La Familia and Other Secret Ingredients to Latinx Student Success
reviewed by Lazaro Camacho Jr. & Cristobal Salinas Jr. - October 12, 2020
Title: 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
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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 Yossos (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 mothers 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 mothers 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 childrens 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 familys 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 Yossos framework as a way to demonstrate the long-term socialization of educations 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.
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