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"Hear Us, See Us": Constructing Citizenship in the Margins

Tricia Michelle Hagen Gray, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The meatpacking industry has drawn an increasing number of immigrants to the Midwestern community of Washington River from Mexico and Central America, making it a New Latino Diaspora (NLD) receiving community. Demographic change amidst the sociopolitical landscape of neoliberalism, declining civic engagement, and polarized partisan politics has forced interaction between longstanding residents and newcomers who are socially, culturally, and linguistically different. Historically marginalized groups have sought to claim rights—especially since Donald Trump’s election in 2016—resulting in a deeper fissure of the social landscape. Washington River High School provided a context in which to explore questions about how students construct citizen identities: How do high school newcomer students construct citizen identities in social studies? Who are key individuals who influence the construction of citizenship and how do they influence students? Given the institutional nature of schooling, how do newcomers transform the school and how does the school transform them? Three themes emerged from this critical ethnographic case study, through analysis of interviews with seven students, one teacher, and one paraeducator, observations in a history class, and a range of documents. First, schooling structures did not adapt to newcomer students’ dual realities. Second, different people in the classroom manifested care in different ways and these differences indicated different aims for schooling for newcomers. Third, there were missed opportunities to connect school to students’ lives and to integrate students into the school and community in meaningful and justice-oriented ways. Taken together, these themes speak to the need for schools to transform in order to provide newcomer students equitable opportunities to construct citizen identities within the full realm of the public space rather than being relegated to the margins. These themes also point to the resistance to change in this NLD community and in the public high school that serves its residents, and to the need for the community to step up to meet some of the newcomers’ needs. Mrs. Sánchez’s presence as a bilingual Latina in the classroom also offers useful lessons to schools and communities aiming to move toward more inclusive schooling and community experiences for all students.

Subject Area

English as a Second Language|Multicultural Education|Social studies education

Recommended Citation

Hagen Gray, Tricia Michelle, ""Hear Us, See Us": Constructing Citizenship in the Margins" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10682492.