Welcoming ‘New’comers. Problematizing the Latina Mothers’ Experiences in a Family Literacy Program

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Ethnographic research has shown how familial outreach initiatives to Latino populations in demographically shifting communities can support schools’ relationships with the changing community. However, recent research in ‘semi-new’ settlements of Latino populations suggests that students and their families continue experience education that promotes the dominant culture and that views well-established Latino populations as visitors. This study considers the experiences of Latina mothers participating in a school-sponsored family literacy program in Nebraska. The mothers’ experiences in the program were influenced by program personnel’s paternalistic perceptions of them as different and in need of help and by their agency in face of that treatment. Findings show two predominant perceptions mediated the mothers’ experiences: mothers as a ‘good match’ for the program and mothers as children. Mothers were considered a ‘good match’ if they were available and eager to attend all program components. Yet in the program, they were treated like elementary students. The mothers’ often resisted these perceptions and utilized the program to achieve their own goals. Findings shed light on how perceptions embedded in school-based familial outreach initiatives continue to play a role in keeping Latino families on the fringes of K-12 educational, despite their permanent status in the community.

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