Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Interplay of a Way of Knowing Among Mexican-Origin Transnationals: Chaining to the Border and to Transnational Communities

by G. Sue Kasun - 2016

Background/Context: Transnational Mexican-origin youth comprise a large and increasing number of students in U.S. schools, yet their teachers have often misunderstood their backgrounds and the conditions related to their transnational movement over borders. With such a large number of immigrant/transnational youth in the U.S. of Mexican origin, it is important for educators to begin to understand their ways of knowing.

Purpose: I describe chained knowing, a way of knowing of transnational Mexican-origin families. Family members were chained to the border and to their extended family and communities across borders, with the latter way of knowing as an ends in itself. I offer implications for educators, curriculum, and considerations surrounding immigration policy.

Setting: Washington, DC area and two rural immigrant-sending communities in Mexico in the states of Jalisco and Michoacán.

Participants: Four working-class Mexican-origin families whose primary residence was in the Washington, DC area and who made return trips to Mexico at least every 2 years.

Research Design: This multi-sited, critical ethnographic work draws from participant observation and interviews with four families who were situated in the Washington, DC area. The research was collected over 3 years.

Data Collection and Analysis: Through the interwoven lenses of border theory and Chicana feminism, the data were collected over 3 years and then analyzed and coded for emergent themes in an iterative process. The data were member checked with participants from each of the four participating families and also coded by an outside researcher.

Findings: Mexican-origin transnationals in this study demonstrated an interconnected way of knowing as chained knowing: chained to both the border and to their extended communities spanning borders.

Conclusions: The ways of knowing of transnational families should be understood by educators, researchers, and policy makers in order to help the curriculum better reflect the increasingly global context all students engage and the ways we understand the struggles of people across borders.

Así es que dejen de molestarnos

Y reconozcan nuestra labor.

Somos mojodos eso es muy cierto

Pero no es malo ser ilegal

Somos humanos

igual que Uds.

Por qué nos quieren asesinar?

Tengan cuidado que somos muchos

Y por allí vienen millones más.

Aunque refuercen bien sus fronteras

Nos meteremos a su nación.

Ese gran muro no nos detiene

Nosotros haremos ir de a montón

Y aunque no quieran darnos licencia

Pues viajaremos con la de Dios.

Why can’t you just leave us alone?

And recognize our efforts.

Sure you can call us wetbacks

But there’s nothing wrong with being illegal

We’re human beings

Just like you

Why do you want to kill us?

Be careful we are legion

And a million more are coming.

Even if you reinforce your borders

We’ll enter your nation.

Even a giant wall won’t stop us

We’ll cross by the thousands

Even if you don’t give us license

We’ll make the journey with the aid of God.

“Los Ilegales” “The Illegals,” by Los Tucanes de Tijuana

The Tucanes de Tijuana lyrics point to the realities of the border which play into the lives of Mexicans on both sides of the Mexico–U.S. border—including death, discrimination, a plea for recognition of each person’s humanity, resistance to discrimination, and a recognition of authority greater than the laws of any one country. This article researches the question, “What are the ways of knowing of Mexican-origin transnational families?” This research shows that not only do Mexican-origin transnationals know about the border, but that the border and the communities on either side form part of the ways they know the world, constituting chained knowing. Ways of knowing are the ways people apprehend the world in order to act upon it. Recognizing the knowing of chaining to the border and communities in the epistemology of transnational Mexican-origin families in this study moves beyond understanding that the border and extended community are part of someone’s history, from past to future. This chained knowing, instead, was a part of the worldview of the families with dramatic impacts on how they interpreted the world at any and all given times.


Many researchers (Gándara & Contreras, 2010; Sleeter, 2008; Steinberg, 2009; Urieta, 2009) advocate for a critical approach to teaching diverse learners, one that embraces students’ backgrounds (Banks & McGee Banks, 2010; Turkan, De Oliveira, Lee, & Phelps, 2014; Yosso, 2005) and works toward transformation of the realities in which they live. For Mexican-origin youth, this is critical, as they have been underserved in education as long as U.S. schools have been educating them, with wide achievement gaps in test scores and in the courses to which they have been tracked (Urrieta, 2009; Valencia & Pearl, 2011; Valenzuela, 1999). Some of those realities include how the border plays an important if not life-altering role in their own and their families’ journeys to the U.S. as well as in their family networks (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). In support of this approach toward transforming the realities of transnational/immigrant youth, this article offers an understanding not only of historic backgrounds of Mexican-origin families but also of the ways of knowing of four transnational Mexican-origin families. Their knowing was imbued by a chaining to the border and their extended communities spanning borders, despite being over 1,700 miles from the border. Previously, border theory has robustly described both how the physical border manifests into lives of Latin@s who have crossed it literally as well as those who live close to it and how people live metaphorically as border crossers. This article shows how transnationals are impacted by the border in their knowing despite living so far from it. This article argues then, that many, if not most, Mexican-origin transnationals in the U.S. would be impacted by the border, then, if it can reach so far into the knowing of those who live so far from it.

I use transnational as a synonym for immigrant (see Kasun, 2013), recognizing how social roles are fluid among different audiences, such as among those from the same sending country and among others in a country to which transnationals have migrated (Bradatan, Popan, & Melton, 2010). A long line of research has theorized who is and who is not transnational (Waldinger, 2013), to the point of dispute and at times quite limiting boundaries (Guarnizo & Portes, 2003) and using different terms to describe transnationals, such as “sojourners” (Zúñiga & Hamann, 2009). Without a consensus on how to use the term (Kasun, in press), I use it robustly in order to signify the potential of choices of identity and identity performance as well as signify the potential agency those who are often described as “immigrant” have. Specifically, this article highlights a two-sided form of chained knowing of these families, a form of knowing in which families and extended communities and the Mexico–U.S. border work with and against each other in constellating how Mexican-origin transnationals know the world.

As K–12 educators work toward transforming the realities surrounding students and their communities with an emphasis on social justice (Freire, 2008; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Valenzuela, 1999), understanding the ways of knowing of transnational youth is critical (Urrieta, 2013). Much-needed research already shows how the border and communities figure into the events of Mexican-origin and transnational families’ lives and their connections to education. This article argues that understanding the ways of knowing of Mexican-origin families is an important addition to education research and practice. By understanding ways of knowing, a multiplicity of ways of knowing can be understood by educators, allowing for a more expansive sense of appreciation for students and what they bring to U.S. classrooms.

Currently, one in four children are from immigrant/transnational families (Hernandez & Napierala, 2012); of these students, the largest proportion is of Mexican origin. Of all K–12 students, 6.9% of students have at least one undocumented parent (Passel, Cohn, & Rohal, 2014), and are thus impacted by the realities and threats of issues related to their parents’, and often their own, legal statuses. Mexican-origin students share a unique background in their country’s complicated history with the U.S., from the loss of a substantial amount of territory to the U.S. with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 (San Miguel & Valencia, 1998) to the combination of migration patterns and immigration laws in the U.S. leading to greater numbers of Mexicans in the U.S., to the construction of Mexicans, racialized as “other,” as “illegal aliens” (Nevins, 2001). Ngai (2004) explains, “The illegal alien that is abstractly defined is something of a specter, a body stripped of individual personage. The mere idea that persons without formal legal status resided in the nation engendered images of great danger” (p. 61). It is in this abstracting and stripping of personhood because of one’s positioning through and because of borders, especially the Mexico–U.S. border, that the border (re)inscribes itself over and over on Mexican-origin people. This happens when transnational/immigrant students who are documented endure racialized taunts related to their immigration status, such as being referred to as “wetbacks,” as occurred in my research, or being dehumanized in the media as “animals” and “problems” instead of as people (Chavez, 2013; Santa Ana, 1999). In this sense, even the documented are often conflated among the undocumented as situated as “problems.”

Researchers and educators may use the sense of chained knowing to work toward drawing better connections in the ways issues in education are approached and how transnational learners are taught to better include the vast communities who are part of this knowing as well as the realities of the border in transnational students’ lives. This knowing can be drawn upon to improve students’ academic achievement. Following, this article explores the usage of border theory and Chicana feminism as theoretical framework and the lived experiences of four families based in the Washington, DC area with whom I worked for 3 years. I conclude with implications for consideration for researchers and educators.


Border theory has been used to describe both the actual border’s impact on people’s identities in terms of crossing it physically and/or living near it as well as the metaphoric sense of border crossing (Alvarez, 1995). I answer the call by Naples (2010) to use a border theory that also weaves in critical feminist theory with an activist orientation. Naples explains, “Theory develops in a dialogic fashion with practice,” as she argues for the need for border studies to be imbued with feminist praxis (p. 515). As such, this framework draws from Chicana feminist epistemology to complement border theory. These lenses were necessary in order to theorize the data from the epistemological question underpinning the research.

Border theory was initially developed to describe the experiences of those crossing physical borders. Singer and Massey (1998) designed a framework to explore how and why people from Mexico crossed the border in light of the increasing dangers due to the militarization of the border. They acknowledged the human and social capital the migrants took with them as well as the constraints of enforcement along the border and how migrants framed their journey through any previous attempts to cross the border. This work is somewhat similar to qualitative efforts to understand the experiences of migrants who crossed the border as it became increasingly dangerous due to apprehension threats as well as the increase in crimes associated with illegal border crossing efforts, including robbery, rape, and physical harm due to environmental factors such as crossing the Río Bravo with the force of only one’s body to swim and survive the currents to the U.S. Other issues examined in border theory surround health, migration policy, and labor issues, for instance (Alvarez, 1995).

Undoubtedly, those who cross the border are impacted, and there is a recognition of impact on the crosser in terms of her or his life experience in border theory. For Stephen (2007), “border areas” are not just the lines crossed in border crossing but are also “carried on the bodies of migrants, who historically have been read as illegal” (p. 26). This carrying continues throughout the crosser’s life, especially when the person is undocumented in the U.S. and attempts to remain “invisible” (Stephen, 2007). For Coutin (2003), this invisibility is akin to “nonexistence,” especially for the undocumented, wherein legality is “spatialized in that those who do not exist legally are imagined to be ‘outside,’ in an ‘underground,’ or ‘not there,’” (p. 172). This space, for Coutin, is both real and imagined. This nonexistence can lead to deportation, detainment, and even death.

Several theorists also explore the metaphoric sense of border crossing, including how the crossing of borders can occur not just at the physical border, but in domains of sexuality, class, and cultures (Anzaldúa, 1999). For Anzaldúa, the border is as real in its impact on Mexican-origin peoples in terms of its role in actual crossings and politics as well as in its potential to be disrupted, too. Gupta and Ferguson (1992) explore the borderlands as “a place of incommensurable contradictions… an interstitial zone of displacement and deterritorialization that shapes the identity of the hybridized subject” (p. 48) wherein power relations must play out and with this “subject,” uneven as power relationships are, according to Gupta and Ferguson. They go beyond recognizing borderlands as “thin slivers of land between stable places” (p. 48).

The artificial, modern construct of borders separating nation-states is problematized by Chicana feminism as well. Villenas uses an oft-cited refrain of Mexicans in the U.S.: “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us” (2007, p. 419) in showing the history of how Mexican peoples are affected (in this case adversely and through treaty betrayal) by governing institutions. Anzaldúa describes the border as “una herida abierta,” an open wound, (1999, p. 25), evoking the painful and bloody consequences of borders on people’s lives. At the same time, she recognizes the marginal positioning of the person whose life is linked to borders as having certain “faculties” (also referred to by Anzaldúa as la facultad), reflecting a consciousness available to those who see through their embodied experiences of hybridity (1999).

More broadly, Chicana feminists have demonstrated plasticity in approaches to conceptualizing the world through Chicana feminism and other lenses (Calderón, Delgado Bernal, Pérez Huber, Malagón, & Vélez, 2012; Delgado Bernal, 2002; Saavedra & Nymark, 2008). Chicana feminism theorizes historically underexamined phenomena, largely by reframing historical contexts and rethinking the taken-for-grantedness of cultural practices and casting them in new light. Chicana feminists draw into focus the historical treatment of people of color in tandem with calls for women’s equality; Chicana feminism thus re-orients Chicanos’ historical and identity claims as well as the historically white, middle- and upper-class women’s claims for recognition in a patriarchal society (Castillo, 1994; García, 1997). The recasting of concepts helps break down false binaries of understanding, including, for instance, immigrant/nonimmigrant, white/black, gay/straight, and male/female.

Chicana feminism shows overlaps of categorizations, including hybridity of identity and the crossing of borders, recognizing that identities may be fluid and shift in different contexts. In Chicana feminism, according to Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Anzaldúa “gives mestizos a genealogy that, as hybrid people, interpolates them as both native to the Americas and with a non-Western, multiple identity” (Anzaldúa, 1999, introduction, p. 2). For Anzaldúa, it is critical to understand “hybrid” people, or mestizos, who never existed prior to the Conquest of the Americas. This violent cleavage has created the resultant identity category which she uses later to theorize mestiza consciousness. Anzaldúa and Castillo claim not to belong to particular country (Anzaldúa, 1999; Castillo, 1994), pointing toward the importance of hybridity of identity as opposed to having to choose one nationality over others.

Chicana feminism offers a unique positioning in understanding the kind of mindset which is transformative, based in one’s own lived experiences and the transformations in which they have already been catalysts (Anzaldúa, 2000; Castillo, 1994; Mora, 2008; Sandoval, 1991). Castillo invokes Freire’s term conscientización to highlight the kind of consciousness she and other Chicana feminists engage (1994). Anzaldúa theorizes mestiza consciousness, or the hybrid, simultaneous, ways of knowing, often tolerating ambiguities, and tempered by wisdom of practice based on the consciousness of the individual and her relationship to others in mestiza consciousness (1999). Sandoval theorizes how subjugated ways of knowing can be invoked in opposition to hegemonic ideologies to differently understand the world around us (1991).

In many ways, this is what Patricia Sánchez’s work accomplishes in blending participatory action research and Chicana feminism in her approach to co-researching with three Latina young women (Sánchez, 2004, 2009). She offers more profound insights on some transnational phenomena (such as why men from Mexican pueblos improve their residences in Mexico: to maintain status, as opposed to “proving” it, as has been theorized by other white transnational researchers) (Sánchez, 2004). She also shows how her co-researchers are emotionally healthy and integrated because of their transnational experiences in two countries, as opposed to searching for the strains of discomfort and difficulties of being transnational (Sánchez, 2007). Having lived similar realities herself as a transnational, and no doubt informed by the consciousness of Chicana feminist thought, she is able to understand the ways in which these young women are integrated as opposed to pathologizing them.

Chicana feminists tend to offer a situated, personally interrogated positionality in their research (Anzaldúa, 1999; Castillo, 1994; Pérez, 2005; Villenas, 1996; Villenas, Godinez, Delgado Bernal, & Elenes, 2006), one that recognizes “ancestral wisdom” (Delgado Bernal, 1998). Anzaldúa offers a richly theorized portrait of her own and collective mestiza consciousness, rooted in her rich, painful, complicated life experiences. As such, Chicana feminists’ best attempts at honesty with their audience and with their selves help to better theorize several phenomena. Anzaldúa speaks to this point:

Necesitamos teorías that will rewrite history using race, class, gender and ethnicity as categories of analysis, theories that cross borders, that blur boundaries-new kinds of theories with new theorizing methods. . . We need to de-academize theory and to connect the community to the academy. . . If we have been gagged and disempowered by theories, we can also be loosened and empowered by theories. (Anzaldúa, 1990, p. xxv)

Anzaldúa shows the emancipatory possibility of theory, of making it available to all. Sánchez’s aforementioned work framed her participants as co-researchers as opposed to objects of study, indicative of the spirit of connecting the community with academic work.


I took a multi-sited critical ethnographic approach (Foley, 2002; Madison, 2011) to working with four Mexican-origin families who were physically situated in the Washington, DC area. From 2009 to 2012, I did participant observation research (Spradley, 1980), spending time inside the homes of families as a guest, doing everyday activities such as sharing meals, watching television, and eventually bringing my born-during-research baby along for visits. I accompanied families to school events, such as multicultural festivals at schools, and other events, such as a regional science fair and community events. I also made four week-long visits to the sending pueblos in Mexico, two small towns from historically sending regions of Mexico during some of their annual festivals. I took field notes each day after visiting with families, using “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) to describe events and observations. I observed how parents and older family members taught their children, how both silences and languages were used among family members, how objects were created and used (ranging from cookware to religious symbols to music to other media). I paid careful attention to explicit discussion regarding the U.S. and Mexico and any comparisons which occurred, as well as discussions regarding schooling and education.


I used this critical ethnographic approach, rooted in working toward a liberatory transformation of society (Freire, 2008), by researching with families as an insider from the education system who could help demystify schooling in order to help families better use the system toward their ends. I attempted to be a humble listener who recognized it was the participants who could help me begin to understand their ways of knowing from the inside. In dialog with participants, I explored my positionality as a bilingual, somewhat bicultural white woman with an Appalachian working-class background by explaining why I was interested in this work. I explained it was largely because of my deep frustration with what I had witnessed during my 7 years as an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher who had worked in public schools and public alternative schools. I had attempted to work toward transformation from the inside of these institutions in the Washington, DC area with limited success. I had succeeded in tracking some students toward university studies, involving more families formally in the school system in ways that respected their strengths and backgrounds rather than patronizing and alienating them, the typical ways families were often treated (Olivos, Ochoa, & Jiménez-Castellanos, 2011). Attempting at the same time for my methods to also be decolonizing (Smith, 2006), I explained to all families that I wanted to work with pre- and in-service teachers in both my written research and instruction to help them work with greater sensitivity and respect to learn with and from their immigrant/transnational families rather than understanding these families as “other,” and even worse, and so frequently, as “deficient” (Valencia, 2010).


I worked with four families who served as case studies, each family being a case (Stake, 1995). One family agreed to participate because I had worked with them years previously as an informal teacher of two of the youth. One daughter I helped mentor toward attending university; the other I mentored as a co-leader of the high school’s Latino Leadership Coalition in which she participated regularly for her final 2 years of high school. This family helped me access another family from their same sending community. Another family agreed to participate after I met them during a patron saint festival in San Gabriel, Michoacán, Mexico in 2009. They connected me with another family in the Washington, DC area with roots in San Gabriel. Both pueblos were situated in mountainous highlands where agriculture was the primary industry. These towns have long histories of sending working migrants to the U.S., as do the states, Jalisco and Michoacán, where they are located. Aside from doing participant observation with these four families, I conducted at least two 90-minute semiformal interviews with family members who were middle school age or older. The first interview focused on the participants’ oral histories, directed at the participants’ immigration stories and/or experiences of being of Mexican origin in the U.S. and return visits to Mexico as well as their experiences in education in Mexico and/or the U.S. The second interview was focused on interrogating the meaning of some of the experiences shared in the previous interview. I also interviewed extended family and community members in both the U.S. and in Mexico during my visits to explore questions regarding schooling in both countries, transnational participation, and factors influencing movement across borders. In Mexico, I interviewed over 40 extended family and community members; these data helped me triangulate some key findings from the core participants of the study, such as the push and pull factors of transnational physical movement, including, for instance, both economic and safety factors (which worked in concert and against each other). All interviews were transcribed.

All four families were working class and made at least biannual visits to Mexico. Each family had lived in the U.S. for at least 15 years, if not longer. Each of the families had lived in the greater Washington, DC area for the majority of their time in the U.S. All the parents had worked for pay to support their families at some point, and in three of the families, all fathers worked formally. Following is a chart of the four families (all names are pseudonyms, as are names of sending communities).

Table 1. Participating Families


Medrano Family

González Family

Paredes Family

Delgado Family

Sending pueblo from Mexico

San Gabriel, Michoacán

San Gabriel, Michoacán

San Juan Diego, Jalisco

San Juan Diego, Jalisco

Individual Members

Lupita, mother

Diego, high schooler

Bobby, middle schooler

Virginia, elementary school daughter

Santiago, father

Alba, mother

Margarita, married daughter (out of house)

Cristián, high schooler

Marco, middle schooler

Moises, father

Ernestina, mother

Daniel, college student

Gloria, master’s student

Lorena, master’s student

Daniel, father

Edith, mother

Nicolás, high schooler

Jessica, middle schooler

Taylor, elementary student

Luciano, father


To analyze the data, I did several rounds of coding of both field notes and interview transcriptions. First, I coded notes and interviews for emergent themes (Miles & Huberman, 1994), some of which included health and death over borders, border dissonance, racial microaggressions, and spiritual resilience. I reread my codes and checked for accuracy after the initial round of coding and added additional codes to some data points, including these in an Excel file. Then, I listed all the first round codes. Following is an excerpt of an interview with Gloria and the codes I used regarding whether her parents were glad she made the return trip to the annual pueblo festival in San Juan Diego, Jalisco:

Yes, I think so because right when my dad went to pick me up from the airport [after returning from Mexico] [Transnational movement] he was talking to me about moving there and he was like, “Well, now you know how you know how fun it can be living down there, like would you ever be interested in moving down there?” Like he even talked to [Transnational future] me about me, thinking about career wise, you know the kind of career opportunities that I could have down there with my background you know educational background and stuff like that and he got really into it [Rooted to U.S.] talking that way, it kind of freaked me out at first because I don’t know that I want to live there I mean I love it there and everything but it’s [Adaptation] just been- I’ve been adapted to like you know living in the US for so long I don’t know that I could live there I mean I would love to maybe live [Transnational potential] there for a couple months but not live there permanently for the rest of my life you know but I guess it would have to be [Ambiguity] something I would have to see in the future, maybe, possibly.

After listing the codes, I grouped them into common themes within my Excel file. I then situated the codes into circles and looked for larger themes which oriented the first round of codes. Finally, I recoded these themes into larger ways of knowing. The more I coded, the more I recognized a pattern of three overlapping ways of knowing, including: “Nepantlera knowing” (Kasun, 2014), or the liminal, in-between knowing which led to attempts at bridge-building; “Sobrevivencia knowing” (Kasun, 2015), or a survivalist knowing, including an underdog mentality, and the one I explore in this article, “chained knowing.”

These findings articulate directly with Chicana feminism and border theory in the deeply personal ways the border and identity are understood and imbue ways of knowing. For validity, I member checked these main findings with at least one family member from each of the families and found a sense of self-recognition in the family members’ responses as well as their approval and appreciation of my understandings; a description of details of this process is included in Appendix A. An external researcher who both identifies as transnational and Chicana feminist coded several exemplars of interviews from multiple participants to examine the coherence of my codes and add any additional codes. An example of her coding is included in Appendix B. Personal communication with the researcher as well as her codes conveyed coherence of interpretation of data.


Knowing for the participants in this study was literally chained to the reality of the Mexico–U.S. border. The border seeped into how the family members looked at the world, made decisions about it, and how they knew themselves. Family members were also linked to immediate and extended family members, community, and ancestors, what I call chained knowing, or knowing where each influenced the other. (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Chained Knowing Relationship


The participants in this study demonstrated ways of knowing which were attached to other people; their knowing did not stop at the border of their skin. Primarily, participants were connected to their families and home communities both in Mexico and in their geographic locations in the U.S. Like the work on funds of knowledge (González et al., 2005) and Yosso’s cultural capital (2005), these families had vast networks of people on whom they could call for support. Instead of showing how this can be a means to an end, I argue in many cases it is the end for participants. Knowing that these extended family and community members are part of one’s life (and one’s family) is an end in itself. Participants understood that they belonged to these groups and found ways to maintain connections from various locations and in multiple circumstances. Finally, the border simultaneously threatened this chained knowing in terms of sometimes interrupting otherwise strong community connections.


Aside from the family and community networks, participants’ knowing was also deeply chained to the harsh reality of the Mexico–U.S. border. Anzaldúa (1999), without ever having needed to risk her life to cross the border, understood the profundity of its mark on her personally. She explains the pain of the border on her being: “me raja me raja” (p. 24); the border wounds and splits her, and there is no way of avoiding her connection to it. The border figures largely into the knowing of Mexican-origin people rooted in the U.S. and those who have family members who have physically crossed the border without documents. The border is unavoidable and a real presence despite its artificial creation as a political construct (Ngai, 2004). Unless it is dismantled, it is an unavoidable reality to which the families in my study are forever bound in terms of the effects it has on their knowing and the lives of the people they love and are related to on either side of it. So much of what they know is situated alongside the reality of the border. The border is not a healthy container or simple dividing line for them but rather a limiting device, one with long-reaching limitations on individuals, whole communities, a nation.

I take the image of the “chain” from the reported experience of how one set of parents crossed into the U.S. from Mexico after their biannual visits. Contrary to conventional wisdom suggesting that one solo “coyote” helps people cross the border, the undocumented follow a “chain of people” who drop them off at various locations along the way to arrive safely over the border (Spener, 2009). Almost all the parents in my study had crossed the border without legal papers to do so with the intent of seeking a better life because economic conditions made it nearly impossible to do so in their home country; this chain of crossing the border (and thus being chained to the reality of the border) is a very real one.

Lupita explained about the people who transport undocumented people from Mexico to the U.S.:

Casi siempre es una cadena, es una cadena, no es una persona aquí hasta el final--siempre es una cadena… Es por decir, si es por el río que te lleva hasta al río y hay otro que te pasa al río, hay otro que te lleva a la casa, hay otro que te entrega, es una cadena, son muchísimos.

Almost always it’s a chain, a chain, it’s not one person from here to the end--always it’s a chain… This is to say that, if it’s by the river, well someone takes you to the river and another person who takes you across the river and another who takes you to a house, another that takes you in, it’s a chain, they are many.

A chain ceases to work if a link breaks, and here that chain is intimately linked to the border and the survival of those who attempt to cross it.

The border figured prominently into and became part of the knowing of the family members in my research, despite their not living even within a day’s drive of the border. They realized their family members in Mexico were chained to Mexico because of the border, forced to stay away from coming to the U.S. for any important events or for visits because of strict U.S. immigration policies unless they were able to secure travel visas (a difficult process for almost anyone in Mexico, short of the very rich). Likewise, those who lived in the U.S. were chained to the process of having to return to Mexico should they want to maintain their relationships to the people and land by actually being present inside Mexico.

I offer a small part of one of Lupita Medrano’s many undocumented journeys across the Mexico–U.S. border. There are numerous accounts of the real and increasingly risky dangers involved (Spener, 2009). For the scope of this research, I provide one as a reminder of the real fear at play in crossing the border. The fears continue to grow as the border becomes increasingly militarized on the U.S. side. Lupita had been crossing the border for two decades, and she shared this story to show how she had become differently fearful as the border crossing changed. This was one of Lupita’s most recent crossings. She described the words of one man in the middle of their journey, the one who inspired a new kind of fear:

Y ya nos dijo, este, “Iren, vamos a caminar, este no vamos a correr, vamos, simplemente les digo que se agachen, se van a agachar, no vamos a caminar más que media hora.” Y nos dice, nos dice, ya tenían radios en ese tiempo, ya le llamaron que ya estaba listo y dijeron “Ok, están listos?” Si se levantó el gabán y sacó armas... Y dice, cuando se levantó el gabán dice, “Miren esto no es nada… es para la protección de ustedes.”  Y de nosotros porque nunca sabemos lo que va a pasar en esta media hora de camino dice, “Pero yo no les voy a hacer nada ni va a pasar nada pero es por protección.” Entonces el nos llevó hasta un, no era río, si no las presas de agua para regar las verduras hasta allí. Entonces allí llegamos y dijo “Hasta aquí” dice, “aquí se me acabó lo mío, ahora ustedes se van a cruzar ese riyito, pero hasta aquí.  Y luego de allí, le van a correr” dice “y van a ver a alguien esperándolos  allí.”  Y ya, o sea fue solo esa media hora de con armas pero todos como que nos espantamos.  Porque no nos habían dicho nada y luego no eran armas pequeñitas.

And he told us, “Look we are going to walk, we are not going to run, let’s go, simply I’m saying to crouch, you’re going to crouch, we’re not going to walk for more than half an hour.” And he tells us, he tells us, they had radios in those times, and they called him that everything was ready and he lifted his cloak and pulled out guns and says, “Look this isn’t anything… it’s for your protection.” And for us because we never know what is going to happen in that half hour of the trip and he tells us, “But I’m not going to do anything nor is anything going to happen but this is for protection.” So he took us to a, it’s wasn’t a river, no it was the wells of water there they water vegetables up to there.  So we got there and he said, “Up to here,” he says, “here my part finished and now you are going to cross this little river, but up to here.”  And that was it, it was only that half hour of being with arms but all of us like we were frightened.  Because they hadn’t said anything and then they weren’t small arms.

Among the chain of multiple individuals who crossed Lupita over the border during that journey, this was a new experience for Lupita. She said that she and her husband were becoming more reluctant to cross because of a heightened fear inspired by this incident. What would a person imagine about the nature of the person facilitating the crossing bearing those kinds of weapons? What new dangers might be waiting for them? What danger might they have been in under the assumed protection of this crosser? How would those fears butt up against knowing that Lupita’s children (documented U.S. citizens) were not with her in that moment? The danger involved in crossing is something that anyone who has journeyed without documents knows in her skin; she carries it with her forever. Family members who had lived these perilous border crossings often did not share the details of the journey with their children at length, though they said they did try to convey the sacrifice involved in their choosing to live in the U.S.

Yet choosing to live in the U.S. was not a decision taken only once and never revisited. Two of four families spoke often with me about the possibility of returning to live in Mexico frequently, and the other two families had seriously considered returning at other points in the past. Gloria explained, “My parents are always talking about going back, especially my dad. Now that we’re older, I don’t think we would go with them, but I don’t know.” In this case, the border was largely creating this sense of yearning, creating and maintaining difference as a “zone of displacement” (Gupta & Ferguson, 1992). This zone of displacement is surely the location in which the families felt themselves, even living 1,700 miles from the border. Moving back to Mexico was far different for the families than moving across state lines with the U.S., something each of the families had already done at least once. Indeed, many families do move back-and-forth over the border, displacing the education systems and structures which youth engage and the languages in which they are taught, at time with massive disruption to the students’ education (Zúñiga & Hamann, 2009). Youth participants understood that such disruptions would have dramatic impacts on their formal education.

Youth in this study had a sense of how they were viewed upon return visits from the U.S. as having “more” because their knowing was chained to the border. Diego Medrano explained how he was perceived upon return visits and tried to imagine what it would feel like if he were the extended family who lived permanently in Mexico:

There are people I know that hang out with me and always see me… I guess [if it were me] I would see like a family that still lived over here [in the U.S.] and if I lived over there and they come to see me I’d probably have the same impression as the people there. The way they see me… with like clothes and stuff and they ask me for shoes and I mean I’ll give them some. I probably would ask for some too.

Diego was able to shift into the perspective of the families in Mexico, most of whom had not been to the U.S., and to try to imagine how they perceived the people who resided in the U.S. Because of the border, the families who resided in Mexico were forced to only conjure what life was like there, knowing how difficult the journey north would be, as very few had the legal documents to cross without inviting peril. Because of the border and the distant promise of a better life that drew so many to risk so much from San Gabriel, the families left there had to imagine that things were much better for the families residing in the U.S. The border was both an invitation to imagine and also a fixed line that limited the scope of imagining, as it was a real fact of life that inspired fear and yet held promise for those who dared to cross it.

The border also created differences in what students knew and experienced in terms of U.S. schooling. For instance, high schooler Cristián González said none of his teachers except one understood his 2-week middle-of-the-year return visits to Mexico. These return trips fall on calendar dates which are not shifted in Mexico, and they are reported to be deeply meaningful to families who return yet discouraged by U.S.-based educators (Urrieta & Martínez, 2011). Cristián remembered one teacher who told him to bring back a daily journal from his family’s return trip to Mexico for the Christmas festival. It was the only activity he remembered being assigned that was meaningful to him during his many return trips with make-up work to Mexico. The teacher’s feedback included comments such as, “Oh I wish I could be there,” and “One day, I’d love to go to Mexico and experience that.” These comments, Cristián said, left a positive impression on him about how the teacher viewed Mexico. He said the only other teachers he felt he could sometimes share about Mexico with included his foreign language teachers, a sense shared by other student participants in this study.

Cristián also explained that he engaged cultural practices from inside Mexico which were misunderstood in U.S. schools. For instance, he wore a rosary on his wrist, a gift from his grandmother given to him in Mexico, and it became a point of discipline at his high school. “My grandma said it would protect me. She said nothing bad would happen” if he wore it. His principal told him he had to take it off, explaining to him, “‘You can’t have that on here, cause it’s a gang symbol,’ and I never knew that… he already had the detention slip. He was threatening for me to take it off. It was prejudice.” Cristián said there was little to no gang activity in his high school, something that resonated with my own knowledge of the school. The border in this case created a lack of understanding about the meaning of the rosary for the student. He said his parents told him afterwards, “Just don’t wear it anymore ’cause that way you won’t cause any more trouble.” In this instance, his family learned that their practices from the other side of the border were not welcome in the school. On one side of the border, a religious symbol was for protection; on the other side, it was a cause for discipline. The border in this case was a marker for where some cultural practices would protect and others would harm, creating a kind of knowing dependent on one’s geographic location.


What makes networks of family and community an end in itself—as opposed to a means toward some other goal—are how these networks become part of a person’s knowing. Such chained knowing meant maintaining a knowing imbued with an attentiveness both to family and community both locally and across borders. For instance, some children reported having closer relationships with their grandparents in Mexico than even their cousins who lived in Mexico, relationships where the children showed a deep respect for the grandparents. Children who were based in the U.S. could also describe relationships with a host of cousins both in Mexico and the U.S. Gloria Paredes, residing in the Washington, DC area, knew all 30 of her cousins from face-to-face visits in Mexico and in the U.S. and had been taught that those relationships were important to maintain and cultivate. This included meeting cousins who lived in other parts of the U.S. while in Mexico (such as cousins residing in California) and during visits across the U.S. Below I offer examples of how chained knowing among family and community members was demonstrated.

Family members also were often chained to following each other over the border in a way that connected the chains of community/family with the border, despite the eruptions in what they knew as home. In Ernestina Paredes’s case, she attempted to break the chains of following her husband into the U.S. She had come to the U.S. with her husband as a newly married woman, following her husband to the city of Baltimore. Once she had her first daughter, she wanted to return to Mexico so that the support network she had in her home country could be leaned upon. She explained the chains she followed and her attempts to break them:

Sí, nació Gloria y la regresé para atrás de tres meses... y allá me embaracé de Lorena y de Daniel… Mi esposo nada más venía tres o cuatro meses a trabajar, y ya se regresaba, porque… ya no quiso, ya no quiso continuar aquí, viviendo, pues, que viviéramos aquí… Ya, ya no quiso, pero después allá poníamos negocitos, para vivir, pues para vender, en la casa poníamos negocitos y pues no nos daba, o sea no, no nos funcionaba… y él corría otra vez para acá, a trabajar acá… trabajaba tres o cuatro meses, juntaba dinerito, se iba para allá conmigo y así estábamos [sin los hijos], pero ya al último… pues yo dije, bueno, pues “Cómo vamos a estar, aquí yo con los niños y todo, siempre?” O todos juntos aquí, bien pobres o allá un poquillo más, pero todos juntos, edá? Lo que se puede hacer porque de todas maneras, pues usted sabe que aquí la vida, pues también es carita, porque también tiene uno que trabajar, también la mujer, para poder, este, eda? Sobrellevar, entonces, este… Pues no, al último él decidió que mejor, él ya estaba aquí, que me viniera y me trajera a los niños, y ya aquí nos quedamos, o sea, que…

Porque de todas maneras, allá yo sola, los niños se estaban criando casi sin él… Nomás con la mamá y como que también a mi eso no se me hizo muy bien, porque, dije, “pues yo siempre con la carga de los niños, yo sola, él por estar allá trabajando no los está viendo crecer”… No? Yo, yo sola y le dije, “no, sabes que, pues, aunque no hagamos nada allá, pero, con que estemos juntos”,’edá? Todos.

Yes, Gloria was born and I took her back [to Mexico] at three months’ age… And there I became pregnant with Lorena and Daniel… My husband only came here three or four months to work, and then he went back… he didn’t want to, he didn’t want to continue here, living, well, that we all lived here… Then, then he didn’t want that, but later there we put together some small businesses, to survive, to sell, inside the house we made some little shops but it didn’t work out, well, no it didn’t work for us.  And he came running again over here with me [without the children] and that’s how we were, but at the end of it, I said, ok, well, “How are we going to be, here, me with the kids and everything, always?”  Or we all need to be here together, real poor, or there with a little more, but all of us together, right?  Whatever can be done, because in any case, you know that the life here, it’s also expensive, because one what to work here, even the woman, to make it, right?  Making it, then, well… Well no, at the end of it all he decided that better yet, he was here, and for me to come and bring the kids, and so here we stayed.

Because at the end of it all, there, me alone, the kids were growing up practically without him.  Only with the mom and also for me it didn’t seem right, because, I said, “Well me always with the responsibilty of the kids, me alone, and him to be over there working he’s not seeing them grow up”… Right?  Me, me alone, and I said, “No, you know what, well, even though we can’t do anything over there, but, with the knowing that we’re together” right?  All of us.

Ultimately, Ernestina found her knowing and herself connected, or chained, to her husband, who was chained to trying to make a living in the U.S., despite their best attempts at entrepreneurial activities in Mexico. For her, knowing that she was with her husband and her nuclear family “knowing that we’re together” became more important that the temporary visits from her husband and his temporary life inside the U.S. While immigration theorists have described chained migration and how, for instance, “social capital” accumulates and helps family and community members have additional resources to decide to migrate to the U.S. (Massey, Durand, & Malone, 2002), Ernestina’s situation speaks more to her knowing, rather than deciding with some sort of calculus. Undoubtedly it would be difficult to make much money in a small town in Mexico whose livelihood depended largely on the men who sent money from agricultural and construction work in the U.S. When I visited San Juan Diego, there simply weren’t regular jobs, only occasional seasonal ones, for the men to work harvesting oranges and other agricultural crops. Because of the border and the realities of the differences in life possibilities across the two countries, Ernestina knew she had to follow her husband, leaving behind most of her undocumented family members who could not come to the U.S., even for visits.

Ernestina’s daughter, Lorena Paredes, explained how her family and extended community from San Juan Diego knew about each other over borders and shared information over borders:

The word gets around, it’s like, everybody knows… So, you can’t do anything bad because all the Mexicans are there… at least from that part of Mexico [San Juan Diego], you know what I mean? Like a little town… sometimes my parents would be sitting, you know, eating and they talking about, “ay, el hijo de fulanito que se casó con fulanita que se divorció de tal y tal…” [“well, the son of so-and-so married so-and-so who divorced from so-and-so”] you know, and it’s just like… how do you guys know like, all these people and I don’t even know them and yet I know what’s going on in their lives, you know… and it’s funny because here and in Mexico… If something happens in Mexico… You know there’s times my mom tells me and I’m like, you don’t even live over there, why do you know this? Now with mom for example, she always calls my aunts, and she always calls my grandmother and you know and I think it was last week or something… Tres muchachos se mataron en un accidente… [Three youth were killed in an accident.] I don’t even know who they are and yet I know that this happened, you know… And I’m sure everybody here knows about it, like all people, more from our area… So, yeah, I mean [news] definitely gets there really quick… and I think that sometimes parents tend to say examples of other people’s kids instead of their own… You know, so my parents would be like… Pos… like, you know, like… I heard this that a mom would tell her kid, oh well you know, such and such got married con [with]… oh such and such se casó con el hermano de tal [got married with so-and-so’s brother] and they’re doing really good so you should get married with the brother…

Word traveled via phone calls and social media, she said, about what was happening on both sides of the border. Lorena Paredes showed how parents discussed other children from the community as examples to learn by and consider as a way of knowing. Even potential marriage relationships were cultivated over the border, such as the encouragement of coupling with families regardless of which side of the border they lived on. It is possible the encouragement of finding life partners among community members is one way to continue fostering this sort of chained knowing. Lorena’s first cousin Salvador made one of his first return visits to San Juan Diego as a teenager and fell in love with a young woman who had never been to the U.S. After several years, he married her and re-rooted himself in the town this way by living on both sides of the border. Similarly, Cristián, the high schooler from San Gabriel, dated a young woman who had never been to the U.S. for a couple years during his time in high school. Though they broke up, he said he would still consider dating and marrying someone from San Gabriel. High schooler Diego Medrano also said he wanted to maintain ties with San Gabriel: “I’d like to be a teacher so I can have summers off and take my family to San Gabriel. I want them to know where they come from,” he explained.

In terms of formal education, a transnational chained knowing worked clearly among the families. I draw from the Paredes family, the one with the eldest children, to show how the chaining worked in terms of knowing what to do with formal education and how the chaining influenced family members over borders. Daniel Paredes was the youngest sibling and was in the middle of his college years studying computer engineering when he explained:

My two sisters both impacted me because they set the standard for me to have to go to college. It would kinda be failure to not to go in that direction.  I don’t think that I would have gone to college without them.  I learned from my two own sisters—you know they pretty much set up the milestone of what to do, and if I didn’t do it it’s like me failing.  All my aunts [in Mexico] helped me a lot, too. They are like “You have to go to college because all the guys in this family are up to no good.  And you’ll be the only guy to go to college, or the first.” It gives me pride to be able to say, “Yeah, I’m the first.” I would like to be an influence to [my cousins in Mexico] to be like, “I did it, you can do it, too.”

Both Daniel’s sisters and his aunts over the border had a dramatic impact on his going to college, part of his knowing what to do with his life in terms of formal education. He also bore in mind that he would be able to influence his family over the border toward higher formal educational aspirations as well. None of his family members had gone to college prior to his sisters, and he was the first male to do so. One of Daniel’s aunts eventually uprooted her two daughters to join their dad in Iowa, who had worked seasonally in meatpacking, in part to pursue the education opportunities she saw her nephew and nieces getting in the U.S.

This chained knowing which led to formal educational opportunities in the U.S. for extended community and family was pursued by youth themselves, often despite formal school staff members in the U.S. The eldest sister in the Paredes family had been tracked toward remedial English in middle school but was untracked by a well-meaning guidance counselor who noticed her enthusiasm for learning. In the Deglado family, Nicolás, the eldest child, succeeded in completing honors courses; subsequently, his younger sister started to take advanced middle school classes only after he began to pass honors courses. Nicolás also recruited co-ethnic friends into advanced courses.


Sometimes the chains among the community and family members were threatened. This happened as a result of both adaptations to the U.S. as well as the strains families faced in attempting to maintain their relationships. All four families reported they had less contact than they used to with extended family members once they began to reside in the U.S. While they still participated in social lives, the families in my study claimed to go to fewer parties and get-togethers than they would have in Mexico. It should be noted that they all knew of families that maintained active social lives with family members who resided in the U.S. My sense was that the families in my study were slightly more cut off from their sending communities which existed in the U.S.

Immigration policy had real and dramatic effects on the participants’ chained knowing with respect to the border. As already noted, it was a great strain to maintain relationships when family members simply could not cross over the border from one direction to the other. In this study, one San Gabriel community member—and former cohabitant of the Medrano family household—was sent back to Mexico during my research. Santiago Medrano was also detained during my research while trying to return to the U.S. from visiting his ailing mother. Two families in the study were directly involved in trying to help the young community man maintain his stay in the U.S. to no avail. The young man was reported to have been deported two months after his initial detention. Lupita explained that an Asian police officer pulled him over for driving on a Friday night, supposedly having failed to put on his blinker to make a turn. When asked to produce his driver’s license, he had a legal license from the state of Maryland. The officer further questioned him about his residency, and the young man got nervous and admitted to residing in Virginia where he was at the time of the incident. One thing led to another, and the young man was placed in detention because he was not legally in the U.S. This occurred in Prince William County, Virginia, which passed the “toughest anti-illegal immigrant law in the nation” in 2007 allowing police to stop and apprehend anyone they suspected of being an illegal immigrant (Fisher, 2011). This policy echoes the arguments made by Coutin (2003) and Stephen (2007) that all migrants are considered possibly “illegal” in the U.S. In this case, the young man was unable to remain “invisible” enough (Coutin, 2003), leading to his deportation.

In Santiago’s case, he was apprehended near Laredo. Lupita knew very few of the details only until after he returned from Mexico once again several months later; he was loath to share them from the detention center in Texas where he was being held, at the risk of being surveilled from the detention center. A man who was highly productive in the U.S. economy as a foreman for a roofing company and the father of three children who were doing well in school—he was suddenly framed as “illegal” and as such, criminal (Ngai, 2004). And the family’s entire future was called into question. Lupita felt she had to decide about whether he would attempt another return to the U.S. (with the fear that if apprehended again, he would be detained for several years), and also how/if she might maintain her family economically on her own. While her husband had left her with money he had earned, she was not sure how long it would last. Additionally, she had to think about what would happen if she were detained, too. What might become of her children, then? The U.S. had begun sorting the children of detained families into Child Protective Services where they were sometimes sent to foster care (Deportation 101, 2010). The 17 years she and Santiago had spent as parents would be erased by a detention, and their blood linkage could be permanently severed by such policy. Fortunately for the family, Santiago’s brother risked his own legal status in the U.S. and prison time by retrieving Santiago in Mexico and passing him over the border. After this incident, the family began to think differently about their return trips to Mexico. Santiago’s mother told him, “Ya no, ya no te vienes,” “No more, don’t come back again,” because of the hardships they had endured with his detention. At the time of this writing, he has not been back.


Chained knowing for these transnational families was, in a way, its own feedback loop, like the ends of an infinity sign. At one end are the family and community members to whom these transnational families are chained; at the other is the Mexico–U.S. border. Decisions and sacrifices were regularly made with the sense of the family and community in mind. Some of the U.S.-residing children were more oriented toward their families on both sides of the border because of their transnational participation than family members residing in Mexico. The border was directly linked to the transnational community as it heavily influenced who people were in relation to the border as well as their life chances with how it figured into their lives. The border was an inevitable reality which figured into the fabric of transnational families’ knowing, creating disruptions which were at times hidden, such as what students learned from return visits to Mexico, or differently constituted, such as the significance of a rosary in Mexico or a U.S. school.

Deep networks created families’ chained knowing, and extended community played out across borders and in local situations. These networks were not a means to an end, an idea which is prevalent in the works of educational researchers who advocate for funds of knowledge (González et al., 2005; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992), where they rightly suggest that social networks can be drawn upon to support K–12 learning, and for the sense of social capital that families have to navigate the U.S. and U.S. schools (Yosso, 2005, 2006). The chaining among family members was an end in itself, to be among family and community for the sake of being connected together. The ways students could connect each other toward school achievement, for instance, was equally as important as the ways networks of families communicated about the latest news on both sides of the border. In this way, the Paredes family, for instance, talked over meals about who was marrying whom, even across borders, and at the same time inspiring both formal academic achievement across borders and family moves to the U.S. for educational attainment. The ways families navigate education and may inspire each other over borders is an area which could be engaged in instruction toward increased academic achievement and in further research. Additionally, the ways families begin to chain themselves in the U.S. and among previously established U.S. communities would be an interesting and important line of inquiry, especially toward their academic engagement.

The border served as a disruption and a threat of disruption in this chained knowing, too, wherein families were literally separated by the political and institutional structures built around the border. The physical reality of the Mexico–U.S. border was “una herida abierta” (Anzaldúa, 1999, p. 25), or an “open wound” which cut across families in their knowing. It created difficulties wherein some had to consider their economic positioning, such as in Jose’s case, relative to their families back in Mexico. This created an “open wound” which could never be fully dressed, no matter how many pairs of shoes he could take back with him to Mexico to his extended family in Michoacán. Similarly, families were forced to decide what they would do about loved ones on either side of the border, such as when Santiago was apprehended and all the years of the lives of a family north of the border were potentially going to shift or be undone. Also, families were often caught in a regular discussion about whether or not to return to Mexico for a long period of time, perhaps permanently. It goes almost without saying that until something is done about the problems of the border, this “open wound” will remain as a way of knowing for these family members.

I do not suggest a simple approach to “immigration reform” but an understanding of the fuller humanity of all people, one that the Tucanes de Tijuana refer to in their song, “Los Ilegales,” as quoted at the beginning of this article, “But it’s not evil to be illegal/ We are human/ Just like you all.” Their approach recognizes the humanity that used to be part of the conventional wisdom people in the U.S. generally had about working immigrants prior to the construction of the “citizen” as belonging to one nation-state referred to by Ngai (2004). We need a return to that basic recognition of the humanity of all people as one step toward a broader reform surrounding those who cross the Mexico–U.S. border “illegally.” Part of that recognition is evident in a decolonizing “facultad” (Anzaldúa, 1999) of participants in this study, or their ability to understand in hybrid ways the realities of life on either side of the border. This included Diego’s understanding of why his extended family members would think of him as having access to more material goods than they had in Mexico.

It is time to both recognize and embrace the ways of knowing transnational families bring with them toward decolonizing understandings many have about the world, including youth in schools, particularly toward the transformation of both schools and society, and not just toward further implementing a mandated K–12 set of standards. One of these understandings is the factually inaccurate yet common rhetoric of “Mexicans come to steal our jobs,” for instance. This is similar to embracing the “Mestiz@ Theory of Intelligence,” (Carrillo, 2013), which includes a decolonizing form of knowledge. Similar to the wisdom of the Tucanes de Tijuana song quoted at the beginning of this article, transnational families demonstrated a knowing which spanned borders and included an embedded understanding of why and how borders limited movements of people and also created then need for such dramatic movements. Their knowing was, in some ways, already decolonized, a knowing which could help decolonize other students and teachers in schools. Future research can investigate how the ways of knowing of transnational youth are directly engaged in schooling toward this decolonization process. Research could also be conducted in the impacts on others’ ways of knowing in terms of how empathy and/or expansion of ways of knowing might occur. This chained way of knowing the world is one that could be understood in schools by virtue of incorporating the realities of the ambiguities of transnationals’ lives into understanding our larger global contexts as in fact being more ambiguous than we often imagine they are. An important ambiguity to investigate would be the very sense of the possibility of return to the sending country as either a family or as an individual.

Transnational families demonstrate a hybridity (Anzaldúa, 1999; Saavedra & Nymark, 2008) of knowing and being because of the largely deterritorialized ways they engage their expanded communities (Gupta & Ferguson, 2001) despite the realities of the border. Transnationals who straddle borders in such ways can be called upon to help form part of decolonizing instruction in schools. Curricula can be crafted out of the testimonios of transnational families (Saavedra, 2011), their stories of struggle and resistance as transnationals; such inclusion in curriculum can help create the very new “teorías” of knowing which Anzaldúa suggests. Also, the chained knowing of families can be relied upon in terms of family engagement. In addition to tapping into adult networks (Olivos et al., 2011), students’ chained knowing could be tapped into when students are positioned as knowers, rather than as deficient (Valencia, 2010). Concretely, what students know about the border can become curriculum, and their networks can be utilized to mobilize students toward action on a host of social issues which need attention—ranging from cross-border environmental issues to the exploitation of workers by transnational companies and to sustaining communities under threat because of borders. Research can be conducted on whether chained knowing is also part of the knowing of more transnationals who hail from Mexico as well as other regions of the world. It is only through this new construction of knowing that all youth of the next generations can be able to conceive of a new world in which the same problems, such as artificially constructed borders, can stop repeating themselves toward a new order—one which recognizes the humanity and struggle of all peoples.

Appendix A

Member Check Process and Feedback

I shared a preliminary analysis of data with both the mothers and elder youth participants. I asked them to discuss my results because I had the greatest rapport with them and I believed they were most willing to share responses, feedback, and potential suggestions or corrections. These were conducted between September and December, 2011.

Using a PowerPoint on my laptop to show concentric circles of the three main ways of knowing I identified in my research, I shared the interactions between chained knowing, Nepantlera knowing (Kasun, 2014), and sobrevivencia knowing (Kasun, 2015). I then described each of the ways of knowing to the participants with their major characteristics and referred to examples from the participants to illustrate each of these.

In all, cases, the participants said they agreed with my findings, and most expressed relief about actually naming them with words. Generally, the construct of transnationalism is not used in everyday discourse, and participants often commented during the member checking that they liked the way I described it. This stands in contrast to my earliest conversations when I explained the aims of my research to investigate ways of knowing of transnational families, where some family members told me transnational to them meant transnational corporations. I specifically asked if I seemed to have missed anything or gotten anything wrong, and each time the participant told me no.

Specific comments ranged from the general, such as, “Está muy bien,” “It’s very well done,” to comments like, “I had never thought of it that way before, but I can totally see this.” Regarding chained knowing, participants made comments such as, “Yes, I wish the teachers understood the way the border and our families are important to us,” to, “Wow, you’re right, these two are connected.”

I invited the participants to share any later feedback about my findings if they wanted to. One of the youth participants and one of the mothers each told me they felt my research helped them understand themselves better by naming some of the realities they lived. Other participants did not approach me to share additional feedback regarding the member checking process.

Appendix B

Excerpt of Sample Coding by Independent Outside Researcher

Sue: Um do you uh do you take things down for San Gabriel for like family, friends?

Diego: Yeah a lot of stuff. Like yesterday we went to the mall and I got some shoes for my friends over there [chained knowing].

Sue: And I know I remember you said you were going to try to sell shoes, are you going to sell them or?

Diego: I mean I don’t know I don’t have a lot of money right now [sobrevivencia].

S: Uh huh.

Diego: Like I got to work I mean first I want to buy shoes for free to my friends [chained knowing].

Sue: Ok.

Diego: And then, I mean my dad said too like he’s like he’s like, “It would be easy to run a shoe store ’cause stuff is cheaper over here and you can sell it for more over there.” [transnational potential] I mean I guess maybe later on when I’m in college and my dad is there and we have to do something yeah probably like own a shoe store and like come here and buy them [transnational movement].

Sue: Would that be in [nearby small city] or San Gabriel?

Diego: Probably, we have a house in [the nearby small city] I think it’s just not in the main city but I mean we could probably still have a shop there [transnational potential]

Sue: Mhmm so have you talked to your dad some about that?

Diego: I mean it’s been a while [ambiguity].

Sue: Was it just like one conversation or a few times you’ve talked about or maybe…

Diego: I think we’ve talked about it mainly around the times that we’ve been to Mexico [transnational movement], there, we talked about it, when we came, we talked about it but then it’s like we started to forget about it.


Alvarez, R. (1995). The Mexican-U.S. border: The making of an anthropology of borderlands. Annual Review of Anthropology, 24, 447–470.

Anzaldúa, G. E. (Ed.). (1990). Making soul/Haciendo caras: Creative and critical perspectives by women of color. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

Anzaldúa, G. E. (with Saldívar-Hull, S.). (1999). La frontera/Borderlands: The new mestiza (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

Anzaldúa, G. E. (2000). Making alliances, queerness, and bridging conocimientos: An interview with Jamie Lee Evans (1993). In A. Keating (Ed.), Interviews/Entrevistas/Gloria E. Anzaldúa (pp. 195–210). New York, NY: Routledge.

Banks, J. A., & McGee Banks, C. A. (Eds.). (2010). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bradatan, C., Popan, A., & Melton, R. (2010). Trans-nationality as a fluid social identity. Social Identities, 16(2), 169–178.

Calderón, D., Delgado Bernal, D., Pérez Huber, L., Malagón, M. C., & Vélez, V. N. (2012). A Chicana feminist epistemology revisited: Cultivating ideas a generation later. Harvard Educational Review, 82(4), 513–539.

Carrillo, J. F. (2013). I always knew I was gifted: Latino males and the Mestiz@ theory of intelligences (MTI). Berkeley Review of Education, 4(1), 69–95.

Castillo, A. (1994). Massacre of the dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. New York, NY: Plume/Penguin Books.

Chavez, L. (2013). The Latino threat: Constructing immigrants, citizens, and the nation (2nd ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Delgado Bernal, D. (1998). Using a Chicana feminist epistemology in educational research. Harvard Educational Review, 68(4), 555–582.

Delgado Bernal, D. (2002). Critical race theory, Latino critical theory, and critical raced-gendered epistemologies: Recognizing students of color as holders and creators of knowledge. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 150–126.

Deportation 101: A community resource on anti-deportation education and organization. (2010). Washington, DC: Detention Watch Network, Families for Freedom, Immigrant Defense Project, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

Fisher, M. (2011, Dec. 1). Washington Post Magazine’s 25th anniversary: 25 moments that changed Washington most since 1986. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/washington-post-magazines-25th-anniversary-25-moments-that-changed-washington-most-since-1986/2011/09/16/gIQACnZiHO_story.html

Foley, D. E. (2002). Critical ethnography: The reflexive turn. Qualitative Studies in Education, 15(5), 469–490.

Freire, P. (2008). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. Bergman Ramos, Trans. 30th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Continuum.

Gándara, P. C., & Contreras, F. (2010). The Latino education crisis: The consequences of failed school policies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

García, A. M. (1997). Introduction. In A. M. García (Ed.), Chicana feminist thought: The basic historical writings (pp. 1–20). New York, NY: Routledge.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York, NY: Basic Books.

González, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Guarnizo, L. E., & Portes, A. (2003). Assimilation and transnationalism: Determinants of transnational political action among contemporary migrants. American Journal of Sociology, 108(6), 1211–1248.

Gupta, A., & Ferguson, J. (1992). Beyond 'culture': Space, identity, and the politics of difference. Cultural Anthropology, 7(1), 6–23.

Hernandez, D. J., & Napierala, J. S. (2012). Children in immigrant famlies: Essential to America's future. New York, NY: Foundation for Child Development.

Kasun, G. S. (in press). Transnationalism: Competing definitions, individual agency in an age of globalization, and research trends. In R. Brock & D. Nix-Stevenson (Eds.), Black Studies and Critical Thinking Reader. New York: Peter Lang.

Kasun, G. S. (2013). ‘We are not terrorists,’ but more likely transnationals: Reframing understandings about immigrants in light of the Boston Marathon bombings. Multicultural Perspectives, 15(4), 227-233.

Kasun, G. S. (2014). Hidden knowing of working-class transnational Mexican families in schools: Bridge-building, Nepantlera knowers. Ethnography and Education, 9(3), 313-327.

Kasun, G. S. (2015). “The Only Mexican in the room”: Sobrevivencia survival as a way of knowing for Mexican transnational students and families. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 46(3), 277-294. doi:10.1111/aeq.12107

Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teaching of African American children (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Madison, S. D. (2011). Introduction to critical ethnography: Theory and method. Critical ethnography: Methods, ethics, and performance. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Massey, D. S., Durand, J., & Malone, N. J. (2002). Beyond smoke and mirrors: Mexican migration in an era of economic integration. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132–141.

Mora, P. (2008). Nepantla: Essays from the land in the middle. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Naples, N. A. (2010). Borderlands studies and border theory: Linking activism and scholarship for social hustice. Sociology Compass, 4(7), 505–518. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00290.x

Nevins, J. (2001). Operation gatekeeper: The rise of the "illegal alien" and the remaking of the U.S.-Mexico boundary. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ngai, M. M. (2004). Impossible subjects: Illegal aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Olivos, E. M., Ochoa, A. M., & Jiménez-Castellanos, O. (2011). Critical voices in bicultural parent involvement: A framework for transformation. In E. M. Olivos, O. Jiménez-Castellanos, & A. M. Ochoa (Eds.), Bicultural parent engagement: Advocacy and empowerment (pp. 1–20). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Passel, J., Cohn, D., & Rohal, M. (2014). Unauthorized immigrant totals rise in 7 states, fall in 14. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

Pérez, E. (2005). Gloria Anzaldúa: La gran nueva Mestiza theorist, writer, activist-scholar. NWSA Journal, 17(2), 1–10.

Saavedra, C. M. (2011). Langauge and literacy in the Borderlands: Acting upon the world through testimonios. Language Arts, 88(4), 261–269.

Saavedra, C. M., & Nymark, E. D. (2008). Borderland-Mestizaje feminism: The new tribalism. In N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodology (pp. 255–276). Los Angeles: SAGE.

San Miguel, G., & Valencia, R. R. (1998). From the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to “Hopwood”: The educational plight and struggle of Mexican Americans in the Southwest. Harvard Educational Review, 68(3), 353–412.

Sánchez, P. (2004). At home in two places: Second generation Mexicanas and their lives as engaged transnationals (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

Sánchez, P. (2007). Urban immigrant students: How transnationalism shapes their world learning. The Urban Review, 39(5), 489–517.

Sánchez, P. (2009). Chicana feminist strategies in a participatory action research project with transnational Latina youth. New Directions for Youth Development, 123, 83–97.

Sandoval, C. (1991). U.S. Third World feminism: The theory and method of oppositional consciousness in the postmodern world. Genders, 10, 1–24.

Santa Ana, O. (1999). “Like an animal I was treated”: Anti-immigrant metaphor in U.S. public discourse. Discourse & Society, 10(2), 191–224.

Sleeter, C. E. (2008). Teaching for democracy in an age of corporatocracy. Teachers College Record, 110(1), 139–159.

Smith, L. T. (2006). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. London, UK: Zed Books Ltd.

Spener, D. (2009). Clandestine crossings: Migrants and coyotes on the Texas-Mexico border. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Spradley, J. P. (1980). Participant observation. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Steinberg, S. R. (2009). Diversity? Multiculturalism? Moving tolerance and tokenism to a critical level. In

S. Steinberg, R. (Ed.), Diversity and multiculturalism: A reader (pp. xi-xiii). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Stephen, L. (2007). Transborder lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Turkan, S., De Oliveira, L. C., Lee, O., & Phelps, G. (2014). Proposing a knowledge base for teaching academic content to English language learners: Disciplinary linguistic knowledge. Teachers College Record, 116(3). 1–30.

Urrieta, L. (2009). Working from within: Chicana and Chicano activist educators in Whitestream schools. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Urrieta, L. (2013). Familia and comunidad-based saberes: Learning in an indigenous heritage community. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 44(3), 320–335.

Urrieta, L., & Martínez, S. (2011). Diasporic community knowledge and school absenteeism: Mexican immigrant pueblo parents' and grandparents' postcolonial ways of educating. Interventions, 13(2), 256–277.

Valencia, R. R. (2010). Dismantling contemporary deficit thinking: Educational thought and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Valencia, R. R., & Pearl, A. (2011). Conclusion: Toward school reform. In R. R. Valencia (Ed.), Chicano school failure and success: Past, present, and future (3rd ed., pp. 273–286). New York, NY: Routledge.

Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S. Mexican youth and the politics of caring. Albany-: State University of New York Press.

Villenas, S. A. (1996). The colonizer/colonized Chicana ethnographer: Identity, marginalization, and co-optation in the field. Harvard Educational Review, 66(4), 711–731.

Villenas, S. A. (2007). Diaspora and the anthropology of Latino education: Challenges, affinities, and intersections. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 38(4), 419–425.

Villenas, S. A., Godinez, F. E., Delgado Bernal, D., & Elenes, C. A. (2006). Chicanas/Latinas building bridges: An introduction. In D. Delgado Bernal, C. A. Elenes, F. E. Godinez & S. A. Villenas (Eds.), Chicana/Latina education in everyday life (pp. 1–10). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Waldinger, R. (2013). Immigrant transnationalism. Current Sociology, 61(5–6), 756–777.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91.

Yosso, T. J. (2006). Critical race counterstories along the Chicana/Chicano educational pipeline. New York, NY: Routledge.

Zúñiga, V., & Hamann, E. T. (2009). Sojourners in Mexico with U.S. school experience: A new taxonomy for transnational students. Comparative Education Review, 53(3), 329–353.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 9, 2016, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21523, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 5:45:13 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • G. Sue Kasun
    Georgia State University
    E-mail Author
    SUE KASUN is an assistant professor in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University. She researches ways of knowing and multiple cultural contexts, especially with Latina/o youth, with a focus on equity and healing through education. Recent publications include, Kasun, G. S. (in press). “The only Mexican in the room”: Sobrevivencia as a way of knowing of Mexican transnational students and families. Anthropology & Education Quarterly and Kasun, G. S. (2014). Hidden knowing of working-class transnational Mexican families in schools: Bridge-building, Nepantlera knowers. Ethnography and Education, 9(3), 313–327.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue