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La Familia and Other Secret Ingredients to Latinx Student Success

reviewed by Lazaro Camacho Jr. & Cristobal Salinas Jr. - October 12, 2020

coverTitle: La Familia and Other Secret Ingredients to Latinx Student Success
Author(s): Jennifer M. Matos
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433162709, Pages: 152, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com

In La Familia and Other Secret Ingredients to Latinx Student Success, Jennifer M. Matos addresses a growing topic of interest in the study of Latina/o/x undergraduate students. Historically studied through the experiences of the individual student, the author considers the role of the Latinx family on the success of Latinx students in higher education. Specifically highlighting “hostile environments” and “teacher bias” as contributing factors for Latinx student dropout rates and lack of student engagement, “la familia (the family) is positioned as an untapped resource for student success and achievement (p. 9). Using their dissertation data, which reflects three different higher education sites in Holyoke, Massachusetts and similar data gathered from a site visit to Puerto Rico, Matos provides an opportunity to explore an understudied area of scholarship. Readers are invited into this work through a story that is warm, comforting, and personable, centered in scholarship that has been informed by the understanding of a scholar-practitioner.

Inspired by Yosso’s (2005) asset-based Cultural Capital Wealth model, Matos utilized the culturally relevant framework to center their dissertation and ask the question: “If Latinx parents transmitted capital as Yosso suggests, how much did that capital ‘stick’ once the children left home?” (p. 9). Having explored this initial question, Matos was inspired to ask a new question: “If Latinx parents from different Latinx ethnicities share similar parenting strategies regarding education, is it possible that the Latinx value for education is an inherent trait?” (p. 10). To answer this question, Matos frames their approach in a discussion on parental engagement. By the end of the introduction, the importance of explaining how Latinx parents understand and manifest parental engagement, why those contributions are invisible, and how they may play a significant role in the student success of Latinx students in higher education is made clear to the reader.

Chapters Two and Three are used to explore parental engagement in two ways: through Matos’ personal recollection of their mother’s involvement in their education and the historical development of parental engagement and involvement within the U.S. education system. As a part of their K-12 educational experiences, Matos recalls their mother’s engagement as being distinctly different from that of the other mothers, but in no way less important. Due to work obligations, Matos’ mother was unable to volunteer in the classroom or serve lunch, but she did ensure that they got to bed early and always had breakfast. She attended parent/teacher conferences and constantly reiterated the importance of education. Too often, the type of parental engagement exhibited by Latinx parents is not recognized as an appropriate form of involvement. Matos’ rationale for this is that a nationalized agenda situates good parents as those who can actively and directly participate in the school environment. This is often in contrast to how Latinx parents support their children’s education through what the author highlights as the socializing concepts of respeto (respect), ser bien educado (to be well behaved), and by encouraging their children to work hard.

In Chapter Four, the reader is introduced to the frameworks Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Latino Critical Race Theory (LatCrit), which ground Matos’ study. For the purposes of the book, Latinx was defined by Matos as a culture that has been racialized. As such, Latinx students are subject to racial discrimination and multiple levels of oppression. In addition to racial discrimination, Matos utilizes counter storytelling to center the missing voices of Latinx parents. While Matos makes a strong connection between the chosen frameworks and the purpose of the study, the terminology that the author uses could confuse readers. For example, Matos situates Latinx as a culture as opposed to a social identity. Based on how Matos situates and defines Latinx, the following questions emerged: Is Latinx a culture? And should Latinx be represented as a monolithic term? Why or why not? The challenge with using pan-ethnic terms is that they can be perceived as a form of retroactively assigning an identity to people who might never want to adopt it in the first place. For example, some people of Latin American origin and descent choose to identify with their family’s country of origin over any pan-ethnic term or label. The challenge of using Latinx as a pan-ethnic term is further highlighted when Matos shares scholarly examples to support Latinx parental engagement to education as universal, but then references scholarship on, and centers their study in, Puerto Rican students.

Chapters Five through Eight provide an in-depth overview of the research sites where the research was conducted for both the dissertation and the follow-up study: a small private liberal arts school, a large state institution, a community college, and a STEM education program in Puerto Rico. Matos situates student experiences at each of these institutions within Yosso’s framework as a way to demonstrate the long-term socialization of education’s value through the six forms of cultural capital. This demonstration serves as a nice connection to how Latinx parental engagement reflects different forms of capital that white educators and mainstream schools do not recognize as valid. What seems to be missing from Chapters Five through Seven is a more nuanced understanding of the participants of Matos study. If the goal is to be intersectional, then the reader should be provided more information on their social identities beyond a table that highlights the number of self-identifying Latinx students. Conversely, the author does a better job of providing insight for the participants at the Puerto Rico site, as reflected in Chapter Eight.

In the final chapter, Matos conceptualizes the book and commits to a stance that supports Latinx parental engagement as the missing ingredient for Latinx student success. To this end, Matos uses their research and La Familia and Other Secret Ingredients to Latinx Student Success to indirectly situate Latinx parental engagement as a missing component to the practice of culturally relevant pedagogy. Despite this important perspective, the book lacks from dated literature in some places. For example, other literature that centers Latino/a family and students’ college choice models include the work of Acevedo-Gil (2017), Alvarez (2015), Cueva (2019), Garcia & Mirales-Rios (2019), Garza (2017), Kiyama (2011), Mariscal (2018), Olivarez (2020), and Perna and Smart (2006). In addition, in their book, Matos missed an opportunity to really consider the nuances of intersectional identities. The study only focuses on oppression through race and does not provide an overview of the intersection of Latinx/a/o populations’ ethnicity, culture, language, age, religion, geography, and phenotype. Furthermore, Matos does not provide a statement to contextualize the meaning of why they use the term Latinx, as the “x” in the term Latinx has various complexities and aims to recognize intersectionality of Latinx/a/o communities (for more on the term Latinx (see Salinas, 2020; Salinas & Lozano, 2019). Overall, Matos’ decision to explore student success through a focus on the parents/family, as opposed to the individual student, is a fresh and necessary take on the continuing challenges related to Latinx student success in higher education. Ultimately, Matos’ book represents a great example of how research becomes me-search.


Acevedo-Gil, N. (2017). College-conocimiento: Toward an interdisciplinary college choice framework for Latinx students. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(6), 829–850.

Alvarez, C. L. (2015). A model for understanding Latina/o student and parent college-going negotiation process: Latina and Latino college access and choice: Critical findings and theoretical perspectives for a changing demographic. In P. A. Perez & M. Ceja (Eds.), Higher education access and choice for Latino students (pp. 55 – 66). Routledge.

Cuevas, S. (2019). “Con mucho sacrificio, we give them everything we can”: The strategic day-to-day sacrifices of undocumented Latina/o parents. Harvard Educational Review, 89(3), 473–496.

Garcia, N., & Mireles-Rios, R. (2019). “You were going to go to college”: The role of Chicano fathers’ involvement in Chicana daughters’ college choice. American Educational Research Journal.

Garza, A. M. (2017). Parent perceptions and understandings of college preparedness for their elementary school-aged children. [Doctoral Dissertation, California State University, Stanislaus]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Kiyama, J. M. (2011). Family lessons and funds of knowledge: College-going paths in Mexican American families. Journal of Latino/as and Education, 10(1), 23–42.

Mariscal, J. (2018). Un mejor futuro: The college sensemaking of Latino parents with elementary school-aged children. [Doctoral Dissertation, University of Arizona]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Olivarez, C. P. (2020). The role of families in Latinx college choice. In E. Doran (Ed.), Emerging issues for Latinx students: New directions for community colleges (pp. 21–34). Wiley.

Perna, L., & Smart, J. (2006). Studying college access and choice: a proposed conceptual model. In J.C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 21, pp. 99–157). Springer.

Salinas, C. (2020). The complexity of the “x” in Latinx: How Latinx/a/o students relate to, identify with, and understand the term Latinx. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 19(2), 149–168.

Salinas, C., & Lozano, A. S. (2019).  Mapping and recontextualizing the evolution of the term Latinx: An environmental scanning in higher education. Journal of Latino and Education, 18(4), 302–315.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 12, 2020
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23468, Date Accessed: 10/21/2020 3:00:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Lazaro Camacho Jr.
    Florida Atlantic University
    E-mail Author
    LAZARO CAMACHO JR. is a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Leadership and Research Methodology at Florida Atlantic University. His research explores the socialization of Latino menís intersectional identities within systems of oppression and privilege. In 2020, he received the 2020 ACPA Coalition on Men & Masculinities Outstanding Graduate/New Professional Award.
  • Cristobal Salinas Jr.
    Florida Atlantic University
    E-mail Author
    CRISTOBAL SALINAS JR., Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Educational Leadership and Research Methodology Department at Florida Atlantic University. His research promotes access and equality in higher education and explores the social and political context of education opportunities for historically marginalized communities. He is the founder and editor-in-chief for the Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity. His research has been featured in CNN, NPR, and Good Morning America.
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