Racioliteracies: Race and Subjectivity in the Teaching of Spanish to Bilingual Latinx Students

Erica Saldivar Zimmerman, University of Pennsylvania


The Spanish language abilities of bilingual Latinx youth in secondary schools have been measured through various indicators of proficiency: grammar competency, functional language use, and literacy. While these measurements of proficiency are grounded in various disciplinary commitments, several studies highlight the problematic tensions that arise around issues of identity, variance, equity, and power when proficiency fails to embrace the literacy practices that bilingual Latinx youth bring to the Spanish classroom (Carreira, 2004; Garcia, 2005; Lynch, 2012; Martínez, 2007; Spicer-Escalante, 2005; Valdés, 1989; Valdés, Gonzales, & Garcia, 2007; Zyzik, 2016). I add to this literature by examining both the dominant discourses of proficiency operationalized in secondary Spanish curricular materials and the role of literacy in these discourses. Through a racioliteracies perspective and policy discourse analysis (Allan, 2008), I identify two dominant discourses of proficiency - a discourse of appropriateness and a discourse of cultural awareness - and demonstrate what each implies for the development of proficiency amongst bilingual Latinx youth. I argue that both of these discourses of proficiency are informed by classist and racist forces and are complicit in the reproduction of dominant language and literacy hierarchies. Additionally, I illustrate how dominant hierarchies of language and literacy are supported through the discursive re/production of two dominant subject positions - the capable illiterate and the cultural ambassador - available for bilingual Latinx students in Spanish classrooms. These subject positions are powerful and influential in the development deficit subjectivities amongst bilingual Latinx students and in shaping educational actors understanding of bilingual Latinx students' capabilities. Literacy, as operationalized in Spanish curricular materials, at best, supports the development of illiterate subjectivities amongst bilingual Latinx students and is, at worst, integral to their maintenance. As such, the concepts of proficiency and literacy and their relationships to each other and bilingual Latinx students in secondary Spanish language classrooms merit more scholarly attention.

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Recommended Citation

Zimmerman, Erica Saldivar, "Racioliteracies: Race and Subjectivity in the Teaching of Spanish to Bilingual Latinx Students" (2019). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI13858472.