Harvard Educational Review
  1. Pushing Boundaries

    Language and Culture in a Mexicano Community

    By Olga A. Vasquez, Lucinda Pease-Alvarez, and Sheila M. Shannon

    New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 219 pp. $49.95.

    At the heart of Pushing Boundaries is the authors' concern with the interconnections among language, culture, learning, and knowledge that illuminate the relationship between language socialization and bilingualism. The book consolidates research findings from three separate ethnographic studies spanning a six-year period in a Mexican immigrant community in northern California. These findings highlight the real-life activities and linguistic necessities demanded of budding bilinguals — that they be resourceful, creative, and responsible advocates who function as "cultural and linguistic brokers" for others. The authors show Mexicano parents' active role in ensuring the language socialization of their children. These parents' survival often depends upon their children's ability to assist family members, and even their entire communities, with such day-to-day tasks as paying taxes, filing job applications, or visiting a doctor. Notwithstanding the specificity of this case study, the authors believe that generalizations about language learning and its relationship to culture can be drawn from this work and applied to other minority communities living in linguistically and culturally diverse societies.

    The authors maintain that a necessary step toward making schools and educators more able to meet the challenges of diversity is to carefully deconstruct arguments about cultural differences and the ways in which these differences are assumed to contribute to linguistic and cultural minority students' failure in schools. Indeed, as the authors explore the diversity on both individual and familial levels within this Mexican immigrant community, they argue that not only do bicultural and bilingual students develop in more ways than schools often acknowledge (e.g., where "language deficit" often translates into "cognitive deficit"), but also that educators could learn much from these students. To that end, the book's summary includes recommendations for educators working toward creating more inclusive attitudes in their pedagogies. Foremost among these recommendations is that educational reform must be a collaborative effort among administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community members. Research and practice about language and culture might then be more informed about how to push beyond present boundaries.
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