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Latina Identities, Critical Literacies, and Academic Achievement in Community College

This qualitative case study research looks at the intersections of identity, literacy, and achievement for Latina community college students in the East Bay Area of California. The women that I center in this dissertation show how Latinas are multiply positioned within their communities, families, and schools, and how they negotiate damaging and reductive language and literacy ideologies in order to achieve their academic dreams. Following critical sociocultural theories on literacy, Critical Race Theory, and Latina Feminism, I emphasize a strengths-based, affirmation approach that positions the women as theorizers of their own lived experiences and highlights their resiliency. The data in this study show the intersections between ideology and agency, and the complex, and often contradictory attitudes, practices, and strategies the women use to achieve. They must negotiate the enduring impacts of racialized language and literacy ideologies and their histories of participation in the educational pipeline in California. This marginalization challenges their academic identities, and creates feelings of incompetency, not “belonging,” and, most importantly for those of us studying literacy in higher education, confusion about their language and literacy capacities. In addition, the data show that they have not had and continue to not have skilled help related to the intersections of language and literacy acquisition from instructors. Yet, while they experienced tensions in their gendered, ethnic, and academic identities, all saw their identities as Latina women as a strength or an asset, which I argue is a resistant strategy to the sexism in their communities and racist/sexist stereotypes in the educational system. But the women do not see these culturally resilient resources as academic strategies or connected to academics sufficiently to help build their confidence, nor does the system offer them ways to see their assets as academic in nature. For those in Composition and Rhetoric, this data means more work is needed to understand the language and literacy histories, practices, and attitudes of Latinas and effective pedagogies to tap their strengths and affirm their identities and cultures as the acquire academic literacy.