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Understanding the Latinx Experience: Developmental and Contextual Influences

reviewed by María Teresa de la Piedra & Blanca Araujo - August 08, 2019

coverTitle: Understanding the Latinx Experience: Developmental and Contextual Influences
Author(s): Vasti Torres, Ebelia Hernández, & Sylvia Martinez
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 157922315X, Pages: 156, Year: 2019
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With a foreword by Brown and Santiago, co-founders of Excelencia in Educaction, and written in accessible language, Understanding the Latinx Experience: Developmental and Contextual Influences is a good resource for leaders, staff, and faculty to become aware of the experiences of Latinx students in higher education. They will find concrete examples and recommendations about how to improve the Latinx college experience, and, in turn, student success.

One strength of this book is the solid research included. Longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data support the authors’ model by using Latinx voices that represent the heterogenous ways of being Latinx and experiencing higher education. The qualitative part of the research design offers clear examples of the complex lives of Latinx college students. Here, the reader will find “insight into how the students themselves see their experiences” (p. 12). Moreover, the reader learns about identity development and college experiences in three different higher education contexts: A private white university, a diverse Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) (28% Latinx), and a monocultural HSI (90% Latinx). As faculty members who work in HSIs ourselves, we appreciated the portrayal of these diverse environments that Latinx traverse.

Chapter One defines the relevant terms and provides a brief introduction to the Latinx population growth in the U.S. and to Latinx participation in higher education. The authors also present the Latinx group as heterogenous. A compelling call is made: that in light of the deficit notions of Latinx students that portray them as “poor and poorly educated,” educators should “begin to see their job as myth shattering when it comes to helping the Latinx college student succeed” (p. 9).

Chapter Two presents the studies that served as the basis for the ethnic identity development model discussed. The largest was a longitudinal mixed-method study of Latinx college students, focusing on students’ choices to stay in school. Another study included 80 adult Latinx participants and focused on ethnic identity development after the college experience, providing complementary data for a lifespan model. This chapter also presents descriptions of the institutional contexts analyzed and the stories of the complex lives of the 29 Latinx participants of the longitudinal study. Most were U.S.-born Latinx, first generation college students, and of Mexican origin. Students also had origins in Ecuador, Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Canada.

Chapter Three discusses in detail the lifespan model of Latinx ethnic identity development, which draws from theories of identity formation. This synthesis model explains the ethnic identity development of Latinx students who have grown up in the U.S. rather than recent immigrants or other Latinx who have grown up in other countries. The authors emphasize the dynamic nature of ethnic identity, the importance of the meaning-making process of experiences (i.e., racism), and environmental factors. Identity development occurs through statuses and transitions, which the authors call the borderlands, drawing on the Anzalduan concept. Statuses are stages of identity development and borderlands account for the change process between stages. The stages are (a) defining self externally by the dominant/mainstream group’s perspectives, (b) exploration of Latino ethnicity, and (c) committed Latino identity. Transitions occur when the person makes meaning of their own experience with their context. The transitions included in the model were: (a) critical moments caused by the dissonance between Latinx and dominant cultures, (b) exploring choices and meaning-making of beliefs and behaviors reframed along the ethnic identity developmental trajectory, and (c) enacted commitments that result from continuous reflection. Finally, the authors include looping as another transition that accounts for the continuous processes of reflection that occur. Looping includes the possibility of going back and forth along these stages. We see the practical value of having such as model as a way to better understand Latinx college experiences and orient policy decisions.

Chapter Four explains environmental influences on students’ experiences, including campus environments, the connections that students form within the campus environment, and societal factors such as familial expectations and images of Latinos in the larger society. The authors discuss the ways in which students negotiate between their Latinx home cultures and the dominant (Euro-American) culture and the stress related to the cultural conflict experiences. Administrators, staff, and faculty in higher education will find useful information about these environmental influences on students’ college experiences along with practical recommendations for interventions to support Latinx students’ identity development and experiences of belonging.

Chapter Five focuses on intersectionalities as the authors recognize the multiple identities represented in a Latinx population are often wrongly presented as homogenous. They examine the messiness of studying development via multiple contexts and identities. They first investigate if institution type or gender play a significant role in identity development. No discernible developmental differences were found. Then they look at two students who engaged with more than one social identity. They sought to find how Latinx multiple identities might influence their development. The findings show that the saliency of identity influenced development. They conclude that “it is not the differences that promote development, rather it is feeling different that does.” (p. 84).

Chapter Six summarizes the qualitative analysis of interviews with Latinx students. Three themes emerged: the hectic nature of students’ lives at urban commuter universities; the lack of confidence felt when students saw themselves as unsure of making it; and the students’ need for agents to help them maneuver college environments. Based on these students’ stories, the authors propose a Culturally Sensitive Persistence Model for Latinx students. Several tables and graphs are provided for the reader. These are very helpful in understanding the model and the data collected. Three lessons learned from the model are: the need to help students create cognitive maps to help them navigate the college environment; helping students create positive symbols through the role of mentoring; and the need to include social and cultural values to make spaces on campus more inclusive for students.

In Chapter Seven, the authors review critical and post-structural theories in student development, including three waves of student development theory; foundational theories based on positivistic, White privileged male samples; constructivist epistemology which includes minoritized populations; and critical and post-structural theories such as Critical Race theory (CRT) and intersectionality. The chapter provides a summary and comparison of the authors’ work to CRT and intersectionalities, including the strengths and limitations of each. The chapter concludes with considerations for further in-depth research in the gaps identified in this study.

Understanding the Latinx Experience: Developmental and Contextual Influences provides a timely insight into the identity development of the Latinx student population. The book provides useful information for institutions to improve Latinx student success and illuminates what we can do to retain and graduate more Latinx students from universities. Higher education professionals, institutions, and policymakers will be better informed about the factors influencing college persistence by reading the students’ stories and college experiences throughout the book. The book is an invaluable resource for all professionals working with Latinx students.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 08, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23033, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 10:23:02 AM

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About the Author
  • María Teresa de la Piedra
    University of Texas at El Paso
    E-mail Author
    MARÍA TERESA (MAYTE) DE LA PIEDRA, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her research draws from the fields of educational anthropology, bilingual education, and literacy studies to explore language and literacy practices in bilingual communities in the U.S.-Mexico border, and in rural indigenous communities in Latin America. Her recent research focuses on the translanguaging practices of transfronterizx students in dual language programs. She is co-author of Educating Across Borders: The Case of a Dual Language Program on the U.S.-Mexico Border.
  • Blanca Araujo
    New Mexico State University
    E-mail Author
    BLANCA ARAUJO, PhD, is an associate professor and Director of the Teacher Education Program in the College of Education at New Mexico State University. Her interests are in social studies education, teacher education, bilingual education, and transfronterizo studies, all within a critical and social justice perspective. She is co-author of the book Educating Across Borders: The Case of a Dual Language Program on the U.S.-Mexico Border and co-editor of the book Multicultural Education: A Renewed Paradigm of Transformation and Call to Action.
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