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

Apoyo Sacrificial, Sacrificial Support: How Undocumented Latinx Parents Get Their Children to College

reviewed by Daysi Diaz-Strong & Dalal Katsiaficas - May 09, 2022

coverTitle: Apoyo Sacrificial, Sacrificial Support: How Undocumented Latinx Parents Get Their Children to College
Author(s): Stephany Cuevas
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807766062, Pages: 160, Year: 2021
Search for book at Amazon.com

In Apoyo Sacrificial, Sacrificial Support, Stephany Cuevas compellingly elucidates undocumented Latinx parents’ engagement in their children’s college transitions. The literature on Latinx families’ educational engagement, as Cuevas notes, often depicts parents as lacking in social and cultural capital. Following in a line of critical scholarship, Cuevas offers a much-needed corrective to these deficit-based perspectives and makes visible the rich support provided by Latinx parents. Cuevas also extends the literature by exploring how legal status shapes parental educational engagement in profound ways. Drawing on interviews with 15 Latinx undocumented parents of students attending a selective public university in California, Cuevas’ findings make important contributions to the field.

The concept and name of the book—Apoyo Sacrificial, Sacrificial Support—encapsulates the nature of Latinx immigrant parents’ educational engagement as constant, living, active, and deeply embedded in the migration process. Cuevas defines sacrificios as “the conscious decisions and investments undocumented Latinx parents make to support their children’s educational attainment, which comes at a very high personal cost due to constraints they face as undocumented immigrants” (p. 16). Sacrificios are agentic while also contingent on the opportunities and constraints present in Latinx parents’ social context. For undocumented parents, the very act of migration—of enduring family separation, leaving careers behind, and living with the constant fear of deportation all for the hope of a better future for their children—is educational engagement. Parents also sacrifice for their children by putting up with exploitative and dangerous jobs, remaining in failing romantic relationships, and navigating feelings of inadequacy when interacting with schools. Cuevas’ description convincingly positions undocumented Latinx parents’ sacrifices as a constant form of educational engagement, one largely rendered invisible.  

Cuevas also details the various ways in which undocumented Latinx parents support their children’s college transitions and how their legal status constrains these supports. Referred collectively by Cuevas as apoyo, undocumented parents engage in a “range of supportive behaviors” that include “emotional, informative, instrumental, and appraisal support” (p. 37). For instance, parents advocated for advanced course placement, motivated and encouraged their children during the college application process, and monitored upcoming college-related deadlines. They also sought out “concrete and specific” information about college, the barriers presented by their legal status, and financial aid options and shared the information with their children. Parents’ support, Apoyo Sacrificial demonstrates, does not end with K–12 education but continues throughout the higher education years in the form of financial contributions, emotional support, and guidance towards independence.

A central contribution of Apoyo Scarificial is the way in which it points out how legal status constrained the supports undocumented parents provided. By focusing on undocumented parents—with children who were either undocumented or U.S. citizens—Cuevas illustrates that legal status impacts the family as a whole, regardless of whether children and parents share this status. In addition to relegating parents to low-wage exploitative jobs, the fear of deportation created by exclusionary immigration policies made parents cautious about accessing services and when interacting with school staff. This fear also limited the colleges they felt comfortable considering for their children, limited their ability to visit their children, and led to an overall climate where parents worried about the safety of the college campus for their children. Despite the constraints of their legal status, parents were intentional about the range of apoyo provided to their children throughout their education. 

Based on the sacrificios and apoyo undocumented Latinx parents provide, Cuevas puts forth an important reconceptualization of parental engagement. To that end, Cuevas draws on Annette Lareau’s (2003) seminal book, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, that asserts the parenting practices of middle-class and working-class parents differ. Middle-class parents engage in concerted cultivation, composed of structured schedules, involvement in extracurricular activities, and discussions where children’s opinions are solicited. Working-class parents, on the other hand, engage in natural growth whereby children have plenty of unstructured time and more directive conversations. The educational engagement of the parents Cuevas spoke to resembled Lareau’s middle-class parents in that they structured their children’s time and educational and extracurricular activities, and facilitated discussion about their children’s college plans as is done in concerted cultivation. These similarities, Cuevas argues, “challenge Lareau’s conception of concerted cultivation as a parenting style embraced primarily by middle- and upper-class parents” (p. 81).


Overall, Cuevas opens the door for readers to begin thinking more critically about parental educational engagement and push themselves out of the pervasive deficit-oriented lens. To that end, Cuevas centers the voices of undocumented Latinx parents and introduces the powerful concept of Apoyo Sacrificial, unearthing the many ways undocumented Latinx parents make sacrifices and nimbly provide support in the face of tremendous systemic barriers.

To fully walk through that door, however, will require extending this research to families with a wider range of experiences. Cuevas’ findings stem from parents with children in a selective university in California. Moreover, although the parents are described as working poor, their pre-migration backgrounds suggest some have middle class upbringings, raising questions as to whether the concerted cultivation approach Cuevas found might be connected to the parents’ class backgrounds in their country of origin. For instance, 10 of the 15 parents interviewed entered on tourist visas, becoming undocumented after overstaying their visas, and about half were college educated in their countries of origin. The social positions of the sample left us wanting more discussion from Cuevas on potential limitations, differences between college educated and non-college educated parents, and how the insights gleaned might transfer over to families with different migration, socio-economic, and educational backgrounds. A potential danger of the picture emerging in the book—one of undocumented parents supporting their children in admirable ways despite systemic barriers—is that any parent will find similar ways to support their children if they care enough or try hard enough. Without offering some discussion about why the support these parents provided might not be accessible to other undocumented parents, there is a risk of alienating students and families whose experiences and ability to offer the supports described differ. Along with the analysis of how marginalization shaped the parents’ sacrificios and apoyo, we wanted a fuller exploration of the resources and backgrounds these parents leveraged and benefited from, and what catalyzed their educational engagement and made their apoyo possible.

Taken together, Cueva’s book extends the conversation on parental engagement by focusing on undocumented Latinx families and provides notable movement towards reconceptualizing undocumented Latinx parents’ educational engagement. These concepts, however, must be pushed further to expand our understanding of all the ways in which parents engage, the constraints they face, and what shapes the apoyo they provide and the sacrificios they make. Cuevas sets the stage for future research across a range of family experiences—including immigrant parents with lower educational attainment and parents with children ranging in educational pathways such as those attending community college and those who did not transition to college.

Apoyo Sacrificial is a worthy read for anyone who supports undocumented and mixed-status families and wants to expand their understanding of Latinx families’ educational engagement. As Cuevas points out in the Introduction, “a student’s probability of being part of a mixed-status family is the same as a student’s probability of belonging to a divorced household” (Dreby, 2015 in Cuevas, 2021, p. 6). Therefore, anyone working with and interested in the college transitions of Latinx youth, including researchers and those who work with high school students, in college admissions, and within institutions of higher education, should look to this book for important guidance.  


Dreby, J. (2015). Everyday illegal: When policies undermine immigrant families. University of California Press.

Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal childhoods: Class, race and family life. University of California Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 09, 2022
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 24057, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 1:36:16 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles
There are no related articles to display

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Daysi Diaz-Strong
    University of Illinois Chicago
    E-mail Author
    DAYSI DIAZ-STRONG, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago. She received her Ph.D. and MSW from the Crown Family School of Social Work, Practice, and Policy at The University of Chicago. She also holds an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. Her immigrant background shaped her research interests which focuses on the educational and developmental trajectories of Latinx undocumented immigrants.
  • Dalal Katsiaficas
    University of Illinois Chicago
    E-mail Author
    DALAL KATSIAFICAS, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Educational Psychology at the College of Education at the University of Illinois Chicago. She received her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and her B.S. in Applied Psychology from New York University. As a cultural developmental psychologist, her research focuses on the positive social development of immigrant-origin youth as they emerge into adulthood.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue