A critical approach to academic, community, and family literacies of first-generation college students in Latin America
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] In this study, I investigated the social practices related to reading and writing of first-generation college students and their families and communities in Latin America from a critical sociocultural perspective (Lewis, Enciso and Moje, 2007). This embedded multiple-case study was conducted in Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica. Using an ethnographic perspective of data collection (Bernard, 2011; Lillis and Scott, 2007) and the constant comparative method (Heath and Street, 2008), situational analysis (Clarke, 2005), and within and cross-case analysis (Yin, 2014), I analyzed specific literacy events (Heath, 1982) and literacy practices (Street, 2003) in social context. First, I argue that access to the academic discourse and culture is one of the main barriers first-generation college students faced, although they constructed strong social support systems and engaged in rich literacy practices that involved critical action and thinking. Second, I found that, in contrast to the common belief that socially and economically nonmainstream college students were deficient in literacy, these students and their families possessed a literacy capital and engaged in complex and varied literacy practices. Using their literacy capital, first-generation college students and their families and communities procured the preservation of cultural identity, resisted the effects of cultural globalization, served the role of literacy sponsors, and reacted critically to the sociopolitical context. These literacy practices constituted a community cultural wealth for the families and communities of first-generation college students. I argue that a positive approach towards first-generation college students' identities and their community cultural wealth is necessary in curriculum, instruction, and policy if universities are truly committed to provide access to higher education to students from diverse backgrounds. Finally, I investigated first-generation university women's gender identities, discourses, and roles as they navigated the social worlds of the public university and their local communities in Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica. While dominant discourses and roles associated with women reproduced the machismo culture in the region, these group of first-generation university women contested, challenged, and resisted those roles, discourses, and identities. From a Latin American feminist perspective, I argue that bonds of solidarity and communal relations are values that resist the negative effects of global capitalism in marginalized bodies. In particular, public universities, women's supporters, emancipatory discourses, and situated critical literacies played a critical role in improving gender equality in higher education in Latin America. This study contributes to a better understanding of the literacy practices in situated social contexts and informs the ways in which more equitable college instruction, policy, and practices can be developed and promoted.
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