Justice and Space Matter in a Strong, Unified Latino Community

by Kathy Bussert-Webb (Author) María Eugenia Díaz (Author) Krystal A. Yanez (Author)
©2017 Textbook XXXVI, 242 Pages


Justice and Space Matter in a Strong, Unified Latino Community provides a detailed analysis of colonias along the Mexico–United States border, examining the intersection of culture, education, language, literacy, race, religion, and social class in Latino immigrant communities. The researchers investigated Corazón, a colonia in South Texas, as a case study of these unincorporated border settlements, consisting of mostly Mexican heritage residents and lacking many basic living necessities. Highlighting over ten years of research findings, the authors consider structural inequalities alongside the unique strengths of Corazón. Their acute observations dispel myths about such high-poverty communities and demonstrate how residents overcome the odds through activism, faith, and ganas. In presenting a portrait of the Corazón colonia, the authors offer a deeper level of understanding of one Latino community to inspire the development of a more equitable, compassionate world. This book will be invaluable to students and scholars of all fields who work with culturally diverse people in poverty, and will be ideal for courses in ethnic studies, multicultural studies, ethnographic methods, and socio-cultural applications for education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Justice and Space Matter in a Strong, Unified Latino Community
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Figures
  • Authors’ Preface
  • Introduction
  • Purpose
  • Theoretical Frameworks
  • Social Justice
  • Third Space
  • Analytic Lenses
  • To bridge/A Bridge
  • Slantwise
  • Rhizome
  • Power
  • Methods
  • Limitations
  • Outline
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Section I: Building Background
  • Chapter 1. Entering—The Field and Our Positionality (with Claudia Troncoso and Irma Guadarrama)
  • Introduction
  • Institutional Context
  • Kathy’s Story
  • María’s Story
  • Krystal’s Story
  • Contributors’ Stories
  • Claudia
  • Irma
  • Our Positioning
  • Toward Epistemic Reflection (Vasilachis de Gialdino, 2009)
  • Toward Ontological Reflection
  • Further Ontological Assumptions from These Stories
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Chapter 2. Texas Colonias
  • Introduction
  • Rio Grande Valley
  • Lack?
  • History of Colonias
  • Some Laws Concerning Colonias
  • How Colonias Help the U.S. Economy and Other Neoliberal Ideas
  • Colonias as Policy and Research Sites
  • Policies
  • Slantwise, Diasporic Practices
  • Language, Literacy, and Education
  • Case Studies
  • Sociocultural, Education, and Neighborhood Intersections
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Chapter 3. Corazón (with Irma Guadarrama, part of entrepreneurial section)
  • Introduction
  • Characteristics
  • Demographics
  • Location
  • Unannexed
  • Marginalization
  • Police
  • Transportation
  • Water and Sewage
  • Streets, Sidewalks, and Paths
  • Homes
  • Electricity
  • And Yet …
  • Activists Get Results
  • Children’s and Parents’ Perceptions of Corazón
  • Unity
  • Stability
  • Green Thumbs
  • Entrepreneurialism and Ingenuity
  • Freedom
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Chapter 4. Key Places and Spaces (with Claudia Troncoso)
  • Introduction
  • Afinidad
  • History and Purpose
  • Community Contributions
  • Health
  • Education
  • Women’s Empowerment
  • Raising Leaders
  • Civic Organization
  • History and Purpose
  • Community Contributions
  • Raising Leaders
  • Tutorial Center
  • History and Purpose
  • Community Contributions
  • Catholic Church
  • History and Purpose
  • Community Contributions
  • Raising Leaders
  • Baptist Church
  • History and Purpose
  • Community Contributions
  • Raising Leaders
  • Convivio
  • History and Purpose
  • Community Contributions
  • Adult Programs
  • Family Programs
  • Youth Programs
  • Voting
  • Raising Leaders
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Section II: Sociocultural Contexts of Religion, Language, and Literacy
  • Chapter 5. Religion and a Space for Justice
  • Introduction
  • Religion and Culture
  • Diasporic Celebrations and Third Space
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • The Quinceañero/a
  • Day of the Dead
  • The Three Kings
  • Las Posadas
  • Clashing Cultures
  • Gender
  • Denominational Intolerance
  • Parents and Children
  • Social Class, Language, and Neighborhood Stigma
  • Religion and Colonialism
  • Religion and Social Justice
  • Baptist Religious Education
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Chapter 6. Language and Literacy
  • Introduction
  • Spanish Language Use
  • Linguistic Landscape and Spanish Print Access
  • Children’s Spanish Literacy Practices and Language Policies
  • English-Only Schooling Policies
  • Tutorial Center
  • Parents
  • Language and Literacy Practices at Home
  • Religion, Language, and Literacy
  • Prayers and Language
  • Families Teaching Their Children to Pray
  • Fathers’ Involvement
  • School Policies Bleeding into Religion-Related Language and Literacy
  • Some Church Leaders’ Promotion of English, the Language of Power
  • Adults’ Motivation to Learn English
  • Bridging Two Languages and Worlds
  • Brokering
  • Translanguaging and Bilingual Youth Identities
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Chapter 7. Digital Literacies: Multimodal Pushback
  • Introduction
  • School-Related Access and Practices
  • Access
  • Practices
  • Out-of-School Access and Practices
  • Access
  • Practices
  • The Tutorial Center as Potential Third Space
  • Digital Language Practices
  • Language and Digital Practices in School
  • L1.4Word
  • Translanguaging and Bridging
  • Family Influences
  • Digital Secrets and Youth Culture
  • Digital Use in High-Powered and Low-Powered Spheres
  • Digital Features to Improve L1 Reading and Writing
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Section III: Education
  • Chapter 8. Tutoring and Gardening: Towards Liberatory Literacy Space
  • Introduction
  • History, Purpose, and Organization
  • History and Purpose
  • Organization
  • Impact on Tutors
  • Conscientization
  • Rejecting Stereotypes
  • Connecting and Revaluing
  • Theorizing
  • Seeing Colonia Strengths
  • Future Plans
  • Liberatory Literacy
  • Broadening Definitions, Inviting Diversity
  • Impact on the Children
  • Conscientization
  • A Spark
  • A Paucity of School Science and Outdoor Experiences
  • Ecology and Conscientization
  • Repositioning Themselves and the Disciplines
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Chapter 9. Education in Corazón (with Claudia Troncoso)
  • Introduction
  • Educating Corazón Youth
  • Educational Opportunities
  • School Readiness: Coming Out on Top
  • Academic Dreams and Family Influences
  • Involved Parents and Barriers
  • High School Rates
  • The Harmful Effects of NCLB and Teacher Resistance
  • Mandates and Banking Education
  • Joy, Eusebio, Failure, and Segmentation
  • Rosa, Anhelo, and Bilingual Education
  • Joy, Claudia, and Teacher Efforts
  • Teacher Quality and Gentrification
  • Out-of-School Factors
  • The College Experience
  • Low College Attainment and Structural Inequalities
  • Socioeconomic Status (SES)
  • Neighborhood
  • Race and Immigration
  • College Motivations and Obligations
  • Rhizoming
  • Never Giving Up
  • The Military
  • Community Colleges
  • Adult Education in Corazón
  • Influence and Impact
  • Summary
  • Questions to Ponder
  • Chapter 10. Conclusions and Implications
  • Introduction
  • Section and Chapter Summaries
  • Section I
  • Section II
  • Section III
  • The Researchers’ Experiences
  • Miscommunication
  • Belief Challenges
  • Theorizing Dilemmas
  • Emic and Etic Perspectives
  • Power
  • Rhizome
  • Major Implications
  • Welcome to (Third) Space
  • Giving Back
  • Closing the Margins
  • Final Words
  • Questions to Ponder
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Gracias [thank you] to our co-researchers (participants), families, and friends who provided insight and support, and to Peter Lang staff, especially Yolanda Medina.

Thank you to Contributors: Claudia Troncoso and Irma Guadarrama.

Front cover design by Irma Guadarrama.

Thank you to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for this map: Colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border: Texas layer.

Internal university grants supported our research.

| xi →


Figure 1.1. Third space and social justice representation: Centrifugal and centripetal forces

Figure 2.1. Colonias along the U.S.–Mexico border: Texas layer. Used with permission from the U.S. Geological Survey

Figure 3.1. Littered water channel bordering Corazón. Photo by Kathy Bussert-Webb

Figure 3.2. Wooden home on cement blocks. Photo by Kathy Bussert-Webb

Figure 3.3. Trailer dwelling with dog on chain. Photo by Kathy Bussert-Webb

Figure 3.4. Yellow school bus—Washington, D. C. bound. Photo by Patriota (pseudonym)

Figure 3.5. La Paletería drive-through. Photo by Irma Guadarrama

Figure 5.1. Virgen de Guadalupe apparition reenactment. Photo by Irma Guadarrama

Figure 6.1. Business sign in English. Photo by Krystal A. Yanez

Figure 8.1. Flash with plant. Photo by Krystal A. Yanez

| xiii →


A test

To question

1. Have you heard or read about the bad side of town?

2. Have you heard or read about undocumented immigrants?

If yes to question 1 or 2, open me

Yet first, we open words in the world—







Chancy illegal

Crossing breaking neglecting

Yet colonia residents, united, trabajan duro [work hard]

Othering marginalizing

Stereotypical unjust


Or as Sonrisa, 11, exclaimed—

“This is my family and this is my street where I live and right here is my brother and my mom and grandpa and grandma and we have a flag on top of our house to represent the United States.”

Come! Meet Sonrisa and her colonia, an unannexed Southwestern settlement.

| xv →


Meet Claudia

Claudia, book contributor and former tutorial volunteer, moved to Corazón [heart], Texas, from Mexico at age eight. All names are pseudonyms. Claudia received a four-year academic scholarship from our university. A certified bilingual fourth grade instructor in a local public school, Claudia completed a nationally accredited master’s program in counseling recently.

Claudia recollected when she and her friends cleaned mud from their clothes in the school bathroom before entering their classrooms on rainy days. On such days, either Claudia’s godmother carried her to the bus stop or Claudia sloshed through the unpaved streets, sometimes with plastic bags around her shoes. Claudia appeared as the quiet girl, so school peers would not bother her; yet they would taunt Claudia’s friends. When youth would start arguing, others they would sneer, “You’re from [Corazón],” or they would say the shoes of Claudia’s friends looked filthy.

Yet mud did not stop Claudia, nor did structural or societal inequities related to employment. Although she could not work as a public school teacher because she lacked applicable documentation at the time, she honed her teaching skills as a Tutorial Center volunteer, where her friend, Hermosa, also volunteers. Claudia had received tutoring at this after-school agency, so she wanted to give back to her community. We define community as kinship circles—complex, hybrid, power-laden, and place-based (Moje, 2000b). ← xv | xvi →

Since 2005, Claudia and other co-researchers (participants we perceive as experts) have been collaborating with us in theatre, gardening, technology, and participatory advocacy research. The latter involves critical literacy and social justice perspectives. Participatory advocacy studies unconceal power and strata and transform relationships (Cherland & Harper, 2007). We highlight Claudia’s story, not as meritocracy, or a bootstrap approach for economically disadvantaged people to achieve success. Instead, we recognize that Claudia and her South Texas community possess power. Corazón possesses attributes missing from pathologizing depictions. Rita, Tutorial Center coordinator, described Corazón families as strong, friendly, caring, spiritual, and hardworking.

We describe our relationships with many Corazón residents, including Claudia. We sought Claudia as a contributor to gain an emic, or insider, perspective. Although power imbalances permeate research, we attempted to right some by having Claudia write with us. Indeed, Claudia possesses etic viewpoints. Our collaborative writing blurs emic and etic perspectives. We have not lived in Corazón, but we are not complete outsiders, nor objective observers. Instead, we have blurred identities as teacher-researchers and activists because “one’s own people are those with whom one has made a common cause” (Hames-García, 2011, p. xv).


Research questions—coursing through this book—are, “What are Corazón strengths? How do we work with and in community, while coming clean with power and privilege imbalances? How do residents engage in hybrid or blended practices to confront obstacles?” Corazón strengths include hope, ingenuity, and unity. Obstacles include local, state, and national policies and multi-factor discrimination, treatment based on group categories, and prejudice, preconceptions about a group. Latinos/as without U.S. documentation may face hate crimes, which maintain racial hegemony (Johnson & Ingram, 2013).

Thus, we invite you to explore these questions with us and to meet people like Claudia who live in a strong, unified Rio Grande Valley neighborhood consisting of many Mexican immigrants living below the U.S. poverty line. We do not want to give the impression that a unified community signifies homogeneity. Many differences exist between residents’ religious beliefs, jobs, homes, and incomes, and immigration status, e.g., first- versus second-generation immigrants, documented and undocumented. Corazón enjoys basic services and is organized ← xvi | xvii → politically; however, it remains unannexed. Many unincorporated high-poverty U.S. communities dotting the Mexico border lack running water, electricity, sewage lines, and city police protection. The previous sentence constitutes the Texas Secretary of State (n.d.) definition of colonias, a Spanish word for neighborhood. While Latin America colonias are not necessarily destitute, poverty pervades U.S. colonias, unconscionable in the ninth wealthiest country. Similar places exist in other nations, but their qualities may miss the public domain.

To some, colonias may conjure images of early U.S. colonies of European settlers, but colonialism remains and relates to subjugation and capitalism. Even the name represents colonialism: “It is not by chance that in the more rural towns of Texas Chicano neighborhoods are called colonias rather than barrios” (Anzaldúa, 1990, p. 143, original emphasis). Mexicans began to defend their communities after the 1848 Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty against non-Mexican settlers’ encroachments. Mexican-origin people found they could maintain indigenous and Spanish languages and customs in colonias and barrios [neighborhoods] (D. Gutiérrez, 1999).

We provide an analysis of a long-standing Rio Grande Valley colonia from our partial perspectives. While problematizing jarring systemic inequities, we also highlight Corazón’s strengths to parry pathologizing portrayals (Bussert-Webb, 2015). Thus, we move beyond labels. We unpack what poor means because Corazón residents possess language and literacy wealth.

We define literacy as socially embedded, ideological practices (Gee, 2012). Literacy is not neutral, decontextualized skills one (dis)possesses. For instance, creating a low-rider car represents a literacy. Additionally, print literacy skills do not ensure success, as much depends on the socio-political context. We discuss how residents’ lush literacies conflicted with impoverished pedagogies vis-à-vis education and language policies (Fernández, 2001). Perry’s and Homan’s (2014) participant in a Mexican prison engaged in luscious, resistant literacies by placing poems and messages in soccer balls, which he sewed together for his job. Their participant and ours, behaving like lush rhizomes, found ways around barriers to parry.

Thus, if we can show the poorest U.S. neighborhood (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010) abounds in strengths, maybe we can remove the negative words and images others have produced about Corazón and similar communities. Diverse economically strapped Latino communities have qualities invisible to some outsiders. Therefore, we attempt to create a deeper level of understanding, from our partial perspectives, of one Latino community for a more equitable, compassionate world and to uncover and challenge power, including our own. ← xvii | xviii →

Furthermore, we wish to counter misperceptions about diverse Latinos/as, who link to the U.S. future (Gándara, 2010). By 2060, one in three people in the USA will be Hispanic (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012b), and many countries have fast-growing immigrant populations. Some people may fear this boom, but culturally diverse people—immigrants and indigenous, voluntary and involuntary (Ogbu, 1992)—form the vertebrae of many nations. Immigrants possess enormous courage, faith, and diligence; as such, they can improve their adopted land.

Some believe undocumented people in the USA are hard-core criminals. Yet immigration decreases crime; anti-immigration panic relates to media- and politician-fueled xenophobia (Zatz & Smith, 2012). Xenophobia demonstrates how discourse relates to power and perception. Language and discourse frame what we believe and how we treat others and we construct and reproduce truths from our contexts (Foucault, 1972). Actually, anti-immigration sentiment and ensuing legislation relate to undocumented immigrants’ underreporting of crime; the latter are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because they fear deportation if they report criminal activity (Zatz & Smith).

Others have misperceptions about bilingualism, particularly involving Spanish. Yet, about 50% of foreign-born people in the USA speak English well or only speak English (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012b). Being bilingual or multilingual in the USA does not mean a person ignores English.

Last, few studies have focused on researchers’ long-term activist roles. Our book fills this void, as we have been working with Corazón families and tutorial staff for years, many of which have involved gardening. Reciprocity and uncovering power issues remain essential in humanizing, social justice research (Paris & Winn, 2014). We gave back before we conducted any research with Corazón residents because of our commitment to equitable practices. And we stayed put. Kathy, first author, realized that gardening with teacher candidates, Corazón children, and parents extended her community roots. Indeed, bodily engagement forms spatial connections (Comber, 2016).


XXXVI, 242
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XXXVI, 242 pp.

Biographical notes

Kathy Bussert-Webb (Author) María Eugenia Díaz (Author) Krystal A. Yanez (Author)

Kathy Bussert-Webb is Professor in the Department of Bilingual and Literacy Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She received a Ph.D. in language education from Indiana University. María Eugenia Díaz is Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She received an Ed.D. in curriculum instruction from the University of Texas at Brownsville. Krystal A. Yanez is a doctoral student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in curriculum instruction, specializing in higher education.


Title: Justice and Space Matter in a Strong, Unified Latino Community
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279 pages