Harvard Educational Review
  1. Transforming Borders

    Chicana/o Popular Culture and Pedagogy

    C. Alejandra Elenes

    Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011. 240 pp. $65.00.

    In Transforming Borders: Chicana/o Popular Culture and Pedagogy, C. Alejandra Elenes contributes to Chicana feminist pedagogies, popular culture, and critical pedagogies by deconstructing and reconstructing three icons of Chicano and Mexican popular culture: La Llorona, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and Malintzin. These three icons, Elenes posits, reinforce subordinating gender norms, implicitly portraying women as virgins—perfect and to be venerated if obedient—or as whores—treacherous and condemned if they deviate from their imposed responsibilities and allegiances. This virgin/whore dichotomy that Elenes highlights in each of the three narratives ignores human complexity and the sociohistoric circumstances that influenced them. Although these female figures have been used in nationalist narratives to define femininity and to disempower women, she argues that women have not passively accepted these prescribed roles. Instead, they have been active producers of various counternarratives. Elenes proposes that such resistance to virgin/whore dichotomies is an example of “border/transformative pedagogies,” which incorporate different critical pedagogies and acknowledge the intersection of the multiple identities of people of Mexican descent that have been brought about by historical and political circumstances. Furthermore, she identifies agency and activism against oppressive systems as essential to border/transformative pedagogies. Thus, Elenes builds on Anzaldúa’s borderland framework, which rejects dualism and embraces ambiguities and contradictions. She also builds on an understanding of education, or educación, that is not confined to schools but is centered in the meaning-making of “everyday ways of learning” (p. 6) that can be found in the re-creation of these three iconic women.

    Transforming Borders
    is divided into six chapters, each of which could effectively stand on its own. The foundation set in the beginning chapters and the diverse sources used make this book an ideal primer on border/transformative pedagogies. In the first two chapters, Elenes familiarizes the reader with the foundations of border/transformative pedagogies by providing a review of the theoretical and political landscape of borderland studies and the specific historical context of the U.S.-Mexico boundary. In the subsequent three chapters, she offers counternarratives for each of the three figures by providing a critical reading of oral histories of La Llorona, examining various artistic representations of La Virgen de Guadalupe, and analyzing the historical accounts of Malintzin. Elenes asserts that these border/transformative pedagogies challenge the dominant epistemologies, theories, and methodologies found in mainstream educational institutions.

    The faith on positivism, objectivity, neutrality, and meritocracy, coupled with a myopic view of the U.S. as a monocultural and homogeneous society . . . is manifested not only in limited and oversimplified educational discourses and practices, but in the marginalization of knowledge produced by people of color. (p. 167)

     
    She challenges scholars to dismantle the “apartheid of knowledge” that maintains boundaries between scholars of critical, feminist, queer, and multicultural pedagogies despite sharing a similar social justice agenda.

    The strengths of this book are found in its breadth and analysis. Elenes provides a comprehensive synthesis of various theoretical foundations and ties them together to advance border/transformative pedagogies. By complicating the stories of three icons, Elenes provides powerful and humanizing counternarratives. The story of La Llorona is not just one of infanticide but also a critique of patriarchy and colonization. Similarly, La Virgen de Guadalupe represents not only feminine ideals but also strength to the indigenous community in the face of subjugation and to feminists in the face of essentializing gender norms. The historical accounts of Malintzin illustrate that, while she can be seen as a traitor to her people, she can also be interpreted as a woman who exercised her agency to adapt to her life circumstances. In placing these narratives within a larger sociohistorical context, Elenes offers readers an opportunity to challenge their socialized interpretations of these figures and to consider the various historical events and patriarchal institutions that influenced the telling of these stories.

    However, while Elenes’s concluding chapter effectively highlights the systemic privileging of linear and so-called objective epistemological approaches found in educational practices and research, she runs the risk of essentializing that which she writes against. There is no question of the prevalence of positivist thought that has marginalized other epistemologies which offer more holistic, albeit sometimes ambiguous, lenses to understanding society and ourselves. And there is no doubt that the voices of those who have historically been marginalized have also been silenced, rendering their ways of knowing as inferior and culturally deficient. However, to equate epistemology to race in describing this “epistemological racism” has the potential to be problematic because it ignores the diversity found within these groups. Given the complex cultural processes and individual lenses, one would be remiss to essentialize positivistic thinking to White Europeans and alternative approaches to everyone else. Doing so continues to reinforce White as the norm. It also does not allow for the dynamic, sometimes contradictory, identity of the Chicana/o in the United States. “Epistemological racism” ignores the voices of Chicanos who may not identify with their indigenous roots or way of knowing. This is especially true for Chicanos who have lived in the United States for generations and have few ties to Mexico. This is not to dismiss the fact that the traditional ways of knowing of colonized people have been oppressed or that there is a dominant epistemological stance in education that needs to be complexified. However, considering the intellectual diversity found within people of Mexican descent may be a next step in moving forward an agenda of social justice.

    Elenes’s commitment to transform society by voicing alternative viewpoints is convincing nonetheless. True to Anzaldúa, she attempts to create bridges between various disciplines and pedagogies, arguing that “we can try to become nepantleras/os who seek to bridge what might seem to be theoretical impasses” (p. 175). Elenes accomplishes just that by proposing a pedagogy that aims to humanize students and accept that their academic experience cannot be narrowed down to variables or understood separate from their local contexts and identities.
    s.b.
    Click here to access the PDF of this review.
  2. Share

    Abstracts

    Children’s Need to Know
    Curiosity 
in Schools
    Susan Engel
    The Work Children Do
    Unpacking Gendered Conflict in an Elementary Classroom
    Hana Kawai and Emily Taylor
    An Important Part of Me
    A Dialogue About Difference
    Sofia Lico and Wendy Luttrell
    Acquiring Double Images
    White Preservice Teachers Locating Themselves in a Raced World
    Barbara Seidl and Stephen Hancock
    Writing to Read
    A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading
    Steve Graham and Michael Hebert

    Book Notes

    Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
    Edited by Eric Grodsky and Michal Kurlaender

    Gateway to Opportunity
    J. M. Beach

    Transforming Borders
    C. Alejandra Elenes

    Making Failure Pay
    Jill P. Koyama

    Drop That Knowledge
    Elisabeth Soep and Vivian Chavez

    A Cord of Three Strands
    Soo Hong