (Heath, 1983; Valdés, 1996). While there are many instances where schools exclude the funds of knowledge of minoritized communities (e.g., Valenzuela, 1999), they may also be structured to support transnational literate identities (e.g., Bartlett & García, 2011; Field, 2005). Thus, it is important not to cast too stark a binary between in- and out-of-school contexts and literacy practices (Hull & Schultz, 2002).
In working with Latina/o youth, Gutiérrez (2008) poses the following questions:
How do we account for the learning and development embodied by and through movement, the border and boundary crossing of students who migrate to and throughout the U.S.? . . . And what new educational arrangements provoke and support new capacities that extend students repertoires of practice? (p. 150)
Gutiérrez (2008) argues for the need to create a pedagogical Third Space where different cultural practicesin their inherent tensionsinteract and create the potential for transformation by mining dissonances between texts, contexts, and practices as sites of learning. The concept of a Third Space was developed by Homi Bhabha (2004) and served to deconstruct binary characterizations of culture in (post)colonial contexts through a focus on discursive representations marked by hybridity and ambivalence and produced in the articulation of cultural differences (p. 1). Thus, the Third Space bears the traces of those feelings and practices which inform it yet also displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom (Bhabha, 1990, p. 211). Historically contingent discourses and practices, in their various overlaps and dissonances, may interact to produce new opportunities for meaning-making and, in the context of this study, new academic identities.
Applied to the field of education, a curricular third space is a useful construct because it challenges either-or categories and allows educators to honor (im)migrant students transnational language and literacy practices and the tensions they navigate across boundaries. Within the context of my work with Latina/o first graders, the contradictions experienced by the children (such as between their translanguaging practices and the language separation of their classrooms or between home and school literacies) became a resource for joint inquiry.
This article draws on findings from an ethnographic (Heath & Street, 2008) and practitioner research study with first grade emergent bilinguals currently in its third year. Practitioner/teacher research involves systematic and intentional inquiry (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993, p. 5) and suggests that those most involved in a particular context are in a unique position to investigate it. In their landmark work, Susan Lytle and Marilyn Cochran-Smith (1993, 1999) argue that the tendency to dichotomize theory and practice results in paradigms which position teachers as implementers of ideas developed by outside experts rather than as generators of knowledge themselves. Practitioner research views theory and practice as dialectical and mutually generative (Campano, 2007; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). Inquiry may include, but not stop at, the ethnographic question of trying to understand the practices or complexities of a context or the facets of a problem. The goal is to take action on a documented issue and work towards more equitable educational opportunities for students. Thus, practitioner research is procreative rather than merely analytical (Campano, 2009, p. 332).
Practitioner inquirys central tenets of questioning established hierarchies and valuing local knowledge (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) align with calls by feminist scholars for researchers to interrogate their positionalities and embody more democratic and participatory methodologies. As Delgado Bernal (2002) notes,
Adopting a Chicana feminist epistemology will expose human relationships and experiences that are probably not visible from a Eurocentric epistemological orientation. Within this framework, Chicanas and Chicanos become agents of knowledge who participate in intellectual discourse that links experience, research, community, and social change. (p. 113)
In this study, I sought to enact research relationships that allowed me to learn from the knowledge of the children and educators at the school, and saw research as being in the service of equity and access (Cherland & Harper, 2006). In working with communities whose perspectives have often been marginalized and within a history of unequal universityschool collaborations, I needed to be particularly attentive to my power as a researcher. For instance, throughout my interactions with young children, I sought to position them as agents and co-researchers (Graue & Walsh, 1998; Lundy & McEvoy, 2012), and attempted to be self-reflexive about the influence I hold by virtue of my adult/teacher role.
POSITIONALITIES AND ROLES
The shift from the term teacher research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993) to practitioner research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) emphasizes how many have a practice to investigate, including teachers but also administrators, coaches, professional development facilitators, university faculty, and care takers. Practitioner research, especially in collaborations between PreK12 schools and universities, may entail a range of positionalities and research genres (Herr & Anderson, 2005). I first came to know the classroom sites for this research when I served as an early literacy staff developer at the school. Within this role, I became attuned to the issues teachers and administrators wanted to investigate and to the local community of educators, families, and students. The following year, the two first grade teachers from the dual language strand expressed interest in collaborating. With their input, another faculty colleague and I designed and taught a literacy curriculum that employed photography as a means for young children to center their writing around issues that mattered to them (Ghiso, 2011). In facilitating the instruction I took on the role of teacher, and thus was privy to daily classroom dynamics and accountability pressures. However, because this was temporary in nature and did not come with the full range of teacher responsibilities, I benefitted from comparatively lessened stressors and greater curricular leeway.
I am a Latina who emigrated from South America during my childhood to a neighborhood adjacent to this research site, a context where I continue to spend approximately half the year. Like the first graders, I grew up bilingually, and navigated English-only and multilingual spaces, including some shared neighborhood landmarks photographed by the students. There are also aspects of my identity that do not align with the childrens, most notably my education level, race, and citizenship status. My positionality afforded me greater facility in navigating access to the site and in relationship building with the families and students. However, my affinities with the children presented the challenge of defamiliarizing the familiar during ethnographic and participatory immersion in the community. I needed to be intentionally self-reflexive about the continuum of my insider/outsider locations throughout my interpretations of the data, carefully weighing assumptions that may too readily link the students experiences with my own while still being attuned to cultural intuition (Delgado Bernal, 2002) derived from my own history and my long-term immersion in the neighborhood.
The research took place at a New York City public school housed within a predominantly immigrant neighborhood which is 75% Latino, 10% Asian, and 10% African American. Ninety percent of the children at the school identified as Latina/o, and 48% had been labeled English Language Learners. The school serves almost 2,000 students, but its multiple academies (one of them being the SpanishEnglish dual language program), the collaboration among teachers, and the family and community involvement created a very hospitable environment. My collaborator (who is also bilingual) and I have been working with a pair of dual language first grade classes each year. The classes were shared among a Spanish and an English teacher, who alternated the classes on a 5050 instructional model. This article reports on findings from the first two years of the partnership (20112012 and 20122013). There were a total of 103 children over this period that participated in the instruction (27 in each class the first year, and 24 and 25 students in each of the classes for the second year); 101 identified as Latino, and all qualified for free and reduced lunch.
The study examined the following research questions:
1. How do young emergent bilinguals interact with a literacy curriculum that sought to value their multilingual resources and out-of-school knowledge?
2. What issues do children investigate when given the opportunity to integrate photography into the writing classroom, and how do they engage in such inquiries?
The curricular invitations were designed as a Third Space (Bhabha, 2004; Gutiérrez, 2008; Gutiérrez, Baquedano-López, & Tejeda, 1999) that unsettled the often-reified boundaries between what counts as academic literacy learning in school and the practices of the Latina/o children outside of school. The curriculum regarded students experiences as rich sites of intellectual inquiry, not merely as a bridge to real academic learning but as resources that could potentially reconfigure the nature of schooling. Honoring childrens family and community experiences also entailed recognizing fluid language practices that crossed programmatic demarcations at the school. While the English and Spanish classrooms were separate, the curriculum travelled alongside the children, and my co-researcher and I emphasized that they could use all the languages they knew in conveying meaning through their texts. The curriculum also expanded notions of literacy to include a full range of meaning-making modes (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), such as oral storytelling and visual texts in the form of photos and drawings, which were given equal weight as printed text, and blended paper-and-pencil writing with new technologies, such as photography, iPad apps that allowed children to draw, print, and audio record, and software for composing digital comics.
Each child in the class was given a low-cost camera and invited to document her/his family and communitieswith the emphasis that the topics should be ones that were important to them and about which they wanted to inquire further. Children took the cameras home on three occasions, for at least four days each time (including over the weekends) and sometimes over a longer school break. Photos were printed and utilized for small group discussions, individual writings (both digital and paper-based), and collective authorship opportunities, such as a project in the second year where the children in each class collaborated to create maps of neighborhood spaces. There were 12 sessions with each class, lasting an average of one-and-a-half hours each. At the end of each year, a celebration for educators and extended family was held where the students could share their work through bounded books of their writings, a mural display of the community mapping, and a screening of digital projects.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS
The following sources of data (see Table 1) were collected and catalogued for each of the participating classes: childrens photographs; childrens writings (including drawings, digital texts, and the collective murals); audio recordings of classroom sessions (whole group and small group) and of childrens perspectives on their photographs and their writings; interviews with the teachers; field notes of each class session (taken by a graduate student who was not responsible for facilitating instruction); and researcher reflective memos. Pre- and post-writing samples were conducted to learn more about the childrens writing, and for a complementary quantitative component to the study led by my co-researcher (see Martínez-Álvarez, Ghiso, 2012). I was also a participant observer in the neighborhood sites highlighted by the children (Heath & Street, 2008).
Table 1. Data Collected by Date
Note: Instruction for Yr. 1 took place concurrently with both partner classes (March 2012June 2012). In Yr. 2, instruction took place first with one class (Dec. 2012April 2013) so that the other could serve as a control group for the quantitative portion of the study. The partner class then participated in the instructional sequence from April 2013June 2013.
During the second year, I conducted semi-structured interviews (Bodgan & Biklen, 2003; Rapley, 2004) with 28 of the 49 first graders to learn more about an emerging theme in the research: places in the community the students identified as salient and which my co-researcher and I have referred to elsewhere as community landmarks (Ghiso, Martínez-Álvarez, & Dernikos, 2014). The interviews were designed to learn from childrens perspectives of the community spaces and their participation across them in a more in-depth manner (see Appendix A for interview protocol). This approach saw the children as possessing and contributing knowledge of their experiences and having agency to shape the research process itself. A primary consideration was the ethics of working with young children, and I strove to create interview experiences that gave children choice, let them drive the discussion, and took seriously their contributions. I viewed the interview as a conversation (Gollop, 2000) whereby children have the space to express their views and be listened to, with the initial questions as a starting point.
Research exploring participatory methodologies with young children recommend that such exchanges include concrete materials such as props, drawings, or puppets, and that efforts are made to differentiate interviews from regular school activities to lessen the power differentials (Einarsdóttir, 2007; Graue & Walsh, 1998). I emphasized to the children that there was no right or wrong answer and that they could decide the topics for discussion. Based on the photographs brought in by the class, I constructed a handheld map of the community spaces the students had identified. Using a stand-up stick-figure drawing labeled with their name, the children were asked to pick a place they wanted to tell me more about, and then to move their person to another location for further conversation. The children could also choose to add their houses or apartments to the map, as well as reflect on any other places they thought were important that had not been featured. As data analysis was ongoing throughout the study, these interview experiences also allowed me to gain student perspectives on emerging themes.
Data analysis began alongside data collection, and continued at the completion of each years cycle. Along with other members of the research team, I looked across the different data sources and assigned descriptive labels, which were then reviewed to identify initial themes (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), such as the prevalence of neighborhood places, the care work children engaged in, and their multilingual and translanguaging literacies. The unit of analysis was the childrens multimodal literacy events. A literacy event was initially characterized by Heath (1982) as occasions in which a piece of writing was integral to the nature of participants interactions and their interpretive processes and strategies (p. 50). However, as literacy scholars have expanded notions of texts to include other modalities (e.g., Jewitt, 2008; Kress, 2003; Siegel, 1995), I interpreted a piece of writing as extending beyond a linguistic artifact, and therefore considered engagements with visuals such as photographs to be a literacy event. In examining these events, I attended to the specific types and features of texts involved, the domains of social activity (Purcell-Gates, Perry, & Briseño, 2007) within which they occurred, and the nature of students engagement with them. I attached descriptive labels to these various dimensions, which then allowed me to look across the literacy events and create codes that captured aspects of the childrens literacy practices, or social models of literacy that participants bring to bear on those events and that give meaning to them (Street, 1988, as cited in Heath & Street, 2008, p. 104).
In analyzing the photos, I drew on the work of Luttrell (2010), who emphasizes that there are multiple layers of meaning in any single photograph and that children have intentions and make deliberate choices (albeit prescribed) to represent themselves and others (p. 224). Luttrell identifies the child as a knowing subject, who directs the camera and thus the viewers gaze, as that the starting point for interpreting his/her photographs. This analysis should also be informed by the constraints and affordances of the conditions for participation and the influence of larger social forces (Luttrell, 2010, p. 231). For instance, in examining images of the neighborhood Laundromats (described in the Findings section), I catalogued the texts and created descriptive labels regarding the ways childrens intentionality was conveyed through features of the visual texts (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996), such as the framing or angle, the role of the instructional context in shaping image production, and the relationship of individual designs to historical, cultural, and political contexts of sign-making (Siegel & Panofsky, 2012).
I reviewed my preliminary codes across literacy events in a recursive and iterative process (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003), collapsing and merging codes and searching for (dis)confirming evidence in the data (Sipe & Ghiso, 2004). My analysis resulted in the development of the following seven categories and eleven subcategories that capture the dimensions of childrens literacy practices within our hybrid curricular space: Collective Work; Empathy; Communal Orientation (Intergenerational Awareness, Respect for Elders, and Sharing); Attention to Inequality (Socioeconomic, Immigration, and Discrimination); Learning from Hardship; Language (Bi/multilingual texts, Community Literacies, Translanguaging Practices, Bi/multilingual Identities, and Language Barriers); and Transnationalism. A definition of the codes along with illustrative examples across the data sources is detailed in Figure 1, and a coded transcript is provided in Appendix B. I met with a co-researcher to discuss my codes and analyze a sample of data together, which led to some refinements in the coding scheme, after which my co-researcher coded 50% of the data separately (Kennedy, 2005). Our inter-rater agreement was 82%, which fell within the recommended guidelines (Kazdin, 1982), and all our discrepancies were resolved through discussion. Insights were shared with students and with the teachers during ongoing informal conversations and more structured interview exchanges, to address what Anderson (2007) and colleagues refer to as democratic validity, honoring the perspectives and interests of all stakeholders (cited in Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009, p. 44).
Figure 1. Codes and examples across data sources
The curricular invitations attempted to create a space that would be more inclusive of the epistemic resources of students. However, despite these goals, there were still exclusions, and as a researcher it was important for me to be aware of that which was less visible or mostly ineffable. For example, there were traces of the presence of indigenous languages and literacies, but these were not surfaced through the curriculum and only appeared in a couple of interviews. I thus needed to attend to that which didnt manifest itself as a recurring pattern, but which was nonetheless important for understanding the practices that were evident.
THE LAUNDROMAT AS A CASE: CHILDRENS LITERACIES OF INTERDEPENDENCE
Many of the students visual, oral, and written texts centered on community spaces salient to the childrens worlds, which became integral touchstones for place-based critical literacy inquiries (Comber, Thomson, & Wells, 2001) within our hybrid curriculum. Reminiscent of scholarship on the role of the barbershop as an African American discursive space and intergenerational context for cultural exchange (Alexander, 2003, p. 106), the Laundromat emerged early on as an important community landmark for the children. In the first year, nearly a quarter of the participating students (13 of the 54 children, or 24.1%) featured the Laundromat in their photographs, and many more made mention of this space in group discussions and interviews. The prominence of this and other neighborhood places led me to examine the nature of childrens literacies within and across their multiple worlds.
Through what I refer to as literacies of interdependence, I found that the children participated in and mobilized multilingual and multimodal literacy practices to negotiate their transnational identities. One of my main findings was how the children were attuned to others: showing empathy, embodying a collective orientation, and supporting others through care work. My cultural intuition (Delgado Bernal, 1998), derived from memories of helping my younger siblings and mother as a new immigrant to the United States, sensitized me to the value children placed on mutuality, but I was surprised at the range and variation of this communal awareness and the ways it drew attention to the larger systemic inequities families faced. My codes (Figure 1) reveal these multiple dimensions of childrens literacies, which I found evident in their texts and interactions with texts across different community spaces, including the grocery store, the park, the bakery, and the library. In this article, I examine the Laundromat as an illustrative case of young childrens literacies of interdependence.
In his exploration of the nature of kinship, Marshall Sahlins (2013) argues that kinship is not essentially biological, but rather enacted through different practices within specific historical and cultural contexts. Drawing on an array of ethnographic studies, Sahlins makes the case for conceptualizing kinship as mutuality of being whereby people . . . are intrinsic to one anothers existence, they are members of one another (p. ix). Markus and Moya (2010) note that the organizing principles of interdependence stress empathy, reciprocity, belongingness, kinship, hierarchy, loyalty, respect, politeness, and social obligation (p. 48). My use of the term literacies of interdependence points to how the childrens practices of mutuality and co-responsibility were conveyed, enacted, and transformed through their interactions with texts.
AQUí COMO EN SU CASA [HERE LIKE IN YOUR HOME]: THE MULTILINGUAL AND TRANSNATIONAL LITERACIES OF THE LAUNDROMAT
Of the corpus of childrens photographs over the two-year study, 86 images were centered on the Laundromat. Thematic analysis of this text-set indicates that children documented both the built environment of the Laundromat as well as peoples interactions within this space in an approximately even distribution (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Focus of laundry photos
Critical disability studies theorists utilize the concept of the built environment to indicate how spaces are designed according to public and ideal conceptions of the human body (Siebers, 2008, p. 298), arguing that the built environment produces disability by sponsoring certain types of bodies, and require[s] interventions at the level of social justice (Siebers, 2013, p. 284). The fields of education and immigration can learn from disability studies about the ways a built environment can legitimate and produce certain types of cultural and linguistic identities, and how it may be (re)structured in a more inclusive manner. My analysis underscored that through their photographs, the children depicted the built environment as a hybrid space (Bhabha, 2004) that encompassed multiple languages, transnational ties, and communal practices. These representations act as a counter to dominant discourses of monolingualism, assimilation, and meritocracy and also deconstruct fixed binaries, such as the demarcations between one language or another, or practices of cultural preservation versus assimilation.
A poster titled Bienvenidos [Welcome] featured in one of the 17 pictures taken by first grader Valeria expresses the mission of the Laundromat she has chosen to photograph. The text begins by thanking its estimados clientes [esteemed clients] for their visita [visit], and continues:
Deseamos que Ud. se sienta aquí como en su casa. Por eso le solicitamos y agradecemos su colaboración para mantener el buen funcionamiento de lavarropas y secadoras y conservar la higiene de nuestro local.
Así Ud. nos ayudará a brindarle a Ud. lo que se merece.
[We wish that you feel here like in your home. That is why we solicit and thank you for your collaboration in maintaining the good functioning of the washers and dryers and conserving the hygiene of our locale. In this way you will help us offer you what you deserve.] (translation mine)
The message makes explicit links between the Laundromat and ones home, whereby feeling como en su casa [like in your home] entails working together to maintain the functioning and overall cleanliness of the space, so that all may feel comfortable and thrive there. This shared responsibility in turn makes it possible to offer patrons of the Laundromat lo que se merece[n] [what they deserve]. The message, addressed from the owners of this specific Laundromat, printed in bright yellow poster board and laminated, differs from the commercial bilingual signs adjacent to the poster, which are framed in legalistic discourse as admonishments (WARNING! Use washers and dryers at your own risk). The Laundromat is not simply a site for business transactions, but also for affective, cultural, and linguistic exchanges.
The childrens images of the Laundromat feature English-only print, such as the instructions on the machines, bilingual SpanishEnglish literacies, and, less frequently, Spanish-only text (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Environmental print in childrens laundry photos
As a community space that families visited on a recurrent basis, the Laundromat reflected the multiple language and literacy practices of its members, which due to (im)migration and global connectivity were dynamic and border crossing in nature. These translanguaging practices, described by Ofelia García as an approach to bilingualism that is centered not on the constructed notion of standard languages . . . but on the practices of bilinguals that are readily observable (2009, p. 377), draw on the cultural and linguistic resources of transnational communities. Contrary to a dominant ideology that constructs English as the language of public spaces and languages other than English as belonging to the private realm (e.g. Rodríguez, 2004), the Laundromat, like other neighborhood landmarks featured by the children, signals the existence of the multilingual publics that resist bounded demarcations. Patrons are encouraged to think of the public space as an extension of their home, and as such the built environment sponsors their kinetic language and literacy repertoires.
Drawing on the framework for photographic analysis presented by Honeyford and Sánchez (2012, cited in Honeyford, 2013), it is helpful to consider the relationship between the concrete/material attributes of the images represented in Valerias photos, their abstract/symbolic qualities, and the possible meanings conveyed about what values, knowledges, and subjectivities are being (de)centered by the child as the agent framing a perspective of his/her social world. The laundry machinery itself, featured in Valerias photos, was one concrete dimension of the locale. Beyond these technologies that designate the spaces official function, its décor further contextualizes the language and literacy practices within which such communal labor occurs. Above the machines and next to the welcome poster are commercially produced bilingual signs regarding the proper use of the technologies. To the right of these signs are the Mexican and Ecuadorian flags and a framed photo of the Statue of Liberty, markers that designate the transnational affiliations of its patrons. While each image represents a national identity constructed around political borders, their juxtaposition emphasizes that the Laundromat is a place where people enact and navigate multiple cultural and national memberships. The iconic Statue of Liberty symbolizes a dominant mythology of the United States as a melting pot welcoming all immigrants (Parini, 2012), a narrative which would include individuals of Mexican and Ecuadorian heritages while assimilating them into a new home. The assemblage of visual texts also points to difficult realities affecting the clients of the Laundromat: possible tensions between what it may mean to be American or immigrant and the discrimination many Latinos face in the United States.
As Valerias photographs were taken during the winter holiday season, garlands hang from the ceilings and decorate the potted plants arranged among the machines. A religious poster with a prayer, exclusively in Spanish, hangs in a corner next to the laundry detergent. Such artifacts humanize the functional utility of the Laundromat and turn it into a more personalized environment that contains living plants, ornaments, and cultural symbols. These elements convey the spiritual literacies in which many children participate outside of school, while another childs photograph of the neighborhood library bag being used to carry laundry materials shows the fluidity of school reading and writing practices across community contexts. The Laundromat houses cultural, religious, and experiential knowledge that is shared by many Latin American immigrants despite their varied histories. Through its references to different Latin American national affiliations within the context of U.S. realities, and the cultural practices which extend beyond particular political borders, the Laundromat may be reflecting and helping to produce a new pan-Latino identity (Alcoff, 2006) among community members.
INTERACTIONS WITHIN THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT OF THE LAUNDROMAT
The childrens photographs also showcased the adults and children engaged in actions within the Laundromat (Figure 4):
Figure 4. Interactions depicted in laundry photos
This array of representations is not a quantifiable allocation of time and responsibilities at the Laundromat, but rather characterizes the interactions perceived as salient by the children (and their families, who on some occasions took the photos). Twenty-three percent of the laundry images were of individuals or families posing within the Laundromat, such as next to the machines or by the entrance. Individuals pose next to landmarks they deem significant. As I discuss in the section that follows, the washing machine, a material object that signified domestic labor, served as a touchstone for critical inquiry. Other photos portrayed childrens involvement in helping their families with the material work of caretaking, such as loading clothing into the machines and folding the familys laundry. The visual features of these action narratives show childrens gaze pointing towards the task at hand, or as vectors directed at the camera and engaging the viewer to notice their involvement in these actions (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996).
The children identified as important the care work involved in this family activity, and explored their own contributions in writing about the Laundromat and discussing their involvement there. An illustrative example, written by Janet, explains:
Me and my mom went to wash the clothes and I helped her fold and she was happy because I helped and when we got home we folded the clothes and put away the clothes and me and my mom are tired because we put away many clothes.
Another student, Katy, writes how at the Laundromat she helps her mom, noting, I told my mom to sit in the sit [seat] . . . then I went to buy my mom coffee and she is tired. No mom I am done. Wow says my mom. The children discuss their care practices toward younger siblings and adults, such as when Tomás notes, Yo ayudo a mi mami a cuidar a mi hermano, le ayudo a poner la ropa para que se lave [I help my mom take care of my little brother and I help her put in the clothes so that they can get washed]. Violeta remarks:
A veces mi mamá pone la ropa y yo lo cierro. A veces saco las quarters de la maquina. Y hay dulces y a veces le digo a mi mama que me de uno. Una quarter . . . si no voy a la lavandería no voy a tener ropa para ponerme. [Sometimes my mom puts the clothes in and I close it. Sometimes I take the quarters out of the machines. And there is candy and sometimes I tell my mom to give me one. A quarter . . . If I dont go to the Laundromat I wont have clothes to wear.]
Mi madrina iba a esa lavandería, cuando tenía cuatro años ella me llevaba porque mi mamá trabajaba . . . A veces juego con unos niños que encuentro en la lavandería y a veces jugamos y mi mamá me dice que le ayude y le ayudo. Pero a veces en la casa también yo le tengo que ayudar a mi mamá. [My godmother used to go to that Laundromat when I was four years old she used to take me because my mom was working. Sometimes I play with some children that I meet up with in the Laundromat and sometimes we play and my mom tells me to help her and I help her. But sometimes at home I also have to help my mom.]
Through their written and oral texts, the children describe how their help contributes to the family wellbeing by addressing their material needs, a communal orientation that involved cultivating relationships, empathy for others who were tired, and collective use of resources among extended family. For instance, Almas parents and godparents shared responsibility for childcare, and the Laundromat became a space where Alma could meet other children and also help her family.
Sofía describes this perspective in further detail while looking at a photo of Laundromat taken by a classmate:
Yo le ayudo a . . .pero no es ese laundry es otro . . . La mía es la que trabaja se llama Vicky pero mi hermana le dice Micky. Mmmm. Ma. Pero es la eme. Y yo le ayudo a mi mamá a sacar la ropa . . . y cuando estoy en mi casa, yo le ayudo a poner uno blanco, uno de color, uno mío, uno de mi papá, así, y cuando voy al laundry yo lo saco, saco todo cuando se lava. Y cuando ya terminamos yo voy a la casa y doblo la ropa y mi mamá también me ayuda. Y cuando ya terminó yo doblo mi ropa pero la que no está lavada. Porque a mi me gusta ayudar a las personas como a mi mamá, como a Ud., como a Ms. Sánchez [Spanish teacher], Ms. Smith [English teacher], así.
[I help her to . . . but its not this laundry its another. . . . Mine [my laundry] is the one where Vicky works but my sister calls her Micky. Mmmm. Ma [makes m sound]. But its the M [letter name] And I help my mom take out the clothes. When Im in my house I help her put one white, one color, one mine, one of my dads, like that, and when I go to the Laundromat I take it out, I take everything out once its washed. And when we finish everything I go to the house and I fold my clothes and my mom also helps me. And when were done I fold my clothes but not the ones that are washed. Because I like to help people like my mom, like you, like Ms. Sánchez (Spanish teacher), Ms. Smith (English teacher), like that.]
Author: ¿Y qué piensan esas personas de que ayudas tanto? [And what do those people think that you help so much?]
Bien. Porque si están cansados no quiero que se cansen más entonces yo lo quiero hacer. Porque yo no lo hago porque quiero que me den unas chocolatinas, pero sólo lo hago porque a veces si mi mamá está como muy cansada y quiere dormir entonces yo le dejo y yo lo hago.
[Good. Because if they are tired I dont want them to get tired out more so I want to do it. Because I dont do it because I want them to give me some little chocolate candies, but I only do it because sometimes my mom is like very tired and wants to sleep then I let her and I do it.]
Sofía begins by making clear that the image of the Laundromat she was looking at during the conversation, taken by one of her classmates, was not the actual establishment she visits with her mother. She situates her own activities not within a generic Laundromat, but a personal onemine, she notes, is the one were Vicky works. The spaces are not interchangeable for her in part because of the particular relationships she has fostered there. Another business may perform the same servicesmay have machines, for instancebut would not have workers with whom she and her little sister have built a relationship.
It is worth emphasizing how the discursive terms used by the children, across the examples, were about labor. The repetition of the word help is used to characterize the Laundromat activities, and a prevalence of active verbs specifies what that helping entails: sorting clothes by color and by owner, unloading and loading the washing machine, folding clothes, organizing garments, and caring for others. Two other words that occurred with frequency across the childrens texts were tired, to describe the effects of care labor, and happy to reference their emotions about helping. The data emphasizes the ways in which (im)migrant women and children of color may disproportionally shoulder the uncompensated care work of a neoliberal economy (Mohanty, 2003)labor that feminists argue is devalued because of its association with the home, the emotions, and the body (Tong, 2009).
Feminist philosopher Joan Tronto (2005) notes that an ethics of care involves attentiveness, responsibility, competence, and responsiveness. In elaborating on her inclination to help, Sofía states, if they [her mom and the teachers] are tired I dont want them to get tired out more so I want to do it. Her comments point to practices of interdependence that underscore empathy, reciprocity, belongingness, kinship . . . and social obligation (Markus & Moya, 2010, p. 48). Sofía discerns a present embodied realitynoticing that someone is tired, whether it is her mother, teacher, or other adultand projects future consequencesthat they may become even more tired. She draws on such empathetic attentiveness to take action and interrupt a perceived discomfortso I want to do it. Since doing the laundry is a responsibility that must be completed for the familys overall wellbeing, opting out of this duty would only further shift the burden to an already tired individual. Instead, Sofía draws on communal values to participate in practices of reciprocity, helping in the service of mitigating the tiredness of her parents. Her help further underscores Sofías competence with such responsibilities and her familys responsiveness to her care, on which they depend.
Sofía communicates the reasoning behind such choices, articulating the collective ideologies that animate her actions. She remarks, I dont do it because I want them to give me some little chocolate candies, but I only do it because sometimes my mom is like very tired and wants to sleep then I let her and I do it. As Sofía states, she does not help in the hopes of receiving a token reward, an individualistic model that echoes the behaviorist reward systems of schools. Her motivation comes from recognizing the fatigue of others and stepping in to relieve the burden. This inclination reflects a mutuality of being (Sahlins, 2013) and coresponsibility (Mohanty, 2003, p. 521) whereby family members share (dis)comforts and often help each other without explicit requests to do so.
From an intersectional analysis, we may speculate that social class informed the ways children and families participated in Laundromat activities through literacies of interdependence. The childrens help was not framed as chores designed by parents to teach responsibilitya type of approach to childrearing as concerted cultivation prevalent in middle class families (Lareau, 2002, p. 478). The notion of chores necessarily calls up its oppositeleisureand demarcates these responsibilities as a break from time playing or participating in enrichment activities. The children in this study did not represent work and play as falling along a binary, but rather as mutually constitutive aspects of their lived experiences at the Laundromat. As their accounts remind us, helping at the site also included playing with friends, eating dulces [sweets], and nurturing relationships with others. Within the same literacy event, childrens play and their care work are fused. Repeatedly, the children characterize their outward-directed helping of others as what makes them happy. Their interdependent orientation does not entail a denial of the individual, but rather a different conception of individual flourishing that is rooted in shared responsibility and mutuality.
THE LAUNDROMAT AS TOUCHSTONE TEXT FOR CHILDRENS COLLABORATIVE INQUIRY
The photos taken by the children became a platform for in-school discussions and writing opportunities. As facilitators of (and participants in) such discussions, my co-researcher and I sought to allow the childrens knowledge to drive the conversation and to make space for multiple perspectives. Analysis of the discussions and writings revealed how neighborhood texts as captured in the photographs became opportunities for children to make links across experiences and to inquire into the contradictions ambiguities and plural[ities] (Anzaldúa, 1999, p. 101) of their transnational identities. Looking through their pictures in a small group facilitated by my co-investigator, the children paused excitedly on an image of the neighborhood Laundromat, resulting in an extended discussion which I examine below. The students eagerly shared their familiarity with this context, exclaiming, I go with my mom! and I go with my mom and dad! When one of the children commented that some people dont use washing machines, the topic turned to which individuals and countries possessed such technologies, and whether having access to them represented relative wealth:
Sometimes they [people] wash it with their hands.
In Mexico, they do that.
In Mexico? Why do you wash it by hand in Mexico? That's a lot of work.
Because there is no machine.
Mira [Look], she is saying that in Mexico they wash it by hand.
But my grandma she is like English half Indian and she wash it with her hands and they have the laundry in her house, but she doesn't want to use it and she is just 71 years old.
Why she does not want to use it?
Cause she is old, she is 71 years old and if she goes up and down its gonna hurt her spine.
Ah, but then she wants to use it, because when you wash by hand it's a lot of work, and it's hard for your back.
She sits on the toilet, Cause she doesn't have
My dad I think she is supposed to buy the machine because my mom has a baby.
Ah, she is pregnant.
She is pregnant, you're gonna have a little sister or brother.
The doctor says it's going to be a girl.
Oh, a baby girl. So they might get the washing machine because they’re having a baby.
Because she cannot work so hard and push the car [cart].
In their discussion, the children express a consideration for the family members involved in the care work of laundering.
Washing clothes is described with bodily materiality, and the children communicate knowledge of the physical stress involved and its effect on vulnerable family members. Francine, for instance, describes her grandmothers preference for washing clothes by hand, observing that it is easier at her age than going to the Laundromat because if she goes up and down thats gonna hurt her spine. This choice may initially appear counterintuitive, since typically technological advancements are thought to reduce work. However, Francines comment suggests a more situated understanding of what going to the Laundromat entailsif living in an apartment, the trip would typically include carrying clothes down the stairs or elevator (going up and down), walking to the Laundromat with the heavy clothes, washing and folding them there, and then bringing the load back up to the apartment. Given these logistics, a less technological method, such as laundering small increments in the bathroom, may in fact be the less strenuous task. Like Francine, Estrella was also concerned about the effects of doing the wash on a family member, in this case her pregnant mother. She notes that her father will buy a washing machine because she cannot work so hard and push the car [cart], thus conveying empathy for her mother and a philosophy of communal wellbeing. The purpose of an amenity like the machine is tied to its potential for helping undertake care tasks.
My co-researcher then asked the children to expand on to the idea shared by Estrella that in Mexico there is no machine.” The children responded:
In Mexico, it's a little bit poor, they are poor.
Yeah, there are no machines.
Really? Like everyone in Mexico is poor?
Some of them.
Some people, are there people in Mexico who have washing machines.
Multiple Students: No, no.
There are no machines.
Ah, but there are people who have money but they don't have washing machines.
Ok, so even if you have money you cannot get a washing machine?
They can, but in Guyana they have so many bedbugs and they have to wash their clothes with their hands.
But then, the reason is not because they are poor, why they don't have washing machines in Mexico? You said that even if they had money, some people have money but they don't have washing machines.
Because there is no washing machines, they don't exist in Mexico.
David begins by positing that in Mexico people wash clothes by hand because it is a little bit poor quickly rephrasing to shift from the construction that itMexicois poor to the idea that theyre a little bit poor (emphasis mine), and when questioned directly about the universality of this assertion, David notes that it is some of the people that are poor, not all. The qualification that David demonstrates throughout these conversational turns does not extend to the childrens view that there are no [washing] machines and that they dont exist in Mexico. Francine, referencing her own family heritage from Guyana, makes the assertion that this is the case there as well, and that there is a need for washing clothes by hand to rid oneself of bedbugs, a detail perhaps used to denote the urgency of the washing but also associating that region of the world with a dreaded pest that had been the subject of media attention in the childrens neighborhood. Towards the end of the discussion (not shown in the above excerpt), Francine added that they [washing machines] don't exist [in Mexico], but they exist over here [NYC] cause like people know they invent it but some people don't invent it so people that discovered New York City made like the washing machines everything but in Mexico people don't invent things, they only invent homes and stuff.
In expanding on their adamant assertions that washing machines dont exist in Mexico, and to a lesser extent in Guyana, the children locate the center of technological advancementsinventing thingswithin the United States. The childrens comments align with dominant ideologies that place Mexico and Latin America on the periphery of innovation and progress, and the West at the centerthe United States where people know how to invent things or the Europeans who discovered New York and brought these advancements. Both financial and technological resources are depicted as lacking within a Mexican context. These sentiments seem to reflect the hierarchical relationships of colonial legacies (Mignolo, 2011). It may be that children are drawing on such dominant discourses when exploring who has or does not have items such as a washing machine, particularly given their refusal to qualify or bring into question the absence of these innovations in Mexico.
One wonders, as well, about the possible influence of passed-down family stories of Mexico on the childrens worldviews. Most of the families in the class were of quite modest means, and had also experienced financial hardship prior to immigrating to the United States. It is possible that they conveyed these struggles to their children, especially within a dominant narrative of immigration as upward mobility and personal reinvention (Ghiso & Low, 2013; Parini, 2012). These dualities reflect Bhabhas (2004) assertion that the Third Space of enunciation challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary Past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People (p. 54). The Mexico the childrens families emigrated from is deeply divided by class inequality and prejudice towards indigenous communities. As there is no pure culture or nation, it can be the case that Mexico is at once discursively (re)produced as a peripheral Other through the colonial imagination, and also that the childrens transnational experiences surface global economic imbalances. The children both accommodate dominant perspectives while at the same time conveying a critical consciousness about inequality.
In continuing to explore these ideas, the children drew on knowledge regarding border relations between Mexico and the United States, in the process introducing silenced narratives within the school curriculum.
They don't exist there? Why don't they bring them from the United States?
Because they don't have papers for U.S.
They need to come en El Cerro [in El Cerro].
They need to come en El Cerro [in El Cerro].
What is that? ¿Qué es eso David? [What is that, David?]
Yeah, what she said, dessert.
They need to come for dessert.
¿La lavadora? [the laundry machine?]
Ay, ay, ay, que lío! [Oh, oh, oh, what a mess!]
No, ellos deben cruzar el desierto. [No, they must cross the desert.]
Dónde hay muchos animals. [Where there are a lot of animals]
Pero se puede hacer de otras maneras, ¿no? [But, that can be done in other ways, no?]
¿No pueden llevar cosas a Mexico de otra manera? [You can't take things to Mexico in another way?]
Nomás si tienen papeles. [Only if they have papers.]
When the researcher asks about the movement of goods between countries, the children immediately bring in their understandings of the border and the issues surrounding immigration between the United States and Mexico. In this section of the conversation, it is the researcher who does not have the necessary experience to understand their comments. For 15 conversational turns, they attempt to negotiate the theme introduced by Estrella about hav[ing] papers. David names a particular geographical marker, which the children recognize but the researcher does not. They explain that they are referencing the desert, but their pronunciation of the landscape as dessert hinders understanding between the children, who seem to be on the same page because of their knowledge of the issue, and the adult, who is further removed from these experiences and what is being referenced. When the miscommunication escalates, David and Estrella switch to Spanish to emphasize their point, explaining that ellos deben cruzar el desierto [they must cross the desert] and elaborating on what they meant by describing that it is donde hay muchos animals [where there are many animals]. They emphasize that this is the only option unless one has papeles [papers].
Through their talk, the children surface a multiplicity of narratives about immigration, including issues not typically discussed in the school literacy curriculum and accounts that may challenge or complicate dominant tropes. As Mangual Figueroa documents, (im)migrant families discuss citizenship status as part of their everyday interactions in what she terms the Planning for the Future Routine (PFR) (2012, p. 291). Through these types of regular exchanges, mixed-status families collectively negotiate the realities and constraints of immigration, such as participation in travel plans or health care, choosing terms like papeles [papers] rather than the more explicit word citizenship due to their vulnerability within the current political climate. In the discussion above, the childrens use of the word papeles shows that they had been socialized to talk about differences between U.S. [and] Mexic[o] without mentioning migratory status (Mangual Figueroa, 2012, p. 300), as such disclosures could endanger others. The first graders work collaboratively to convey meaning and to engage in inquiry, utilizing their translanguaging practices and community experiences as an epistemological resource that can help interpret the world and teach others, including adults. The Laundromat as a neighborhood landmark thus provides a touchstone for inquiring into issues of transnationalism and coloniality. Through their language and literacy practices, the children begin to build more comparative global framework across their various family heritages and their experiences in the United States. Following Anzaldúa (1999), this borderland orientation entails developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity (p. 101), where multiple knowledges and practices coexist despite their incongruities. For the children, such discussions within the writing classroom became an opportunity to make visible these intersections and to take an inquiry stance on their transnational experiences.
The Laundromat as a case helps to illuminate several characteristics of young childrens transnational literacies of interdependence: (1) individual agency and flourishing as coterminous with community wellbeing; (2) knowledge as intergenerational and multidirectional; and (3) the disruption of common dichotomies of home-school, work-play, and native/home language-second language.
The childrens engagement with the Laundromat through their visual, oral, and written texts showcases a link between individual and collective welfare whereby individual agency and flourishing is coterminous with community wellbeing. The first graders express an understanding of the felt needs of family memberssuch as being tired or having ones back hurtand take action to share responsibility. Feminists note that care is concerned with the conditions of vulnerability and inequality (Tronto, 2005, p. 255). We can understand the childrens care work as involving a critical discernment of others suffering and a nascent awareness of how human vulnerability is unequally distributed. As the examples suggest, the children become attuned to others, a mutuality of being whereby kin might experience shared physical and emotional burdens. The reward for helping and mitigating discomfort in care labor is the collective benefit, not an individual recompense. Such interdependence as a form of agency unsettles ideologies that separate individual advancement from collective good. As the childrens examples featured in this article suggest, the individual and collective may be more synergistically entwined.
Neighborhood spaces like the Laundromat are a site of intergenerational and multidirectional learning that schools would do well to recognize. In such spaces, the children participated in ways of knowing that forefront interdependence and shared responsibility. These perspectives were passed down intergenerationally through language and literacy practices that reflect an ethos of mutuality. At the same time, children were not merely passive recipients of their families traditions or viewpoints, but agents in their own right. As emergent bilinguals in transnational neighborhood contexts, the young children helped parents navigate the borderlands of English and Spanish, and are uniquely positioned to cultivate a critical discernment with the potential to unsettle binaries of knowledge. Markus and Moya (2010) note that organizing values like independence and interdependence are difficult for us to perceive; they are like the air we breathe, noticeable only in its absence (p. 49). The first graders in this study navigate multiple and at times disparate contextsa world-travelling (Lugones, 1987) that may make such contrasts more visible. Their transnational language and literacy practices may thus reflect a mestiza consciousness (Anzaldúa, 1999). For example, Sofías positioning allows her to name the at times contradicting philosophies of the spaces she traverses and participates inan independent model whereby actions are spurred through a system of individual rewards and an interdependent approach that is based on mutual support and work[ing] for the good of the relationship (Markus & Moya, 2010, p. 49)engendering a type of comparative knowledge that ties local participation to global and translocal understandings.
The literacies of the interdependence at the Laundromat challenge common dichotomies prevalent in discussions of childhood and early literacy education. The childrens participation in the Laundromat included helping that could be considered work and also play in the form of friendships, toys, games, and imagination. Both work and play were co-extensive components of a relationship of mutuality that involved children and adults. The data from this study revealed many contexts in childrens lives where they represented work and play as intermingling, such as at home caring for siblings, at the supermarket, at church, or at a parents workplace. Certainly, there may be contexts or instances in childrens lives that were more distinctly about play, as well as range and variation in the ways work and play were conceptualized. The findings are not meant to essentialize the experiences of all Latina/o emergent bilinguals, but to highlight how for these students, one salient feature of how they conceived their participation in the community spaces they chose to represent was the merging of work and play. Given that children had the leeway to determine the focus of their work in the curriculum, their decisions to convey these aspects of their experiences point to their salience.
The childrens participation in the literacy curriculum revealed how they thought of community spaces as overlapping with, rather than distinct from, their school experiences. For example, Sofía describes her helping at the Laundromat with literacy (letter-sound correspondence) and numeracy (sorting, counting) concepts from school, and links her care work to include the ways she supports her teachers. Through the curricular engagements, the children were able to center their out-of-school lives with the context of school-based literacies, in the process contesting hierarchies of formal or informal knowledge. These literacies also challenged entrenched notions of competencies in the first/native/home language versus the second, highlighting childrens transnational repertoires in postmonolingual contexts where these demarcations no longer hold. Rather, the children mobilize fluid translanguaging practices to convey meaning, such as in their conversations about the border sparked by the Laundromat photo.
Bhabha (2004) writes, It is in the emergence of intersticesthe overlap and displacement of domains of differencethat the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated (p. 2, emphasis in the original). Bhabhas articulation of hybridity as negotiation occurring in the inbetween (2004, p. 1) helps to locate the childrens literacies within a postcolonial context and what Yildiz (2012) describes as the postmonolingual condition that disrupts a territorialized nation- and ethnicity-based language/identity (Lvovich, 2013, p. 520). The data from this study bring into relief that childrens practices are not binary, and cannot be slotted into purely assimilationist or resistant attitudes towards language and schooling that are often mapped onto the dualism of mother tongue ideologies or of identities as citizen or foreign. The Laundromat as represented by the children is a site of cultural hybridity, whereby immigrants both accommodate the American ideal of universal freedom of opportunity, as reflected in the iconic imagery such as the Statue of Liberty, without sacrificing particular cultural sentiments, identities, and practices. As the childrens discussions make clear, there is also awareness of political realities that affect Latina/o immigrants, especially those who may be undocumented or perceived to be so. In such cases, hanging a Statue of Liberty image next to Latin American flags may also be an example of a double consciousness that helps vulnerable communities avert detection or mitigate discrimination. Within school contexts, the choice for Latina/o emergent bilinguals may not be as binary as the apparent contradictions of assimilating into school or the problem of a pure and intransigent home culture, or between maintaining ones language or acquiring the language of the colonizer. When given the curricular openings, the children in this study were able to navigate between their multiple languages, and both accommodate school culture while continuing to be attuned to their collective and transnational literacy practices.
The work featured in this article is a testament to the complexity of young emergent bilinguals literacy practices and the profound ethical sensitivities that inform students engagements with their school and neighborhood. The Laundromat and other transnational local[s] (Mignolo, 2000, p. 21) are contact zones where young children negotiate languages, literacies, and cultural values in ways that are at the forefront of global dynamicsconstructing new social practices and identities. Students in transnational local contexts, who navigate multiple worlds as part of their daily realities and mobilize their literacy practices to make knowledge claims about the world, are thus uniquely positioned to help create more culturally and linguistically inclusive schools. Taking seriously their literacies of interdependence can help researchers, policy makers, teachers, and community members address pressing educational questions, such as how to design built environments that sponsor multilingual, transnational identities, and how we might restructure schooling to be more attentive to the interdependent value systems of children.
In honoring emergent bilinguals literacies, it is important not to detach these practices from the macropolitics of global economic and political systems (Mohanty, 2003, p. 501), such as the nature of schooling or the status of social supports. The children are engaging in practices of interdependence in part due to an attenuated public sphere where adequate childcare, health services, and other resources are lacking for many immigrant communities, especially those whose plight is compounded due to documentation status. Young children and families participate in care work in part to address institutional voids that perpetuate inequities and leave many communities vulnerable. The children are also entering a school system predicated on ideologies of competition. This hegemonic principle is particularly felt within the current context of educational accountability that sorts and ranks student proficiencies, and where success or failure is defined through scores on high-stakes assessments. Within this climate, children who are more attuned to helping others may find their own progress impaired by conventional measures, or they may experience dissonance in navigating school ideologies of individual meritocracy within their culturally situated literacies of interdependence. As educators and researchers, we must remain vigilant to how these tensions in schooling and within the broader issues children and families face could exacerbate social reproduction (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992).
The promise of educational change may lie in the dynamism of the transnational local and its dissonances and overlaps with schools. Attention to the transnational local can illuminate the knowledge of diaspora communities and also expose how exclusionary ideologies makes vulnerable students and families. The transnational local forefronts multiplicity and mutual exchange over the standardization that has accompanied much current educational reform, and thus points to possibilities for destabilizing monolingual and monomodal school(ed) literacies. We also need to recognize that schools are themselves transnational local spaces, where children come into contact with, navigate, and transform available literate resources and agentively infuse their values and commitments into the literacy curriculum. It is up to educators and researchers to learn from students literacies of interdependence and more actively honor these practices in schools.
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Community Spaces Interview Questions
What is one place on the map where you go? ¿Cuál es un lugar en el mapa a dónde vas?
What do you do there? ¿Qué haces allí?
Who is with you? ¿Quién está contigo?
How do you feel there? ¿Cómo te sientes allí?
What languages do you speak there? ¿Qué idomas hablas allí?
What do other people think about you in that place? ¿Qué piensan otras personas de ti en este lugar?
Can you tell me a story about that place? ¿Me puedes contar una historia sobre este lugar?
What is another place on the map where you go? ¿Cuál es otro lugar en el mapa dónde vas?
[Repeat questions above]
What is different about this place than the first place you picked? ¿Qué es diferente de este lugar del primero que señalaste?
What is the same? ¿Qué es lo mismo?
What is it like/How does it feel to go from one place to another? ¿Cómo te sientes llendo de un lugar al otro?
Third place: Repeat above
Do you want to put where you live on the map? ¿Quieres poner tu casa o departamento en el mapa?
Why did you put it there? ¿Por qué lo pusiste allí?
What is it like where you live? ¿Cómo es dónde vives?
What is different about where you live than the places you talked about? ¿Qué es diferente de dónde vives y de los otros lugares de los que hablamos?
What is the same? ¿Qué es lo mismo/similar?
Is there a place in your community that is important to you that is not on the map? ¿Hay algún lugar en tu comunidad que es importante para ti pero que no está en el mapa?
What is it? Tell me about that place (see above) ¿Qué lugar es? Cuentame de este lugar.
[Repeat questions above]
Sample Transcription Coding
Data codes are as follows:
Care Work = CW; Empathy = E; Communal Orientation = CO (Intergenerational Awareness = CO-I; Respect for Elders = CO-RE; Sharing Resources= CO-S); Attention to Inequality = I (Socioeconomic = I-SE; Immigration = I-I; Discrimination = I-D); Learning from Hardship = LH; Language = L (Bi/multilingual Texts = L-T; Community Literacies = L-CL; Translanguaging Practices = L-TP; Bi/multilingual Identities = L-I; Language Barriers = LB); Transnationalism = T
R= Researcher; V= Valeria. Transcript includes original Spanish interview (in italics) followed by English translation. Valeria selects the Food Bazaar, a local supermarket, as the first place to discuss.
R: ¿Cómo es ese lugar? What is that space like?
V: Tiene muchas cosas baratas. It has a lot of inexpensive things. [I-SE]
R: ¿Cómo qué cosas? Like what things?
V: Como tortillas, jugos, cosas para la escuela, cosas para la cena de la noche. Like tortillas, juices, things for the school, things for dinner at night. [T]
R: Con quién vas ahí? Who do you go there with?
V: Con . . . a veces mi papá no va porque está trabajando. With somethimes my dad doesnt go because he is working. [I-SE]
R: ¿Tú ayudas en el Food Bazaar? Do you help at the Food Bazaar?
V: Sí los ayudo [padres] a cargar cosas y a cargar las cosas con eso y a veces como que hay botellas, tú las puedes aguardar para ir allá entonces están más para allá entonces lo metes las botellas o lo que tu tengas botellas o...son botellas solo como para cervezas, sodas y aguas, y ahí los metes y después vas a dentro y te dan dinero. Yes I help them [my parents] carry things and carry things with that and sometimes like there are bottles, you can keep them to go over there then they are more over there then you put the bottles or what you have bottles or they are bottles only like for beer or sodas or water, and then you put them in and then you go inside and they give you money. [CW, I-SE]
R: Ah, sí, para reciclarlo. ¿Y tú haces eso? Oh, yes, to recycle. And you do that?
V: Sí. Yes.
R: Sí, yo también lo hacía cuando era pequeña y colectaba las botellitas, verdad? ¿Hay algún otro lugar en el mapa dónde vas? Yes, I also used to do that when I was little and I collected the little bottles, right? Is there another place on the map where you go?
V: Sí. Yes.
R: ¿Que lugar? What place?
V: La biblioteca. The library.[L-CL]
R: Vamos a mover tu personita a la biblioteca. Lets move your little person to the library [moves paper figure to image of library]
R: ¿Cómo es la biblioteca? Whats the library like?
V: Hay muchos libros de inglés y también te ayudan a hacer tu tarea y allá puedes leer pero necesitas estar un poco calladito. Y te presta ahí libros en la biblioteca y te dicen cuando lo necesitas devolver. There are a lot of books in English and sometimes they help you do your homework and there you can read but you need to be a little bit quiet. And they lend books there in the library and they tell you when you need to return them. [L-CL].
R: ¿Quién está contigo? Who is with you?
V: A veces mi papá y a veces mi mamá y mis dos hermanos. Sometimes my dad and sometimes my mom and my two brothers. [CO-I]
R: ¿Cómo te sientes en la biblioteca? How do you feel in the library?
V: Un poco mejor que en la tienda. Porque ahí puedo estar también con mi papá porque él puede ir solo el viernes porque a él le dejan descanso solo el viernes. Y me dijo mi papa que ya le van a dejar descanso el viernes, sábado, domingo y lunes. A little better than in the store. Because there I can also be with my dad because he can only come on Friday because they only give him a break only on Friday. [I-SE] But now they are going to let him have a break Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
R: ¿Y qué te parece eso? And what do you think about that?
V: Mejor porque ya lo puedo ver más. Porque el domingo no lo puedo ver mucho porque él sale a las 10 de la noche y yo a las 10 ya necesito estar dormida. Better because now I can see him more. Because on Sunday I cant see him a lot because he gets out at 10 at night and at 10 I already need to be asleep. [I-SE]
R: ¿Hay diferencia entre la biblioteca y el Food Bazaar? Is there a difference between the library and the Food Bazaar?
V: Las personas son diferentes. Porque en el Food Bazaar casi hay que hablan español y inglés y allá en la biblioteca hay personas chinas, indianos, y ecuatorianos. The people are different. Because at the Food Bazaar almost there are that speak Spanish and English [L-I] and there in the library there are people who are Chinese, Indian, Educadorian. [T]
R: ¿Y qué te parece estar en un lugar con personas de tantos diferentes lugares, paises? And what do you think about being in a place with people from so many different places, countries?
V: Bien, a veces ellos me sonríen y allí puedo estudiar esos lenguajes. Good, sometimes they smile at me and there I can study those languages. [L-CL]
R: ¿Hay veces qué es difícil estar con personas de otros lugares? Are there times when it is hard to be with people from other places?
V: Sí porque a veces salimos y tú no sabes como saludarlos. Yes because sometimes we go out and you dont know how to greet them. [L-B]
R: ¿Cómo te sientes cuando no sabes los idiomas de los otros niños? How do you feel when you dont know the languages of the other children?
V: Mal porque no puedo tener casi nuevas amigas porque no sé cómo hablar esos idiomas y porque no sé y a veces digo las cosas como que no sé y después no sé si son cosas que no le gustan a las otras personas. Badly because I almost cant have new friends because I dont know how to speak those languages and because I dont know and sometimes I say things like that I dont know and then I dont know if other people dont like those things [I said]. [L-B]
R: ¿Qué piensan las otras personas de ti si no hablas inglés? What do the other people think of you if you dont speak English?
V: Si no hablaba inglés pensarían que yo no sabría nada solo como español y que no pudiera como hacer cosas y nunca pudiera como hablar en inglés. If I didnt speak English they would think that I dont know anything only Spanish and that I couldnt do things and that I would never be able to speak in English [I-D].