Counterstorytelling Narratives of Latino Teenage Boys

From «Vergüenza» to «Échale Ganas»

by Juan A. Ríos Vega (Author)
©2015 Textbook XIV, 134 Pages


Counterstorytelling Narratives of Latino Teenage Boys presents an ethnographic portrait of the experiences and counterstories of nine Latino teenage boys representing different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds attending a high school in North Carolina. Using critical race theory (CRT), Latino critical theory (LatCrit), and Chicano/a epistemologies as a theoretical framework, the book unveils how differing layers of oppression shape the lives of these boys of color through the intersections of race, gender, and class. Contrary to majoritarian assumptions, cultural deficit models, and their teachers’ low expectations, this research reveals how participants used their cultural capital as a foundation to develop resiliency. The findings in this book suggest that teachers, school administrators, and staff could benefit from a better understanding of Latino/a students’ community cultural wealth as a fundamental element for these students’ academic success. Counterstorytelling Narratives of Latino Teenage Boys will be an excellent resource for teachers, school administrators, college students, and pre-service teachers. It will be useful in courses in Latino/a studies in the United States, multicultural studies, race and education studies, social justice in education, race and gender studies, and social foundations in education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • From Vergüenza to Échale Ganas
  • Chapter 1. Latino Boys’ Counterstorytelling
  • Chapter 2. El Que Es Perico, Donde Quiera Es Verde
  • Chapter 3. El Que Persevera Triunfa
  • Chapter 4. Juntos Pero No Revueltos
  • Chapter 5. El Muerto y El Arrima’o Al Tercer Día Apesta
  • Chapter 6. Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Series Title

| vii →


My ESL classroom was always in the basement or in a trailer. It was always invisible to many other students and teachers. Even some of my students who did not want to be labeled as different or dumb for not speaking English sometimes recognized the stigma of an ESL classroom.

It was in my second year of teaching at a middle school when I met Santiago and Ana (pseudonyms). Both siblings came from a rural area in Mexico. Santiago was born in Texas but his parents took him and the rest of the family back to Mexico when they were infants. Santiago was the oldest of his three brothers and the third of six children. Santiago, who looked like a country Mexican boy, was amazed to be in a new school and meeting new friends, especially girls. Since he was a very good-looking boy, it was not that difficult for other Mexican girls to be attracted to him. However, his lack of the English language got him in trouble many times. Santiago was always bullied for wearing a black leather jacket or “guaraches” (Mexican sandals) or for speaking Spanish with an “acento ranchero” (country accent), but he never let others make fun of him. Instead, he always fought back on the bus and the cafeteria, both before and after school. Santiago was always in the office, and punished with In-School Suspension (ISS) and Out-of-School Suspension (OSS). I talked to him many times, but it was difficult for him to understand ← vii | viii → how to play the education system (conformity = invisibility) in this country. Shortly afterward, Santiago was constantly targeted at school, causing him to become an outcast.

One day the SRO, a Black woman, came to my small ESL classroom to let me know that Santiago was in serious trouble. She shared with me Santiago’s incident. This time Santiago was accused of harassing a white girl. What Santiago did not realize this time was that the girl he had harassed was the high school principal’s daughter. Santiago was in serious trouble. The SRO told me that Santiago only had two options; attend a juvenile boot camp, or be expelled from school. For these reasons, she wanted me to contact Santiago’s parents since they did not speak English. She also shared with me a list of things Santiago’s parents would need to buy if they agreed to send Santiago to the boot camp.

That afternoon I visited Santiago’s parents and explained his situation to them. I let them know that it was very important to keep Santiago in school since he was still a minor. Santiago’s parents were scared about the whole situation and decided to send him to boot camp. However, they did not have the monetary resources to purchase the required supplies (white clothes, sheets, and underwear). I took the list and headed to Wal-Mart. The next day, I showed up at Santiago’s house and dropped off some bags. When Santiago’s parents asked me where I had gotten the money to buy all of the supplies, I said, “I stood by the door at Wal-Mart and asked for donations.” I guessed they figured out that I was not telling the truth.

With limited English, Santiago was sent to boot camp for over a month. He had to get up early in the morning to exercise and to help in the kitchen. He also had to take classes and to do community service. Santiago did an outstanding job at the camp. I was told that other boys cried so much that their parents had to take them home, while some others were injured, but Santiago was determined to do his best.

Before the end of boot camp, Santiago’s parents called and invited me to Santiago’s graduation ceremony. It was a very hot afternoon in June. I took my camera and a present. I have to confess that I felt like crying many times when I saw Santiago dressed in white with the rest of the boys. Amazingly, Santiago’s behavior and leadership skills were acknowledged that afternoon. Santiago was chosen to lead his team in a karate routine. Like his parents, I felt so proud of him. After my third year, I had to say goodbye to Santiago and Ana since my contract as an exchange teacher was at an end. I left that school system with good and bad memories about the experiences of students like Santiago who had a hard time adapting to the dominant culture. ← viii | ix →

When I finally had a chance to change my immigration status, I got a job at a different school system within the same county. To my surprise, one of my Latina students was Santiago’s girlfriend. Through her, I learned that Santiago had finished high school and decided to become a police officer. I also learned that Santiago and my student had a permanent relationship.

Thanks to Facebook, I have been able to reconnect with Santiago and his wife. They have two cute children and are still together. Santiago resigned his job as a police officer since it kept him away from home. He is working at a local construction company and taking care of his wife and children. I will always remember Santiago as a strong student. Even though he challenged social expectations, his determination and support from others allowed him to overcome life’s obstacles.

As a teacher and community leader, I witnessed many stories with tragic outcomes. I saw many Latino teenage boys expelled from school for gang affiliations, drugs, or getting into trouble for breaking the law. Some others considered education a waste of time. Instead, they decided to join their parents, relatives, and other dropout friends in supporting their parents and younger siblings. However, I also experienced seeing Latino boys—who had to negotiate and sometimes risk their cultural identities in order to go against the norm—succeed academically.

The genesis of this book started in my ESL classroom where my students and I found a nest to nurture one another. This space allowed us to share our frustrations, commonalities, and happiness as immigrants, second-language learners, and brownness in this country. My students and I developed a sense of familia (family). I heard their stories of sacrifice and loyalty to their loved ones. I came to understand how and why their parents left everything behind to come to this country. I learned to find esperanza (hope) even in the most difficult days. It was through the use of dialogue journals (which I still keep as priceless treasures), community service projects, school, and community cultural events that I decided to document the stories of my students. It was my frustrations and pains as an immigrant man that pushed me to echo my students’ narratives.

After teaching at the same high school for over ten years, sometimes feeling more oppressed than my students, I decided to quit my teaching job and become a full-time doctoral student. After long conversations with friends, colleagues, and my advisor, I resigned from my teaching job. It was a very traumatic decision—emotionally and financially—but I wanted to focus on my doctoral studies and to gain experience teaching undergraduate students. ← ix | x → I also left my classroom and my students behind to accomplish my mission of echoing their experiences of hard work, invisibility, and resiliency.

During my last year of teaching, I shared with my students my idea about writing a book about them. When I asked some of them if they were willing to help me, they all agreed to participate. As a result, some of their stories are shared here. My Latino/a students and their families have become the inspiring impetus to write this book. They have made me not only a better teacher and scholar, but un mejor ser humano (a better human being).


XIV, 134
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
CRT LatCrit Race theory
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIV, 134 pp.

Biographical notes

Juan A. Ríos Vega (Author)

Juan A. Ríos Vega (PhD, University of North Carolina at Greensboro) is a 2014 Daniel Solórzano Mentoring Program Award recipient from the Critical Race Studies in Education Association. He was also a 2014 Graduate Research Award winner at UNCG.


Title: Counterstorytelling Narratives of Latino Teenage Boys
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153 pages