Identity Construction in Latina Students: Writing Culturally Framed Texts

Identity Construction in Latina Students: Writing Culturally Framed Texts

Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar (The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5268-1.ch014


This chapter illuminates a literacy educator's efforts in engaging Latina adult university students with writing authentic texts in which they critically reflect on their life experiences. The study describes how critical autobiographies—by providing engaging opportunities for the writing process—also served as an initiator to articulate aspirant's difficult life experiences. The autobiographies are analyzed utilizing Howard and Alamilla's (2015) perspectives on gender identities (essentialism, socialization, social construction, and structuralism). The findings help connect with prior research that when students are allowed to write about their cultural experiences, they are (1) able to express their inadequacies and struggles using life experiences within their families and communities, and they (2) reveal multiple aspects of their cultural identities as Latina.
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Literacy pedagogy exists to explore ideas and clarify emotions. Commonly in schools, we provide instructional opportunities for reader response so students are able to connect with the text. In such activities we anticipate learners making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections (Keene & Zimmerman, 1997). Further, Tovani’s (2000) claim about, textual connections may facilitate understanding:

It helps readers understand how characters feel and the motivation behind their actions. It helps readers have a clearer picture in their head as they read thus making the reader more engaged. It keeps the reader from becoming bored while reading. It sets a purpose for reading and keeps the reader focused. Readers can see how other readers connected to the reading. It forces readers to become actively involved. It helps readers remember what they have read and ask questions about the text (para 3).

Instructors may inhibit the engagement of students when they project mainstream experiences as a goal for writing. Often instructors anticipate connections to mainstream perspectives or experiences, while personal would mirror an Anglo Saxon perspective. This culturally myopic Anglo centric perspective may lead students of colour experience trivialization, marginalization, disparagement, and annihilation (Yoss, 2005). Research documents that the culture of minoritized students are not respected and at times ridiculed or insulted. Due to lack of culturally efficacious teaching and lack of culturally relevant pedagogy, the heritage practices of children from diverse backgrounds are considered illegitimate in the official space (i.e. classroom) (Delpit, 2006).

Literacy instruction provides opportunities to accommodate students from different backgrounds. Considerable research on cultural engagement through writing has proven to be beneficial to students’ growth (Atwell, 1987; Calkins, 1986; Graves,1991; Henkin, 2005). However, most college writing assignments are based on academic texts students read or write on prescriptive topics. When provided with writing opportunities such as the critical autobiography, students are more likely to develop literacy sophistication. In addition, writing activity helps students become critical thinkers and thereby achieve critical consciousness (Hinchey, 2004). All writing genres have the possibility of providing a space to explore one’s culture. For example, a space where students write about their struggles can be provided by asking students to write, “Who Am I” poem (see appendix A). Pre-service teachers, in this study were provided with an opportunity to write authentic texts (e.g., critical autobiography) focused on the intersectional aspects of race, class, culture, and gender.

The topics were student-selected as opposed to pre-determined focus that are prescriptive and may not be contextual to the students’ lived experiences. Drawing from Cochran-Smith (1995), and Sanchez & Rivas (2020), I encouraged my students to focus on their race and culture while writing their critical autobiographies. Students were required to read and analyze chapters by McIntosh (1995) and Markus (2015) before they began to write their own personal memoirs. McIntosh (1995) discusses white and male privilege and Markus’ (2005) chapter deals with personal and social factors that impact identity formation in individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Identity Construction: The process of forming an identity based on personal and other people’s perception of self.

Critical Autobiography: A self-portrait of people that reveals multiple aspects of their identities, race, class, and gender.

Authentic Writing: Composition or text that focuses on students’ lived experiences.

Latina: Of or relating to females of Latin-American descent.

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