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Latinas’ heritage language as a source of resiliency: impact on academic achievement in STEM fields

Abstract

This article highlights how the preservation of heritage languages is essential in the construction of three Georgia Latina participants’ cultural identities and the creation of support networks that allow them to develop resiliency and achieve academically. We conceptualize resiliency as a strategy developed by the Latina participants using contextually mitigating factors during their STEM education. The findings presented in this manuscript are part of a larger, ongoing study of Latina resiliency and their paths to success in STEM fields in two states: Georgia and Texas. Following James Spradley’s guidelines, data were collected via three separate semi-structured interviews with each participant. Intrinsic, multiple case studies were used to find both commonalities and differences, as well as to deepen our understanding of the role of the participants’ heritage language in their development of resiliency in each particular case. The findings presented here were not part of a preconceived research hypothesis, but rather a theme that emerged while analyzing data collected in the state of Georgia. Georgia is not home to a long-established Hispanic/Latino population, but rather is part of the New Latino Diaspora (Wortham, Murillo and Hamann in Education in the new Latino diaspora: policy and the politics of identity. Ablex Publishing, New York, 2002), and therefore local natives do not necessarily perceive Latino immigrants and the Spanish language either as long-standing or permanent features of the state. In fact, in response to the growing diversity of the state during the past generation, Georgia has implemented multiple educational policies hostile toward immigrants and linguistic diversity (Beck and Allexsaht-Snider in Education in the new Latino diaspora: policy and the politics of identity. Ablex Press, Westport, 2002). Our findings suggest that the Latina participants’ heritage languages allow them to engage in cultural traditions, encouraged by their families, that are central to their heritage and identity and, thereby provide a medium for the development of the resiliency they need for academic success. The Spanish language allows them to maintain communication with their families and communities, enabling them to participate in a set of interactions and relationships. These, in turn, form the support networks needed to enact resilience in overcoming obstacles to pursuing their interest in STEM—an interest seen by society as incongruous with their gender and ethnicity.

Resumen

El presente manuscrito discute la importancia de la preservación de la lengua materna en tres participantes latinas en el estado de Georgia. Para estas participantes, especialmente, el uso de la lengua materna es esencial en la construcción de su identidad cultural y la creación de redes de apoyo que les permiten desarrollar resilencia y triunfar académicamente. Nuestro concepto de resilencia es definido como una estrategia desarrollada por nuestras participantes latinas para atenuar los factores mitigantes contextuales que enfrentan durante su trayectoria educativa en los campos de STEM. Los resultados presentados en este manuscrito son parte de un estudio más extenso acerca de la resiliencia en latinas durante su trayectoria hacia el éxito en los campos de STEM en dos estados: Georgia y Texas. Siguiendo la metodología de James Spradley (1979), la recolección de datos se llevó a cabo a través de tres entrevistas individuales con cada una de las participantes. Durante las entrevistas, que tomaron lugar en el salón de clases de la escuela preparatoria donde las tres participantes asistían, hicimos preguntas de manera informal. Para profundizar nuestra comprensión del papel de la lengua materna en el desarrollo de resilencia en cada caso en particular, y con la finalidad de encontrar aspectos comunes y diferentes, utilizamos múltiples estudios de casos intrínsecos. El tema discutido en este artículo no era parte de la hipótesis de investigación preconcebida, sino que surgió durante el análisis de los datos recogidos en el estado de Georgia. La población hispana que reside en Georgia procede de una Nueva Diáspora Latina (Wortham, Murillo y Hamann 2002) y no está extensamente establecida, por lo que ni los inmigrantes latinos ni la lengua española suelen percibirse como elementos característicos del estado. De hecho, en respuesta a la creciente diversidad experimentada durante la última generación, Georgia ha implementado varias políticas educativas hostiles hacia los inmigrantes y la diversidad lingüística (Beck and Allexsaht-Snider 2002). Los resultados sugieren que la lengua materna de las latinas participantes proporciona un medio para desarrollar la resilencia necesaria para conseguir éxito académico. Su lengua materna les permite participar en las tradiciones culturales que son fundamentales para la preservación de su identidad cultural. También les ayuda a mantener comunicación con sus familias y comunidades, lo cual les permite participar en una variedad de interacciones y relaciones que constituyen las redes de apoyo necesarias para desarrollar resilencia y así superar los obstáculos para llevar a cabo su interés en STEM - un interés visto por la sociedad como incongruente con su género y etnia.

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Correspondence to Alma D. Stevenson.

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Lead editor: E. Dopico.

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Stevenson, A.D., Gallard Martínez, A.J., Brkich, K.L. et al. Latinas’ heritage language as a source of resiliency: impact on academic achievement in STEM fields. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 14, 1–13 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-016-9789-6

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Keywords

  • Latina
  • STEM
  • Heritage language
  • Cultural identity
  • Resiliency