Chicana/Latina Education in Everyday Life: Feminista Perspectives on Pedagogy And Epistemology
reviewed by Terri Patchen - June 11, 2007
Title: Chicana/Latina Education in Everyday Life: Feminista Perspectives on Pedagogy And Epistemology
Author(s): Dolores Delgado Bernal, C. Alejandra Elenes, Francisca E. Godinez, and Sofia Villenas
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0791468062 , Pages: 292, Year: 2006
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The groundbreaking scholarship of Gloria Anzaldúa is the inspiration for much of the work featured in the edited volume, Chicana/Latina education in everyday life: Feminista perspectives on pedagogy and epistemology, and she more than merits the attention. Cited in all but two of the sixteen included chapters, Anzaldúas innovative focus on borderlands and mestiza consciousness provides the conceptual framework for the majority of this collection's examinations of the educative processes at work in the lives of Chicanas/Latinas. The collection is divided into four sections, each edited by a different scholar: Youth Bodies and Emerging Subjectivities (Francisca Godinez); Mujeres in College: Negotiating Identities and Challenging Educational Norms (Dolores Delgado Bernal); Mature Latina Adults and Mothers: Pedagogies of Wholeness and Resilience (Sofia Villenas); Borderlands, Pedagogies, and Epistemologies (C. Alejandra Elenes). Taken as a whole the book constitutes a free-flowing examination of the do's and donts of instrumentalizing Anzaldúas work.
Establishing the space for examining all that is messy, ambiguous, and historically neglected (considering, as it does, the nasty bits of life identities, orientations, and expectations), Anzaldúas borderlands consciousness recognizes that the divisions that distinguish us (brown/white, gay/straight, colonizer/colonized) vary in form, impact us in multiple ways, and can be used and manipulated by us as much as we are used and manipulated by them. The hallmark of her work, however, is her recognition that these multidimensional divisions are more complex and complicating than ordinary, mainstream scholarship acknowledges. Given its visceral underpinnings, it is essential that the use of a borderlands consciousness be characterized by clarity, thoughtful argumentation, and diversified substantiation.
Interspersed throughout the edited volume are several key pieces that demonstrate how purposeful and illuminating borderlands theorizing can be. In the most successful chapters (e.g., Delgado Bernal; Cruz; and Elenes), the authors explicitly identify and define the ways they use Anzaldúa and others, thoughtfully contextualize their work in relation to previous studies, and substantiate their claims (empirically or theoretically). These chapters help us better understand the complex ways distinct variables influence the education of Latinas, as well as how Latinas shape educative processes both inside and outside schools. Moreover, in these chapters (and to a lesser extent in other chapters), one of the real strengths of the borderlands epistemology is in evidence: its capacity to provoke questions about oppositions, and to look for the answers within these oppositions. The struggle itself is part of the solution.
Dolores Delgado Bernal, drawing on her research with over 30 Chicana students, illustrates empirically how
The concept of a mestiza consciousness an identity that is fluid, resilient, and oppositional allows educators to reconceptualize what are often thought of as cultural deficits and turn them into cultural resources, thus allowing them to understand the lives of Chicana/Mexicana students in ways that are often overlooked in the field of education. (p. 128)
In a chapter that serves not only to set the standard for the volume, but to integrate theory and analysis within a recognizable and methodologically well-supported context, Delgado Bernal examines how Chicanas go about negotiating identities, culture, and resistance.
Unpacking the above dynamics on a more individual level, Cindy Cruz reveals the ways in which a mestizaje consciousness acts as a means of personal and political transgression (and thus a force capable of transcendence). Less empirically substantiated than Delgado Bernal, but theoretically flush, Cruz details how we can begin to consider the brown body and/or sexuality to better understand our relationship to the larger body politic be it brown, white, black, or mixed. She, like Jiménez in a later chapter, locates herself as a lesbiana, describing how this marginalized position affords a perspectiva that reveals more than it hides about the ways in which interaction and representation reflect as well as provoke the struggles necessary for change.
Finally, in an examination of her own work in the college classroom, C. Alejandra Elenes reflects critically on some of the tensions involved in teaching close-minded students (no matter how liberatory the instruction). What is happening in my classrooms, she writes, is that the mere mention of race and racism is seen as racist discourse. In this rearticulation of the meaning of racism, the perception is that women of color and lesbians are not marginalized anymore (p. 253). Her honest evaluation of the state of diversity instruction in college is particularly encouraging for anyone who teaches courses related to cultural pluralism. Elenes describes how even the best-laid, best-supported, and best-intended lessons can go awry when cognitive barriers (guarded by years of obliviousness and defensiveness) interrupt democratic modes of education. She observes,
Most of us have the tendency to fall back into the comfortable territory where the world gets divided into an us versus them: teacher/student, male/female, White/non-White . Whatever the reason for our slippage, I find myself consciously engaged in a process in which I must first continuously be self reflective of my own participation in dualistic thinking. (p. 249)
The collections less satisfying essays ask good questions and pose interesting dilemmas but neglect to resolve them in methodologically sound ways. There are several chapters that depend upon sample sizes of eight or less (e.g., Godinez; Knight, Dixon, Norton & Bentley; Holling; Bañuelos; Carrillo), and some consider no more than one or two cases in making their claims (e.g., Villenas; Galván; González). Moreover, many of these chapters fail to delineate how their claims are justified, and how, in real practical terms, such findings matter. Such unsubstantiated generalizations (although spawned by intriguing anecdotal information) seriously diminish the validity of this type of work as a whole, call into question its theoretical underpinnings, and further complicate the utility of any of this work in subsequent research. This neglect of los detalles in the structuring of arguments, the identification and/or refutation of rival hypotheses, and in the support of purported findings undermines the immediate theoretical value of much of what is included in the volume even as the chapters themselves are thought provoking, revealing, and instructive.
Few familiar with Anzaldúa would deny the force or beauty of her work. Its practical application, however, remains problematic even as its importance to research design is more pressing than ever. Adopting a borderlands or mestiza consciousness, whatever the outcome, prompts a more inclusive, comprehensive, and pointed line of questioning. The theories considered in this edited volume depend at a minimum, on considering more than what is on the surface, more than the lines between us, and more than the concerns of traditional research. In Chicana/Latina education in everyday life, the strengths and weaknesses of borderlands scholarship are laid bare. The volume's strongest essays reveal the analytical force and methodological usefulness of borderlands theorizing, while other, less well-substantiated pieces illustrate just how difficult it is to distinguish and analyze borderland elements (intersections, hybrids, or parallel paradigms) in real, empirically supported ways.