RicanStruction Sites: Race, Space, and Place in the Education of DiaspoRican Youth

Article excerpt

Significant increases in the population of Latina/os in the United States, coupled with persistently problematic academic outcomes for this group, have resulted in increased attention given to the education of Latina/o youth. One-fifth of all students enrolled in school are Latina/o, and if demographic predictions are accurate, by 2030 Latina/os will represent the numeric majority in schools. Recent data reveal that approximately half of all Latina/os over the age of 18 do not have a high school diploma, and fewer than 13% of all Latinos have a college degree, compared to 33% of Whites (U.S. Census, 2011). Because they represent more than 60% of all Latinos, much of the scholarship addressing the educational experiences and outcomes for Latino youth has focused on Mexican and Mexican American youth. Considerably less is known about the experiences of Puerto Rican youth attending schools in United States, heretofore referred to as DiaspoRicans, the second largest group of Latina/os in the country.

Acquired by the United States as a spoil of war in 1898, Puerto Rico is the oldest colony on the face of the earth (Fernandez, 1996; Trias Monge, 1997). Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, although they are denied rights integral to full citizenship, such as the right to vote in federal elections, and as such can travel to and from the United States without restriction. Puerto Ricans have had a longstanding presence in the United States, with sizeable Puerto Rican (im)migrant (1) communities dating back to the early 20th century. Whether motivated to leave the Island (2) and settle in the Diaspora by federal policies and recruitment efforts or through their own accord, segments of the Puerto Rican population have been dispersed, and DiaspoRicans have established colonias--communities with large concentrations of Puerto Ricans--in cities across the country (Acosta-Belen & Santiago, 2006; Vargas-Ramos, 2006). Now numbering more than 4.2 million, there are more Puerto Ricans in the United States than on the Island, which has a population of approximately 3.8 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Citizenship status, exposure to U.S. culture, and a lengthy history in the United States notwithstanding, DiaspoRican youth have not experienced widespread school success.

Drawing from Critcal Race Theories and the field of Critical Geography, this study uses data collected as part of ethnographic studies at two high schools serving large percentages of DiaspoRican youth, one a comprehensive high school in a small city in the Northeast, the other an alternative high school in a large urban community in the Midwest. Using Critical Race Theory and Latina/o Critical Race Theory as analytical frameworks, this study compares and contrasts the experiences of students in each setting, with a special emphasis on how they experienced race, racialization, and racism in particular spaces. Our study was organized around the following research questions: (1) What are the experiences of DiaspoRican youth navigating schools? (2) What types of interactions occur between students and teachers in these two distinct spaces? and (3) How might the educational experiences and outcomes of DiaspoRican youth be transformed by approaches to teaching and learning that center their cultural identities and frames of reference?

Puerto Rican Schooling and the Struggle for Educational Opportunities

The schooling of Puerto Rican students residing on the Island and in the United States Diaspora has been marked with frequent struggles and sporadic triumphs. When the United States military invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, it had much more in mind than simply adding more colonial land to its already immense empire. In fact, much historical research (Algren de Guitierrez, 1987; Alvarez, 1986; Barreto, 1998; Canino, 1981; Cebollero, 1945; Fox, 1924; Gorman, 1973; Mendez-Bernal, 1997; Muntaner, 1990; Navarro, 1995; Negron de Montilla, 1998; Osuna, 1949; Ryan, 1981; Spring, 2001) suggests that high ranking military and civilian officials consciously embarked on a much more psychologically insidious mission that consisted of cultural and linguistic genocide. …


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