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From Pedagogies to Research: Engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse families of students with dis/abilities

by María Cioè-Peña - 2021

Context: For decades, educational research has focused on centering the experiences of children of color. From this research arose culturally relevant pedagogies (CRPs) and culturally sustaining pedagogies (CSPs). However, as countless teachers focus on developing more inclusive classroom practices, the cultural needs of parents continue to be ignored. One reason for this is that, while being manifestations of funds of knowledge, CRP and CSP are rooted in the classroom and not the home. As such, there is a need for culturally sustaining research that supports/affirms parents.

Purpose: This article presents how testimonios gathered in Spanish with Spanish-dominant mothers serve as counter-narratives to research that positions them as disengaged. The article also features the ways in which mothers subvert attempts to minimize their parental presence. A preliminary framework for culturally sustaining research is also shared.

Participants: Participants included 10 Spanish-dominant Latinx mothers from a large immigrant community in New York City. Mothers qualified for inclusion if their child (a) attended a local public elementary school, (b) was in Grades 2–6, (c) was classified as having a disability, and (d) was classified as an English language learner by their school. Qualifying children were receiving services in one of three special education settings: bilingual inclusive classrooms, transitional bilingual special education, or monolingual inclusive education.

Research Design: This study employed a combination of qualitative research methods and consisted of two phases. During the first phase, 10 mothers took part in two narrative interviews. For the second phase, three focal mothers, chosen from the larger sample, took part in ethnographic case studies consisting of five additional interviews, two home observations, one communal recollection, and sharing of artifacts.

Findings: (1) Mothers of emergent bilinguals labeled as disabled (MoEBLADs) are systematically excluded from their child’s education at both the school and district levels. (2) MoEBLADs internalize these experiences and fault themselves for their limited participation in their children’s learning. (3) MoEBLADs subversively make space for themselves in their children’s educational experiences by focusing on contributions they can make outside of school.

Conclusions: Research about MoEBLADs typically frames them as unwilling to support and/or incapable of supporting their children academically, signaling that many of the deficit-grounded perspectives MoEBLADs encounter in schools are also present in research. Researchers must address how the language of research contributes to the reinforcement and maintenance of deficit-grounded perspectives calling for a need to shift from inclusive research to culturally sustaining research.

Expanding the number of high-quality [researchers] that mirror our society will not be a silver bullet. It will, however, level the playing field.

Peggy Brookins

A great deal of educational research has focused on centering the experiences of children of color within pedagogical practicessome to support cultural and linguistic identity, others to improve academic performance. In 1992, Moll et al. introduced the educational application of Vélez-Ibáñez and Greenbergs (1992) anthropological concept of funds of knowledge (FoK). FoK originally referred to the culturally rich resources contained within households, often exhibited through activities requiring specific strategic bodies of essential information that households need to maintain their well-being (Vélez-Ibáñez & Greenberg, 1992, p. 314). Moll et al. (1992) extended this work by suggesting that teachers become ethnographers exploring their students cultural riches to develop a positive and realistic view of households as containing ample cultural and cognitive resources with great potential utility for classroom instruction (p. 134). During this time, we also saw the emergence of Gloria Ladson-Billingss (1995) culturally relevant pedagogies (CRPs), which served as a theoretical model that not only addresse[d] student achievement but also help[ed] students to accept and affirm their cultural identity while developing critical perspectives that challenge inequities that schools (and other institutions) perpetuate (p. 469); in some ways, CRP can be viewed as an extension of FoK that shifted the focus from what teachers need to learn/do to what and how marginalized students need to learn.

Moreover, in the years since, public schools have grown in their diversity, and educator consciousness around the distinct needs of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students has grown. As such, Pariss updated vision of CRP, culturally sustaining pedagogies (CSPs), calls on educators to push their practices beyond those that allow them to acknowledge their students diverse backgrounds and their experiences of systemic oppressions to those that explicitly celebrate and support said diversity and actively counter systemic injustice. Although CRP and CSP center students needs and call on teachers to address the greater systemic implications of teaching and learning, respectively, their application has resulted in greater connections to broad/mainstream perceptions of (marginalized) culture, moving away from the ample cultural and cognitive resource[s] found in childrens homes (Moll et al., 1992, p. 134). Perhaps it is because of this divide that the instructional experiences of CLD students, particularly emergent bilinguals labeled as disabled (EBLADs),1 continue to focus heavily on English language acquisition so that the individual is able to adopt the dominant culture and language (Klingner et al., 2014; Orosco & OConnor, 2013). Rather than being entrenched in local cultural knowledge, this focus on English acquisition pulls children and teachers further away from the home (Cioè-Peña, 2020a), countering FoKs core insistence that teachers enter students homes to learn more about them and to identify opportunities for exchange between the two spaces. This focus also contradicts CSPs explicit goal [of] supporting multilingualism and multiculturalism in practice and perspective for [students and teachers while seeking to] perpetuate and fosterto sustainlinguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling (Paris, 2012, p. 95). Given the current focus on inclusion and the increasing push to enact CSPs that showcase students FoK, how, if at all, are EBLADs FoKparticularly those rooted in family and communityshowing up in schools?

The field of education has overwhelmingly accepted as truth that a students home culture contributes greatly (and positively) to individual and whole-group classroom community development. This shared truth has encouraged an increase in cultural awareness that pushes beyond what content is taught to how identity and positionality impact teaching and learning. However, as we continue to find new ways to center CLD students, we simultaneously hold space for their cultures while continuing to deny their families access to school culture vis-a-vis parts of their child. It could be argued that given the complexity and multiplicity of their needs, teachers who work with EBLADs choose to center linguistic or social inclusion within peer groups because this tends to be the most exclusionary part of an EBLADs social sphere. However, inclusion often requires some form of assimilation, and assimilation does not fully satisfy any EBLAD needs. In many cases, focusing on English acquisition for academic or social development without supporting the home language can actually have a detrimental impact on academic progress and social-emotional development (Harry et al., 2007). In the end, because of their multiple classification labels, EBLADs and their families continue to be viewed primarily through deficit lenses. The resulting burdens fall on the shoulders of Spanish-monolingual mothers, who are tasked with advocating for their children within a system that functions in a language they do not command.

This article calls for a return to discourse describing the cultural and cognitive resources possessed by households or communities [rather than] those possessed by individuals (Oughton, 2010, para. 16). This collective FoK is rooted in mutually beneficial schoolhome relationships and is extended to consider families not only in schools but also in school-based research. The aim is to engage in community- and family-oriented practices that are culturally sustaining and extend beyond the school, thus shifting the way EBLADs and their families are viewed and regarded within schools and literature. Ultimately, these shifts can lead to increased bilingual education access and academic success within minoritized communities. This call for a return to community does not diminish the value of pedagogically centered work such as CRP or CSP. To the contrary, this call for familial FoK upholds Pariss (2012) vision for pedagogies that support young people in sustaining the cultural and linguistic competence of their communities while simultaneously offering access to dominant cultural competence (p. 95) and applies it to collaborative family relationships that engage with the same principles. However, it is important to note that while the research community has promoted pedagogical practices (like CSP and CRP) that uplift CLD communities and fight white, heteronormative, neurotypical hegemony, these principles have not been widely taken up for the purposes of family engagementparticularly for research that extends beyond school- and youth-based experiences. A great deal of research regarding CLD communities focuses on the limitations and/or failings ascribed to them. As such, much of the work that stems from academic research communities continues to promote hegemonic whiteness through its research questions, methodologies, and presentation of findings. This is especially true when it comes to research focused on the parents of emergent bilinguals, particularly EBLADs.


This brief review of the literature will present the dominant discourse that exists about Latinx mothers of EBLADs (MoEBLADs). This showcasing of literature, although accurate, could also be described as reductionist and deficit-centered. The intention is to first present the existing dominant perspectives and then provide alternatives through both theoretical and data-driven discourse.


EBLADs represent a heterogeneous group with diverse racial, ethnic, linguistic, and migratory backgrounds (Ford, 2012; González & Artiles, 2016; Gonzalez et al., 2014). However, a large portion of this subpopulation are Spanish-using Latinx children (Emenheiser, 2014; National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Much of the literature about EBLADs focuses more on their identification and education than on their identity and/or sociocultural and familial experiences (Burr et al., 2015; González & Artiles, 2016; Wang & Woolf, 2016). The deficit-centered framing of this population is evident in the classification labels they are ascribed: English language learner, which completely erases these students non-English linguistic practices (García, 2009), and student with disability, a title that distinguishes, and is often used to physically segregate, neurodiverse learners from their typically developing peers, usually on the basis of a perceived special need (Baglieri, 2017). EBLADs are often placed in more restrictive environments than their non-EB counterparts, have limited or unequal access to general education classrooms and other mainstream settings, and are more likely to remain in more restrictive classrooms (Zhang et al., 2014, p. 119) for the extent of their academic experience (González & Artiles, 2016; Gonzalez et al., 2014). Latinx students in particular are often placed in self-contained ESL programs before entering special education, where they are then placed in self-contained special education classes, ultimately moving from one segregated setting to another (Zhang et al., 2014). Moreover, not only are EBLADs subjected to intellectual and linguistic segregation from their peers, but they are also often the subject of physical segregation (Gonzalez et al., 2014).

Finally, while the labels English language learner and student with disability are ascribed to individual children, the impact of these labels extends beyond the child and onto the family. These labels have a particularly profound impact on the parents, especially the mothers and their perceptions of themselves as good mothers (Cioè-Peña, 2021). The impact of these labels changes not only the parents role in their childs education, as perceived by the school, but also the way that parents perceive and interact with their child(ren).


MoEBLADs lead lives that are often directed by the oppressive nature of a lower socioeconomic status. This leaves them at the mercy of stereotyping and discriminatory practices, both of which result in a lack of agency and subsequent lack of advocacy on behalf of their children (Aceves, 2014; Cohen, 2013; Montelongo, 2015; Rodriguez et al., 2013; Wolfe & Durán, 2013). Latinx MoEBLADs are a particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable group. According to Cohen (2013), Latinx mothers are unaware of the barriers they face, whether they are socioeconomic, racial, or linguistic. They also tend to be uneducated at higher rates than other MoEBLADs and may be unaware of the resources available to them. Studies also show that Latinx mothers participate in fewer individualized education plan (IEP) meetings than Euro-American mothers do, have a harder time understanding the IEP/special education process, and lack the confidence to communicate their needs (Aceves, 2014; Montelongo, 2015; Rodriguez et al., 2013; Wolfe & Durán, 2013). Additionally, according to Wolfe and Durán (2013), Spanish-speaking MoEBLADs participate in fewer IEP meetings than their English-speaking counterparts.


Although they are often disenfranchised, Latinx MoEBLADs are overwhelmingly aware of the disconnect between their values and the schools values. MoEBLADs express frustrations with schools that do not respect their cultural values and do not value their voices (Ijalba, 2015a). MoEBLADs also express a desire to be more involved, while feeling ill-informed and wanting the school to provide them with more information and support (Aceves, 2014; Lalvani, 2015; Wolfe & Durán, 2013). MoEBLADs also express feelings of dissatisfaction with schools and school agentsa sentiment that has not changed since the 1980s (Cohen, 2013; Wolfe & Durán, 2013). This is particularly true in relation to the disjointed linguistic practices of the families and the schools. Mothers of EBLADs are often presented in two lights: either as meek and respectful, or as dissatisfied yet resilient. According to Cohen (2013) those who voice their dissatisfaction say that it stems from poor communication, language barriers, and experiences in which they have been subject to discrimination. These feelings are supported by Montelongos (2015) findings in which mothers shared that they were aware of the bias against them, while also expressing feelings of frustration with the lack of cultural considerations on the part of the schools. For these mothers, advocating for their children did not feel like a right so much as a fight or a struggle (Montelongo, 2015). Alternatively, those who can engage sometimes choose to remain quiet out of fear that their interjections will disrupt the process, thus delaying their childs access to support (Montelongo, 2015).


 In an effort to alleviate the tension between mothers and schools, researchers often make recommendations as to how school-based knowledge can be transferred to mothersthrough trainings, the use of interpreters, introductions to community organizations, etc. (Aceves, 2014; Ijalba, 2015b; Rodriguez et al., 2013). However, this focus on teaching/training the mothers as a way to impart knowledge rather than asking them to share their knowledge fails to see mothers as equal partners who are experts on their children. Instead, it positions mothers as being in need of an education, which can then influence the way that teachers and other people in positions of power approach them. Additionally, this focus on information distribution is based on the premise that mothers do not participate because they do not know how or even that they can, while ignoring that schools position themselves as the experts and, as such, do not readily welcome discourse that originates in, or results in, opposition.

The existing power dynamic between schools and mothers allows schools to define parental involvement and, as such, sets the standard for high or low levels of involvement within a very rigid framework. This framework measures involvement by keeping track of how often mothers are physically present at the school and how vocal they are once they are there (Vandergrift & Greene, 1992). Still, very few researcherswith the exception of Harry and Klingner in collaboration with a few others (Harry et al., 2007; Klingner et al., 2014; Klingner & Harry, 2006)have discussed the lives of minoritized children beyond the school, much less centered the experiences of the mothers. As such, most research maintains, validates, and reinforces existing power dynamics while promoting the social devaluation of MoEBLADs contributions to their childrens education and society at large.

In the end, most research regarding Latinx MoEBLADs is focused on understanding the ways in which these mothers are disadvantaged and explaining their absence from their childrens educational careers; little research has centered on the systemic causes for this disconnect, and even fewer studies have focused on the positive contributions that these mothers make to their childrens academic and linguistic development (Cioè-Peña, 2018, 2020a, 2020b). As such, this gap remains rather wide.


The theoretical framework for this study was multipronged and aimed to counter the aforementioned deficit lenses, which are often used to erase the richness held within, and contributions made by, marginalized communities.


Funds of knowledge are central to CRP and CSP (Ferlazzo, 2017), and it is for this reason that the theoretical framework is rooted in a theoretical understanding of FoK. According to Moll et al. (1992), the FoK model is the historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being (p. 133). In what resembles a core component of Deweys progressivism, FoK asserted that learning is the result of living and that through engaging in daily life, children learn academic skills within an authentic and meaningful experience. Perhaps it is this connection to such core tenets of educational philosophy that have led to the terms wide use within discourses of educational research and practice, especially those with a social justice agenda. In particular, the approach is used to disrupt deficit models, which remain pervasive and persistent (Oughton, 2010, para. 10). Another reason for FoKs wide acceptance lies in the universality of its application; according to Oughton (2010), Moll et al emphasise[d] that the importance of their approach is not limited to their own findings regarding Mexican families in Arizona. Rather they advocate the transformative effects of teacher-ethnography in any community positioned as deficient (para. 8). Still, this connection to Mexican families is an important one because it signals the origin of this framework, which is important given the ways in which Mexican communities have experienced multiple forms of oppression (e.g., racism, nationalism, linguicism, anti-indigeneity). This tie to Mexican families in Arizona foregrounds many of the components of FoK that have been changed across varying interpretations: (1) return the locus of the knowledge to the family, (2) promote critical ethnography by signaling to the particularities of a minoritized family, and (3) indicate the particularity of local knowledge by centering a location/community. This is important because it addresses concerns raised by Gonzalez (2005, as cited in Oughton, 2010), who warned that attempts to develop culturally-responsive pedagogies may risk portraying groups as homogenous and possessing fixed cultural traits (Oughton, 2010). FoK was never meant to result in universal micro-culture guides; rather, it invited educators to immerse themselves in their students homes and families to better serve them. Moll et al. (1992) understood that the exchange was not about individual success or gain, but about continued communal sustainability.

In keeping with foundational understandings of FoK that are rooted in critical stances and communal knowledge, both my own and that of EBLADs and their families, I am also enacting here a critical disabilities raciolinguistic (CDR) perspective, which allows for acknowledgment of the intellectual and social communities in which this work is situated. Given that the focal community here lies at the nexus of multiple identity markers, it is important to enact a framework that is also intersectionalone that recognizes marginalization/oppression rooted in race, ethnicity, language, and ability. Additionally, the framework must aim to challenge deficit-centered values rather than reproduce them.


Building on dis/abilities critical race studies (DisCrit; Annamma et al., 2013), raciolinguistics (Flores & Rosa, 2015), and intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991), this article employs a CDR perspective (Cioè-Peña, 2020a, 2020b, 2020c). A CDR perspective focuses on the intersection of multiple socially constructed labels and categorizations and is enacted to understand how the phenomena of racism and ableism come together through language.

The foundation of a CDR perspective is Crenshaws theory on intersectionality. According to Crenshaw, Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects (Columbia Law School, 2017, para. 4). Specifically, intersectionality allows us to recognize that Black womens experiences are distinct from those of Black men and white women. As such, practices for engaging with, and meeting the needs of, white children and their mothers will not yield the same results with Latinx children and their mothers. Intersectionality also creates space for us to consider the ways in which most pedagogical practices, regardless of the locus of origin, tend to (a) position children solely as students, detached from family or (b) position the home as either a negative or harmful environment or, at best, as an academically neutral space that educators must counter and/or overcompensate for in their practice.

Intersectionality is also central to dis/abilities critical race studies (DisCrit), which focuses on the nexus of disability and race, with an understanding that people of color with disabilities are uniquely racialized and pathologized. This explicit focus on disability is necessary to fully address the complex ways in which oppressive systems operate and disproportionately affect children categorized as Latinx and disabled, and their mothers. Still, DisCrits focus on race fails to recognize how linguistic practices alone serve as a medium for racialization and pathologizing. A raciolinguistic perspective (Flores & Rosa, 2015) addresses this gap by facilitating critical understandings of the relationship between linguistic practices and categorizations. A raciolinguistic perspective uses an intersectional stance to examine the interplay between race, language, and appropriateness while focusing on how peoples linguistic practices are subject to qualification on the basis of the power dynamic between speakers and listeners. Raciolinguistic perspectives are also enacted here to challenge not only the treatment and perceptions of users of minoritized languages, but also the actions of those who study them, particularly those who continue to foreground English regardless of the linguistic practices of their subjects.2 While language could fall under the umbrella of race, a raciolinguistic perspective addresses the mentioned racialization that occurs because of linguistic practices rather than designating language as a racial signifier. Thus, to be designated as normal/belonging, and subsequently as an equal, in embodiment and behavior, one is evaluated based on ones race, gender, ability, and linguistic practice (Cioè-Peña, 2017).

A CDR perspective brings these three theoretical stances together to highlight how racism and ableism are activated through language- and ability-based educational labels in order to shape the experiences of Latinx EBLADs, restrict their mothers agency, and further marginalize their families.

EBLADs disability- and language-related classification labels are often ascribed by school agents with little input from the child and, in many instances, little input from the parent (Cioè-Peña, 2018, 2020c, 2021). However, parents, particularly mothers, are the first point of contact for most school-related communication, so it is important to consider how ableist, linguist, and racist ideologies can be mitigated in the classroom through teaching-centered professional development and still remain intact in schoolparent interactions. The reason for this is that much of the discourse around cultural integration in schools is focused on teacherstudent dynamics rather than schoolfamily dynamics, and pedagogical changes rather than ecological shifts.

This framework is used to understand the ways in which ongoing research centered on the failing of culturally and linguistically diverse communities perpetuates deficit perspectives within society without challenging the systems that lead to these positions, while simultaneously ignoring the positive attributes and contributions of said communities. Finally, by foregrounding theories that center the humanity of communities while identifying the oppressive structures in society, this framework also allows for the experiences of Latinx mothers to be honored as counter-narratives rooted in dismantling deficit perspectives, centering humanity and identifying systemic injustice.


Data presented here are from a larger qualitative study focused on centering MoEBLADs perceptions, values, and beliefs regarding disability, bilingualism, and motherhood. Given the cultural construction of motherhood, Latinx mothers are the primary caretakers of their children and, as such, are the primary points of contact between the home and the school. This study centered on showcasing the voices of the mothers over those of the school because, as Aceves (2014) has said, [i]n traditional research the interpretations of professionals are privileged over those of parents (p. 50). Thus, the goal of the larger study design was to provide mothers with a space in which they could share their understanding of their childrens linguistic and socio-educational practices both inside and outside schools.


Participants were recruited through events at community-based organizations, churches, and referral in a large immigrant community in New York City. Out of 40 interested participants, 10 qualified for inclusion. Mothers qualified for inclusion in the study if (a) their child attended a local public elementary school, (b) was in Grades 26, (c) was classified as having a disability, and (d) was classified as an English language learner by their school district. The qualifying children were receiving services in one of three special education settings: bilingual inclusive classrooms, transitional bilingual special education, and monolingual inclusive education.


This study employed a combination of qualitative research methods to gather an understanding of the lived experiences of the mothers of EBLADs and their families, both inside and outside the education system. Qualitative research methods give participants an opportunity to talk about their lived experiences (Seidman, 2006) and have been found to be useful in understanding parental views on language development and disability (Ijalba, 2015a, p. 97).

The study consisted of two phases. During the first phase, 10 mothers took part in two narrative interviews. For the second phase, three focal mothers, chosen from the larger sample, took part in ethnographic case studies that consisted of five additional interviews (one focused on each on the following topics: motherhood and language; motherhood and disabilities; struggles of motherhood; life in Mexico; and motherhood and dis/ability); two home observations (one after school and one over the weekend); and one communal recollection (Himley, 2011). Mothers also offered up artifacts relating to their or their childrens experiences (e.g., report cards, IEPs, assessments, artwork, school communication). Additionally, to offer a space to those mothers who have received the least amount of attention within the current scholarship, the data for this project were gathered primarily in Spanish. For more details on this larger study, see Cioè-Peña, 2018, 2020a, 2020b, and 2021.

For the purposes of the substudy shared here, Phase 1 interviews with all 10 mothers were analyzed to address the following questions:


How do mothers describe the relationship between them and their EBLADs school?


What are the primary forms of interaction between mothers and school agents?


How, if at all, do these interactions resemble existing hegemonic power dynamics?


The data shared here were collected during the first phase of the larger study across two narrative interviews. The data for this substudy were gathered through the use of semi-structured and narrative interviews. Narrative interviews were used in this study because they allow for an in-depth understanding of a phenomena by giving participants an opportunity to join the discourse, while enabling researchers to ensure that clarity is maintained throughout the process (Harrell & Bradley, 2009). Narrative interviews have also been shown to generate detailed accounts rather than brief answers and general statements (Riessman, 2008, p. 23). Additionally, semi-structured interviews are well suited for the exploration of the perceptions and opinions of respondents regarding complex and sometimes sensitive issues [i.e., motherhood and parental engagement] and enable probing for more information and clarification of answers (Barriball & While, 2013, p. 330).

Participant narratives were collected as testimonios. Testimonios have a long-standing history in Latin American politics and activism and are grounded in an understanding that storytelling is both an intentional and political act done with the hope of exposing injustices that are both personal and systemic (Acevedo, 2001; Bernal et al., 2012; Beverley, 2009; Huber, 2009; Passos DeNicolo & Gonzalez, 2015; Reyes & Rodríguez, 2012). Testimonios also recognize and acknowledge the power difference that exists between the speaker and the listener while also giving over a sense of autonomy to the speaker by highlighting that they choose which narrative to share, and when, how, and to what end (Reyes & Rodríguez, 2012). In a world where most narratives are collected and manipulated by researchers with little regard for the intentionality of the speaker, testimonios serve as a tool to restore power not only to the story but also to the speaker. As such, all narratives were treated as deliberate and politically rooted. Transcripts were not corrected for grammar or language usage in the analysis or in this article. This was done to foreground the authenticity of mothers choices both as mothers and as study participants.

All 10 participants engaged in two interviews that took place over at least one face-to-face meeting. Six of the 10 participants opted to be interviewed on two separate occasions, and four opted to be interviewed in one day, with a 15-minute break between the first and second interviews. The first interview was semi-structured and aimed to gather demographic/baseline information for all participants through a family inventory as well as questions regarding the familys linguistic practice(s), their childs school-based classification labels, their maternal load, and their relationship with their childs school. The second interview was a semi-structured narrative interview focused on the motherchild relationship. This interview also brought up content regarding their relationship with their child around school and schoolwork. Each interview lasted between 30 and 45 minutes.

The most critical and crucial aspect of this study was that the interviews were conducted in the mothers home language, Spanish, and took place in the location of each mothers choosing: a local church, a community center, or the participants home. Additionally, open-ended questions allowed them to share as much or as little as they desired, while also allowing them to dictate the course of the conversation. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed by an independent company, and translated as needed, after analysis.


The data were interpreted using content and narrative analysis (Riessman, 2008). These were then coded and interpreted with the guidance of thematic and structural analysis (Riessman, 2008). These analytic methods were used to center the experiences of the mothers, in their own words. Artifacts developed during the interviews were also collected, field notes were taken during the interviews, and memos were developed afterward.

The first round of analysis consisted of comparing the audio recordings with the transcripts and listening for accuracy. During this initial round, I also identified terms and phrases that were unfamiliar to me and that would require external confirmation of translation and meaning, because the participants represented different parts of the Latin American diaspora than I. All ensuing rounds of analysis were guided by different purposes. The second round analyzed the transcripts for accuracy between the audio and the transcription, ensuring that the mothers actual phrasing was captured, not just the essence or the gist. The third round of analysis was guided by a set of inductive codes stemming from the first research questions. This round looked at mentions of schoolmother contact, schoolfamily communication, motherschool contact, and motherschool communication. The fourth round focused on understanding the types of interactions that the mothers and schools had, resulting in the following deductive codes: informal conversation/communication, and formal meeting/communication; the latter code had three subcodes: classification-related meetings, districtwide meetings, and parent-initiated meetings. A fifth round of analysis aimed to answer the second research question by understanding the nature of the interactions (e.g., positive or negative; charged or neutral; did the mother feel she was treated fairly or unfairly; did she feel like an equal or a subordinate). These findings were then categorized by emergent themes. Anchored in the theoretical framework and the third research question, additional rounds of analysis focused on ideas and phrases that served as examples of parental engagement or enactment of funds of knowledge. The sixth and final round of analysis was dedicated to free listening, during which interesting comments, contradictions, or inconsistencies made by the participants were noted and marked. These findings were then organized into themes, three of which are shared in the Findings section.


I identify as an Afro-Latinx, neurodivergent, bilingual/biliterate immigrant, cisgender woman. After immigrating to the United States in 1990, my family settled in the same NYC neighborhood where this study was conducted. Shortly after, I was enrolled in a public elementary school where, at the age of 7, I was considered a newcomer and English language learner student. I participated in bilingual programs within this community/district from second through eighth grade. My younger sister, who arrived in the United States as an infant and was classified as a struggling learner, participated in exclusively monolingual English classes. As an adult, I would later work as a bilingual special education teacher in self-contained and integrated special education classes as well as general education dual-language programs within one school in this same district. I attended the same churches as some of the participants and was known as a local teacher who lived and worked within the community. At the time of the study, I was no longer working or living in the focal neighborhood/school district; however, because of my deep connections to the community, at one of the recruitment events, when introducing me to the Sunday school parents, the priest stated, You can trust her, shes one of us. As a result, it is likely that participants shared their experiences with me so openly because they were able to regard me as a trustworthy, reliable, and vetted contact.


Although multiple themes arose from the analysis, this article focuses on three: (1) the systemic ways that MoEBLADs are excluded from their childs education at both the school and district levels, (2) how MoEBLADs internalize these experiences and fault themselves for their limited participation in their childrens learning, and (3) the ways in which mothers make space for themselves in their childrens educational experiences by focusing on the contributions they can make outside the school.


Throughout this study, every single mother who participated shared an experience in which she had been actively limited in her capacity as a parent by a teacher or a school representative. While these mothers understood that traditional framings of academic involvement were important, they were also able to identify how schools and their agents created hostile environments that made them feel unwelcome and/or that invalidated their contributions to their childs academic development. These feelings of rejection were manifested through a variety of encounters.

One common way that mothers found themselves feeling rejected related to how teachers would regard them. In this vignette, Carlota shared how the change in affect from one teacher to the next made her feel like her voice was not valued:

Anteriormente, de primero a tercer grado las reuniones [de plan educativos] eran muy buenas, por la ayuda de la profesora. Ella me apoyaba mucho. Si yo no podía [articular algo], ella me apoyaba. Lamentablemente ella se salió de esa escuela, y ahora llegó otra nueva que no--. Bueno, la anterior, ella hablaba mucho conmigo, me hacía sentir como que tenía yo -- podía yo opinar. Ella me enseñaba mucho, y con esta no, casi no tengo comunicación más que para la reunión. Más en cambio la otra no, me dejaba mensajes o trataba de cómo comunicarse conmigo. Ésta es como muy seca, muy -- no sé . . . no es lo mismo que te-- Me sentía yo más a gusto con la otra [maestra], era más amena, me apoyaba más. . . . Se involucraba más con los niños y con los padres, ésta no, ésta, solo la veo en la reunión.

[Previously, from first to third grade the [IEP] meetings were very good, because of the help from the teacher. She supported me a lot. If I could not [articulate something], she supported me. Unfortunately, she left that school, and now there is new one that does not--. Well, the previous one, she talked a lot with me, she made me feel like I had I had a say. She taught me a lot, and with this one, I have almost no communication except for the meeting. On the other hand, the other one no, she left messages or tried to communicate with me. This one is very dry, very - I do not know . . . its not the same as when . . . I felt more comfortable with the other [teacher], it was more pleasant, she supported me more. . . . She was more involved with children and with parents, this one isnt, this one, I only see her at the meeting.]

Here, Carlota identified how a prior teachers warm and inviting demeanor made her feel valued and supported, while the new teachers more dry and standoffish approach made her feel unwelcome and silenced.

The treatment that mothers received from schools was a common indicator of disregard. This was not only an issue once a child was placed in special education, but even during the evaluation period, as recounted in Saras experience:

Sí, se tardaron demasiado en la escuela [en evaluar a el niño]. Nunca [me explicaron por que]. No, yo solo esperaba. [Me sentía] un poco desesperada porque no me daban respuesta.

[Yes, they took too long at school [in assessing the child]. They never [explained why]. No, I just waited. [I felt] a little desperate because they did not give me an answer.]

In being made to wait, Sara expressed the ways in which mothers are discreetly pushed out of the special education process. Even though parents are meant to play an equal role in the decision-making process, withholding information is one way that a school can establish dominance over a parent, thus resulting in their alienation in future processes.

Still, some mothers pressed on, inserting themselves into the decision-making process only to be rebuffed in other, and at times more explicit, ways. In this episode, Maria recounted how she fought with her childs school to keep his one-to-one paraprofessional rather than moving him to a more restrictive setting:

Yo peleé, y le dije que yo quería que el Para estuviera presente en la junta que tuve. Bueno, la cosa es que ellas me lo mandaron--, me sugirieron que fuera a una clase especial de 12 niños. No estaba y no estuve de acuerdo, pero según que eso era bueno.

Era mejor para el niño, para que sí se pudiera concentrar mejor, pero yo sé que, si mi niño entraba a esa clase, mi niño se iba a atrasar. . . . Yo fui a pelear con ellos, porque les dije que yo, definitivamente, no quería que al niño [le] quitaran [el para]. Por que yo sé que él dependía de él, pero él se sentía seguro con él.  

[I fought, and I told them that I wanted Para to be present at the meeting. Well, the thing is that they sent him--, they suggested that he go to a special class of 12 children. He was not there, and I did not agree, but according to them it was good. It was better for the child, so that he could concentrate better, but I know that if my child entered that class, my child was going to fall behind. . . . I went to fight with them, because I told them that I definitely did not want the child [to] lose [the para]. Because I know he depended on him, but he felt safe with him.]

Even though Maria vehemently communicated to the school that she did not agree with a more restrictive placement for her child and that she strongly felt that her child benefited from having a one-to-one paraprofessional, her child was moved, and the paraprofessional was removed. This impacted Maria greatly:

Entonces, ahora que el niño--, que me quitaron el Para, para mí sí fue bien difícil, porque yo me sentía con desconfianza. Como, ¿Qué va a pasar con mi hijo?, ¿no?. [&]Porque yo me sentía más tranquila que él estaba seguro con él. . . . Yo a veces me siento impotente.

[So, now that the child-- that they took away the Para, for me it was very difficult, because I felt distrustful. Like, Whats going to happen with my son? right? . . . Because I felt calmer that he was safe with him. . . I sometimes feel powerless.]

Having her desires for her child rejected and denied led Maria to develop feelings of distrust and powerlessness, thus hindering her ability to engage in future challenges with her childs teachers and service providers.

Even more concerning was that many of these mothers felt dismissed even when armed with support from their districts, as was the case for Paty. When Paty tried to move her child from a school that she viewed as overly critical and minimally supportive of her child, she found success at the district level. It was not until she tried to enroll her child in her local community school that she encountered resistance:

[Cuando yo lo fui a inscribir en la escuela nueva] ellas me dijeron que [la decisión del districto] no importaba. Porque la señora, una de las que trabajan allí, yo les dije--, la secretaria, de hecho, yo le dije, Mira, es que esto ya es del distrito. ¿Eso que tiene que ver?, dice, Eso no tiene nada que ver. Entonces, por eso a veces digo, entonces, ¿cuál es lo más importante? ¿Lo que diga la escuela o lo que diga el distrito?  

[[When I went to enroll him in the new school] they told me that [the districts decision] did not matter. Because the lady, one of those who work there, I told them-- the secretary, in fact, I said, Look, this is already from the district. What does that have to do with anything? she said. That has nothing to do with it. So, thats why I sometimes say, then, what is the most important thing? What the school says or what the district says?]

As evidenced here, even when mothers followed the proper channels and won the support of the district, they still encountered rejection and denial over their childrens educational futures. Perhaps it is because of these regular indignities and denials that mothers eventually internalize their inability to effectively advocate for their children and find themselves at fault. This internalization is explored in the next section of this article.


The most common way that mothers internalized the oppressions they encounter is by discounting their participation in their childs academic tenure. When asked if they considered themselves to be active participants in their childrens education, most mothers answered no or not really. When asked to elaborate, most talked about the ways in which they failed to be active in the PTA or during in school activities, thus reducing the value of their presence in their childs academic life beyond school. Rosa stated,

Bueno, a veces participo. [Digo a veces] porque tengo que ir a trabajar, entonces--, que aquí, aquí en este país, uno--.[&]A veces participo con mis hijos, es porque--, en las tareas, ayudarles, ya cuando yo no puedo, entonces digo, Lo siento, pero no voy a poder ese día. No [hay otras maneras que lo ayudo]. Mayormente ayudando con las tareas.

[Well, sometimes I participate. [I say sometimes] because I have to go to work, then--, here, here in this country, one - . . . Sometimes I participate with my children, it is because--, in the homework, helping them, then when I cannot, then I say, Im sorry, but Im not going to be able to that day. No [there are no other ways that I help him]. Mostly helping with homework.]

In this snippet, Rosa discounted her own role in her childs education. She minimized her homework support even though she acknowledged that as a single parent, she was limited by her need to work and because her childs homework was primarily assigned in English, and she is a monolingual Spanish user. Still, she faulted herself rather than the systemic factors that hindered her ability to be more engaged.

One way that some mothers mitigated the language barrier was by sending their children to aftercare in the hope that they would get the necessary supports there. This was Anas rationale:

Pues yo también ya no la puedo ayudar mucho, porque yo no tengo suficiente estudio, y pues más el inglés pues se necesita aquí, y pues yo no lo sé; yo la ayudo en la que yo puedo. Por eso la dejé en la tarde [en el día extendido] para que ahí por lo menos le ayuden algo en la tarea, el inglés.   

[Well, I cannot help her very much, because I do not have enough schooling, and because more English is needed here, and I do not know it; I help her where I can. Thats why I left it in the afternoon [afterschool program] so that at least they would help her somewhat in the homework, the English.]  

Even though Ana sought additional support for her child, rather than seeing that as an indication of her involvement and engagement, she positioned it as a response to her limited education and her lack of English proficiency. By focusing on her weaknesses, Ana was unable to question why her daughters homework was exclusively in English even though she was enrolled in a dual-language class. This is another way that internalized oppression feeds on parental guilt.

Paty, who previously shared how she was challenged by school representatives even when she had the district on her side, shared how enduring these microaggressions over extended periods eventually chip away at a mothers resolve. She had this to say when asked about how she felt about her sons disability label:

Pues, no, no estoy conforme. Pero a veces, ¿qué puedo hacer? ¿Cómo podría ayudarlo yo? [&]Porque le pusieron [tantos servicios]. [&]Yo le decía, ¿Por qué le dan esas terapias si él nunca las recibía? & Es lo que yo no sé.   

[Well, no, Im not happy. But sometimes, what can I do? How could I help? . . . Because they gave him [so many services]. . . . I would say, Why do they give him these therapies if he never received them? ... thats what I do not know.]

In this quotation, we can see how Paty, who previously challenged school administrators head on, was rendered powerless and began to question her ability not only to get her questions answered but also to advocate for her son. This is an indication of how, after enough struggle, mothers stop seeing the system as broken and start seeing themselves as ineffective.  

Some mothers, like Carmela, internalized these feelings of ineffectiveness even further; they attribute them not only to their individual limitations but also to their entire ethnic group:

Carmela: A veces siento que--, nosotros los hispanos, como que somos muy cohibidos, muy tímidos para defender los derechos de nuestros hijos, ¿no? Porque, a veces, cuando me toca incluso ir a las escuelas, hay mamás que exigen, piden, ¿verdad? Y uno como que--, como hispano se cohíbe más, ¿no?  

Carmela: [Sometimes I feel that-- we Hispanics, like we are very self-conscious, very shy to defend the rights of our children, no? Because, sometimes, like when I have to go to schools, there are moms who demand, ask, right? And one is like --, as a Hispanic is more self-conscious, right?]  

In this moment, Carmela blamed issues of unequal power distributions not on systemic racism but on Latinx disposition. Rather than giving equal responsibility to both schools and parents, Carmela placed the blame squarely on Latinx people as such internalizing negative stereotypes of Latinx parents.

While many of the mothers in this study internalized a great deal of the responsibility and blame for their limitations regarding parental involvement and advocacy, they also shared many of the ways in which they were central to their childrens academic and linguistic growth.  


Many of these mothers did not support their children in standard Eurocentric ways, but they were highly present in their lives. One major way was by being physically present. Carlota, like many of the other mothers, made it a point to drop off and pick up her child from school every day, even in the upper grades:

Para mí está bien ir. Me parece bien recogerlo y todo. Para mí está bien, y para él se siente orgulloso de que no a todos los niños su mamá los va a recoger. Por lo mismo de que trabajan. Y él se siente orgullosísimo cuando va su mamá. [&] Es su espacio, venimos hablando: Mami, mañana no se te olvide que me tienes que recoger más temprano. Mami, mañana me toca examen de ciencia o algo así. Y en ese transcurso es su tiempo de hablarte que no haiga [sic] mis otros hijos o su papá que no se entrometan en lo que no. [risas]. Y él me explica todo lo que tiene que decir.[&] Y hasta el día de hoy le doy masajes, cuando venimos en el tren le doy sus masajes. A mí no me enseñaron [las terapistas], pero yo siento que los masajes son buenos, a mí me gustan; me imagino que también a él.

[Its good for me to go. I think its good to pick him up and everything. For me its fine, and for him he feels proud that not all the children get picked up by their mothers. For the same reason that they work. And he feels very proud when his mom goes. . . . Its his space, well be talking: Mommy, tomorrow do not forget that you have to pick me up earlier. Mommy, tomorrow I have a science exam or something like that. And in that process, its his time to talk to me without my other children or their dad, they cant meddle where they dont belong. [laughs] And he explains everything he has to say. . . And to this day I give him massages, when we get on the train, I give him his massages. [The therapists], did not teach me but I feel that the massages are good, I like them; I imagine he also does.]

Carlota is not simply walking her child to the school down the block; she is actively using her limited financial resources to cover the cost of taking her son to school on the subway. She uses this time with her son to ask him about his day and to connect with him on an individual level. She even goes so far as to massage his hands in an effort to support his learning. Although these supports do not take place inside the school or within the realm of standard parental engagement, they are no less meaningful.

Other mothers spoke explicitly of the ways in which supporting their children often meant that they needed to ignore other household responsibilities. Paty stated,

Lo difícil es que porque a veces tengo que sentarme con él, debemos de apagar todo para que él se pueda concentrar, dejar de hacer lo que debemos de hacer, al menos yo. Porque él, bueno, ahorita ya. Pero anteriormente él no leía, no hacía tarea, si yo no me sentaba [con el].   

[The difficult thing is that because sometimes I have to sit down with him, we must turn everything off so that he can concentrate, stop doing what we should do, at least me. Because he, well, not anymore. But previously he did not read, he did not do homework, if I did not sit down [with him].]  

While Paty let us know the ways in which supporting her sons academic development required that she sit by his side, ignore her chores, and create a space that is conducive to learning, she diminished the impact of these acts on her life. This last step was no small task, given that Paty and her family shared a small apartment with two other families. Again, these supports tend to go unnoticed.

Yet, for monolingual Spanish-using mothers, supporting their emergent bilinguals often required more than just being present; in most cases, these mothers had to seek out external supports, particularly when their childrens homework was in a language other than Spanish. Nancy said,

En sí yo en las tareas, no me mezclo mucho. Yo solamente le digo, ¿Eddie, ya hiciste tu tarea?. Sí. Le digo, ¿Y cómo puedo saber que ya la hiciste?. Pues te la voy a enseñar. Le digo, Okay. Pero como yo no entiendo--. O sea, sí, ya la veo que ya está, pero no puedo saber si está bien o no. Le digo al hermano mayor que le ayude. . . . Sí. Lo que es matemáticas, y si lo entiendo, claro que sí, porque los números, pues, son números, ¿verdad? Pero lo demás no [por que estan en ingles].  

[I do not get too mixed up in his homework. I just say, Eddie, did you do your homework? Yes. I tell him, And how can I know you already did it? Well, Im going to show you. I say, Okay. But as I do not understand-- I mean, yes, I see that its already there, but I cannot know if its okay or not. I tell his older brother to help him. . . . Yes. When its mathematics, I do understand it, of course, because numbers, well, are numbers, right? But the rest I dont [because theyre in English].]  

While Nancy attempted to diminish her role in actively supporting her child by dismissing the importance of checking in, she also indicated other critical ways that she supported her sons learning. Not only did she check in with him, but she also helped him with his math work and enlisted the help of her older son to mitigate the linguistic barrier that existed among the other tasks.

Seeking an external support to mitigate linguistic barriers was a common way that mothers helped their children. Carmela stated,

Yo trato de hacer la tarea con él, de sentarme con él a escuchar para ver cómo está leyendo, y aunque yo no sé inglés, yo lo escucho para ver si él está leyendo. A veces buscamos en el diccionario cómo se pronuncia una palabra. Ahora que todo se puede buscar en el teléfono, en el Internet. De esa manera, yo lo ayudo. Y cuando no puedo en algo, les pedimos ayuda a sus hermanos. Solamente cuando realmente no puedo, o salgo tarde del trabajo, bueno, dejo que alguien más lo ayude, pero por lo regular, trato de estar yo ahí con él.

[I try to do the homework with him, to sit down with him to listen to see how he is reading, and although I do not know English, I listen to him to see if he is reading. Sometimes we look in the dictionary for a word to be pronounced. Now that everything can be searched on the phone, on the Internet. In that way, I help him. And when I cannot do something, we ask their brothers for help. Only when I really cannot, or Im late from work, well, I let someone else help, but usually, I try to be there with him.]  

While Carmela pointed to the ways in which she viewed external supports as necessary, she still viewed them as the last possible option, opting instead to be as involved as possible. As such, she found other ways to mitigate the language barrierwhether by redefining the task or by enlisting the help of a web-based translatorall in an effort to remain by her sons side and to preserve her role in his learning.

The final way in which mothers tried to preserve their presence in their childs learning, thus supporting their childs academic advancement, was by enlisting the help of their other children to navigate the school system. For example, in the following quotation, Sara discussed the ways in which she started bringing her own interpreter to school meetings:

Mi hija va conmigo [como interprete] a las reuniones. No siempre [hay interprete oficial de la escuela] No. No. . . . Sí [se que es mi derecho], pero a veces como que no hay nadie disponible, por cualquier cosa. Entonces, llevo a mi hija, por si acaso. Pero me parece que no es lo mismo, ¿verdad?, como si fueran nosotros mismos [hablando en la reunión].

[My daughter goes with me [as an interpreter] to the meetings. There isnt always [an official interpreter of the school] No. No. . . . Yes [I know its my right], but sometimes like theres nobody available, for anything. So, I take my daughter, just in case. But it seems to me that it is not the same, right? As if it were us [speaking at the meeting].]

Tired of showing up to school meetings only to find no translator available, Sara started bringing her own. This ensured that she did not waste her time attending meetings she didnt understand or have to endure repeated rescheduling. Yet, there are limitations to this approach; among them is that in using her child as a translator, she knows she is giving over some of her autonomy, thus becoming dependent on her child, and there is a shift in the power dynamic between her and her daughter. Still, rather than miss out on pertinent information regarding her childs education, Sara, like many other mothers, willingly continued to make great personal sacrifices.


Research focused on children at school has identified schools as spaces where CLD children are bombarded with overt and covert racism (Blaisdell, 2016; Joseph et al., 2016; Troyna et al., 2018). While there has been a major focus on changing educational practices to those that are more in keeping with CSP, these practices have not extended beyond the classroom and into the spaces that CLD parents, like MoEBLADs, occupy. As such, we are much more aware of the emotional and sociocultural needs of students (at school) without recognizing that these needs are also true for CLD families.

As is evident in the findings, MoEBLADs are active participants in the academic lives of their children. However, they often face great obstacles and endure many indignities, most of which are rooted in their limited English proficiency. Using an intersectional stance, one can understand that these mothers focused on supporting their children outside of school because schools represent uninviting, and toxic, spaces. In these spaces, they were not viewed or valued as equal partners; instead, they were often dismissed and disregarded. This can occur on multiple fronts: gender, race, class, and/or immigration status (Blaisdell, 2016; Flores & Rosa, 2015; Ijalba, 2015a; Joseph et al., 2016). However, when we enact a CDR perspective, we can see that many of these identity markers are connected and typified by the fact that their primary language is not that of the school. Thus, MoEBLADs inability to communicate in English serves as a means to discredit their positions and their participation in their childrens academic development. This understanding of language as power is not novel (Alim et al., 2016). However, that these mothers had children enrolled in schools that were located in Latinx communities and that promoted bilingual education further indicates the ways in which the speakers stigmatization is reflective not of their language practices, but the values that the listening subject holds (Flores & Rosa, 2015). In this way, just as bilingualism is valued among certain racial groups over others, parental engagement is also more valuable, pending certain racial qualifiers but also in particular languages. Ultimately, a Spanish-speaking parents parental engagement is held to a different standard than that of an English-speaking parent; the English-speaking parents engagement is facilitated by the fact that they and the school share a (power) language.

In a 2017 interview with EdWeek, Paris and Alim described a central component of CSPa critical centering on dynamic community languages, valued practices, and knowledgesby explaining,

This means that educators dont see students languages (e.g., Navajo, African-American Language, Spanish, standard English), literacies (e.g., Hip Hop, poetry, social media, street art) or ways of being (e.g., spiritual beliefs, ways of relating to adults and elders) as somehow marginal or to simply be added to the existing curriculum. Rather, these facets of students selves and communities must be centered meaningfully in classroom learning, across units and projects. (Ferlazzo, 2017)

This very clear and purposeful conceptualization of the role of communal knowledge in the classroom is supportive of EBLADs and enabled CLD students linguistic and academic needs; however, there is a slight shift between the principle, which calls for centering on dynamic community languages, valued practices, and knowledges, and the explanation, which elaborates on the incorporation of these facets in to the curriculum and classroom. As such, this call for intercultural exchanges easily becomes a call for resource mining, leading teachers to draw on these facets without replenishing them. Additionally, because these exchanges are centered on students languages, values, and ways of being, space is made for these facets as they relate to children in the classroom, but not as they relate to families in schoolparent interactions.  

The findings from this study allow us to recognize how mothers experience schoolparent contact. In answering the first research question, we can assert that MoEBLADs existing relationships with schools are primarily one-sided and centered on maximizing the schools resources (e.g., time, language, services), to the detriment of the mothers potential contributions (e.g., cultural knowledge, expertise of the child, community/family-valued skills). As such, in answering the second research question, mothers shared that the primary forms of interaction between themselves and school were typically school agent directed, had little regard for the mothers time and linguistic needs, and positioned them as empty-headed caretakers. Finally, with regard to the third research question, these interactions vividly resembled existing hegemonic power dynamics that exist between CLD people and society. These interactions (a) were laden with class differentials that regularly positioned the mother as inferior, (b) were prime examples of linguistic exclusion that results in other forms of alienation within the school and home, and (c) signaled the ways in which deficit framing of learners and the consequences of ascribing them inherently negative classification labels (i.e., student with disability, English language learner) extend beyond the child to impact the entire family unit. All of this signals to the ways in which discussions of FoK have been restricted to children and the classroom, thus missing the very impactful ways that these mothers, and all CLD peoples, FoK are denied. As a result, they are positioned as deficient, and this deficiency is then used to explain their childrens decreased academic attainment without recognizing that denying mothers FoK also results in a loss of opportunities to learn for their children.

It is quite easy to fault school agents for these mothers experiences, particularly when conjuring up solutions. However, it is possible that the research communitys long-standing presentation of MoEBLADs as inherently deficient, as presented in the brief review of literature, signals to a potential reason behind the disparate social interactions that exist between educators and parents. These interactions often reify classist, linguist, racist, and ableist ideology because the bulk of research concerning these subpopulations also does.   


Research about MoEBLADs tends to frame them as both unwilling to support, and incapable of supporting, their childrens educational careers. Although research exists that aims to dispel these erroneous presentations, most of it focuses on racial dynamics that are present not only in schools but also in research. Still, to date, no one has addressed the ways in which the language of research could also be a significant factor in reinforcing and maintaining deficit-grounded perspectives.  This gap could be addressed with a focus not just on inclusive research but also on culturally sustaining research. It is easy to fault school agents, however, the mentioned literature indicates how the research communitys presentation of MoEBLADs as inherently deficient signals to a potential reason behind these disparate social interactions that reify classist, linguist, racist, and ableist ideology.

As researchers, we cannot simultaneously advocate for the transformative effects of teacher-ethnography in any community positioned as deficient (Oughton, 2010, para. 8) without recognizing the ways in which current research practices do not center or celebrate the funds of knowledge that Moll et al. (1992) urged us to see and affirm. Oughtons return to the family as the locus of knowledge is a call not just for teachers but also for all researchers, across varying fields and levels of engagement. A culturally sustaining approach to research must be anchored in the same FoK ideals as classroom practices are. As such, it must (1) consider how the family serves as a central component in learning, (2) promote critical ethnography by signaling to the particularities of a minoritized family, and (3) indicate the particularity of local knowledge by centering a location/community and decentering the white normative gaze (Cioè-Peña, 2020c).

A culturally sustaining approach to research would focus less on the lack of traditional involvement exhibited by minoritized communities and more on the systemic reasons that this is the caseand, even more importantly, on the positive, and often ignored, contributions they do make.

This presents a need to think outside the standard definition of involvement and even of parenting. We need to consider the many ways in which mothers support their children and go above and beyond in ways that are not always visible because they happen outside school and are not necessarily in keeping with mainstream/dominant cultural understandings. Parenting, learning, and a myriad of human practices look different to different stakeholders; thus, the ways in which we approach research must also be varied.

What is critical with culturally sustaining research is an understanding that the participant has done nothing wrong. However, their behaviors and actions are framed as such because they are engaging with a system that positions their loci of knowledge as at best deficient and at worst damaging. Culturally sustaining research is one that identifies the ways in which communities of color are devalued while also celebrating the things they do without subjecting them to white/Eurocentric standards. For any of this to be done successfully, research about minoritized populations must involve members of those communities, in the local-communal language. Just as researchers recognize the importance of Black teachers being necessary figures in the education of Black children (Brookins, n.d.; Id-Din, 2017; Lindsay & Hart, 2017), they must also recognize that minoritized researchers need to be at the forefront of research relating to minoritized communities. As members of those communities, said researchers have an understanding of cultural knowledge, they understand the fluidity of language, they also understand the experiences of their participants, and they know which questions to ask and in what ways. Most important, they have the ability to frame their findings in ways that are critical not just of the participants, but also of the social structures they interact with.  

This does not mean that all researchers from minoritized communities will do critical work simply by being at the helm. The only way to ensure that critical work is being done is by enacting critical theories, using culturally appropriate methodologies, and engaging in the language of the community. Still, for far too long, a great deal of research on minoritized communities has been done by outsidersbe they racial or social outsiderswho engage in varying types of research tourism: going into communities of color, gathering the information they need, and then leaving, never to return (Chadderton, 2012; Helms, 1993; Parham, 1993). Researchers who choose to engage in work that relates to their communities are often accused of engaging in me-search (Nash & Bradley, 2012). This claim aims to frame research that is grounded in local and personal connections as self-indulgent, lazy, and rife with conflicts of interest. However, all research has to, at some level, be personalbecause it relates to either our own interests or our professional agendas. Still, there is a part of each researcher in all research. Case in point: The study featured here came about because of my personal connections to disability, my previous experience as a bilingual special education teacher, and my identity as a bilingual/biliterate immigrant. Nonetheless, the study was designed in collaboration with other scholars, it was reviewed by two institutional review boards, incorporated external theories and methodologies, made use of third-party translation and transcription services, and incorporated member checks. All of this is to say that researchers use myriad ways to ensure that their work is critical, rigorous, and expansiveand this is no less true for scholars engaging with their multilingual communities.

Another way to ensure that we are engaging in culturally sustaining research is by ensuring that the dissemination of all data foregrounds the local-communal language. Publishing original untranslated excerpts integrates added levels of transparency and accountability. Within each language, regardless of geographical application, there exists variance in syntax, grammatical structure, and vocabulary usage, all of which play significant roles in meaning-making for both the speaker and the listener (García & Wei, 2013). As such, when researchers present the data solely in the language of the audience, a great deal of meaning is hidden from readers, limiting the academic communitys ability to fully engage with the research while simultaneously stripping participants of agency. When an article features the translated data first or onlyit positions the needs of the reader ahead of the participants, thus discounting the aim(s) of the investigation. Likewise, when we choose to italicize, or otherwise modify, the original data, we are covertly discounting the value of that language and those data. This is because modifications to content are meant to distinguish the original, untranslated data from the rest of the manuscript; as such, it extends the othering that participants experience to the page. Thus, the last, and perhaps most important, tenet of culturally sustaining research is ensuring that participant communities have access to the knowledge they helped produce. Moreover, it is also important to ensure that the work is published in modes that are accessible and available to participants, including presentations. Still, this missive is not meant to place fault solely on researchers, particularly researchers of color, who are bound to the ideology of publish or perish to advance their careers. These scholars also experience pressure to disseminate their research products in prestigious venues (e.g., research conferences, top-tier journals) over those that might directly benefit the communities they work alongside (e.g., community forums, district professional development, school newsletters, or other open-source publications). It is important to recognize the role that the publishing industry has in this, especially with regard to word count. Often, researchers who work with multilingual communities find themselves having to choose between content development and data inclusion to meet word count restrictions. On the other hand, if researchers choose to feature solely the original data, they risk alienating readers, limiting the scope of their contributions, and hindering their careers.

Culturally sustaining research practices that are (1) reflective of local communities, (2) inclusive of linguistic plurality, and (3) engaged in intentional dissemination will help to dismantle systems of oppression by putting forth new types of understanding and fewer deficit-centered perspectives. These practices can also result in innovative research and active diversification of the academy. It is time that we, as researchers, take up the strategies we peddle to teachers. Otherwise, we run the risk of replicating a system that we say we stand against.



EBLADs are students who are dually classified as English language learners and students with disabilities (Cioè-Peña, 2018).


The term subject is included here as a way to push back on claims of CLD communities as participants when the final product is not presented in a language or medium that they can access. As such, the ability to be a participant is limited by the very choices made by (and often forced on) researchers in the pursuit of publications.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 12, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23911, Date Accessed: 12/1/2021 12:00:16 PM

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About the Author
  • María Cioè-Peña
    Montclair State University
    E-mail Author
    MARÍA CIOÈ-PEÑA, Ph.D., is a bilingual/biliterate neurodiverse researcher who examines the intersections of disability, language, school–parent partnerships, and education policy. She focuses specifically on Latinx bilingual children with dis/abilities, their families, and their ability to access multilingual and inclusive learning spaces within public schools. María’s two-time award-winning dissertation focused on the experiences of Spanish-speaking mothers raising emergent bilinguals labeled as disabled. Maria’s work is featured in multiple journals, including Urban Review; Education Forum; Bilingual Research Journal; International Journal of Inclusive Education, and she has contributed to multiple edited volumes. Her book (M)othering Labeled Children: Bilingualism and Disability in the Lives of Latinx Mothers was published in 2021 by Multilingual Matters. She is an assistant professor and Community-Engaged Teaching Fellow at Montclair State University.
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