I: Mobilizing Funds of Knowledge and Funds of Identities Negotiating Bicultural Identities

Soy Un Amasamiento: A Critical Self-Narrative on Latina Identity Development

Diana Cordova-Cobo

In 2004,1 read The House on Mango Street for the first time as a high school student. Esperanza, the protagonist who struggles to belong and wishes to “jump out of her skin,” became my literary mirror. Esperanza writes:

I want to be like the waves on the sea, like the clouds in the wind, but I’m me.

One day I'll jump out of my skin. I’ll shake the sky like a hundred violins.

(Cisneros, 1984, pp. 60-61)

Like Esperanza, as a teenager I wished to be anyone but me. I watched my friends and classmates proudly proclaim their cultural identities and I could not identify my own. I struggled to grasp my place in between the American identity imposed on me by my birthplace and the Salvadoran identity imposed on me by my ancestry. While others found a way to fluidly navigate in between, I stumbled through both of these worlds-never quite sure if I belonged in either.

Five years later, I read Borderlands/The New Mestizo as an undergraduate student. Just as Esperanza had once echoed my thoughts, it felt as ifAnzaldua (1987) reflected my most intimate deliberations. By this time, I had affirmed my place within the Latinx1 community—a standing that has been further solidified with each subsequent stage of my life. I related most to how Anzaldua questioned the labels and expectations imposed on her by others as a result of her cultural identity. While I am no longer struggling to “find” my cultural identity, I found myself with no understanding of how that transition happened at the inception of this study. I know who I am without an understanding of how I became this person.

Recently, as I engaged in conversations with friends, I realized that many of them also struggled to navigate multiple worlds as adolescents, only to reject complete immersion in any of them as adults. Given the rapid growth of the Latinx population, understanding how individuals come to see themselves as part of this larger community becomes an essential step in strengthening the influence of the Latinx community in the United States. Additionally, the growth in the Latinx population overall is currently fueled by the growth in Latinx births instead of from an influx of immigration from Latin America (Krogstad & Fry, 2014). In fact, in 2018, more than a quarter of the nation’s newborns were Latinx (Krogstad, 2019). Teachers and administrators at all grade levels stand to benefit from understanding how the choices they make about pedagogy' and curriculum can support their students as they navigate multiple identities. The same is true for policymakers, who hold the power of direct funding and resources towards different education initiatives that can empower or further marginalize Latinx students.

This self-narrative study is therefore centered on the following questions: How do my past experiences mediate my current understandings about my identity as a Latina and my perceived positionality in various contexts? What were the major turning points in my identity development and why were these moments particularly impactful? Essentially, I aim to understand my own identity development as a Latina in the United States with the intent of furthering the research on Latina identity past the who to the how. Within the scope of this study, my identity development is generally defined as the process by which I came to understand my positionality and subjectivity as a Latina in the current context of the United States. While I consider many characteristics central to my identity, throughout my analysis it became clear that—within the scope of my study— ‘Latina’ and ‘mother’ were the most salient.

Theoretical Perspectives and Literature Review

In reviewing the existing narrative research that focuses on the experiences of Latinas in the United States, most narrative studies are grounded in Critical Race Theory (CRT) and, more specifically. Latino Critical Theory (LatCrit). Considering the lack of Latina voices in academia and research overall, CRT and LatCrit provide a theoretical framework for those who employ narrative strategies with a critical/radical lens as a means of resisting erasure and combating oppression within educational institutions.

At its inception, CRT was the result of internal critiques of the existing critical theory movement that urged researchers within the field to improve their work by including the experiences of People of Color2 who experienced racism in their daily experiences (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). The third and fourth tenets of CRT are particularly relevant to a self-narrative. They outline a commitment to social justice and transformative research in response to racial oppression and emphasize the centrality of the experiential knowledge of people of color (Solorzano & Yosso, 2001). CRT is also based on the belief that racism exists for most people of color as “ordinary... the usual way society does business” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, pp. 6-7).

LatCrit, as an extension of CRT, brings attention to the “way in which conventional, and even critical, approaches to race and civil rights ignore the problems and special situations of Latino people—including bilingualism, immigration reform, the binary black/white structure of existing race remedies law, and much more” (Stefancic, 1997, p. 1510). Latinx individuals do not always fit neatly into the larger narratives around race in the United States. Extending the CRT framework to include LatCrit for this particular self-narrative is integral to understanding the nuances of my experiences and identity development.

The reality of intersectionality in the experiences of many of the Latinas whose narratives are included in the existing body of research also speaks to the importance of also drawing on Latina/Chicana feminism (Alarcon, 1990; Anzaldúa, 1987; Moraga & Anzaldúa, 2002). CRT advocates using other critical frameworks like feminist theory to provide a full analysis of racialized individuals or groups (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). There are three concepts within Latina/Chicana feminism that are particularly useful in understanding my identity development thus far: theory in the flesh, living in the borderlands, and conocimiento. Theory in the flesh is “where the physical realities of our lives—our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings—all fuse to create a politic born out of necessity” (Moraga & Anzaldúa, 2002, p. 21). Related to this concept, living in the borderlands refers to “living on borders and in margins... keeping intact one’s shifting and multiple identity and integrity” (Anzaldúa, 1987).

Finally, conocimiento (Anzaldúa, 2002) speaks to the impact of engaging in this type of research. Within this conocimiento process, the researcher becomes an active agent of social change, moving past moments of oppression to empowerment. The existing body of literature on Latina narratives points to the ability of Latinas to turn their experiences with oppression and marginalization into moments of resistance and empowerment. This is true within the multiple ways Latinas selfidentify, such as ‘mother’ (Villenas, 2001),‘student’ (Carrillo & Rodríguez, 2016; Espino, Muñoz, & Kiyama, 2010; Gómez, 2010; Pérez Huber & Cueva, 2012), and ‘academic’ (Prieto & Villenas, 2012; Rodríguez, 2006), among others.

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