Passing for English Fluent: Latino Immigrant Children
Masking Language Proficiency
LILIA D. MONZÃ“
University of Southern California
This article describes passing for English fluent among Latino immigrant children. A twoyear ethnography of eight Latino immigrant families was conducted in which fifth-grade
children were followed in home, school, and community contexts. This article presents passing
as a consequence of U.S. race relations. Their reasons for presenting themselves as English
fluent suggest a sophisticated awareness of the power and status of English in this country
and a clear link between language and identity. [bilingualism, English language learners,
Latino students, identity]
In the United States, English holds greater power and status than minority languages,
particularly Spanish. This becomes evident to immigrant families almost immediately
upon arrival to the United States (ValdÃ©s 1996). Many Spanish-dominant children and
adults often experience discrimination or prejudice because of their language
and ethnicity (Evans 1996). Nondominant children are conscious of being â€œdifferentâ€
and feel pressure to â€œfit inâ€ (Olsen 1997).
In this article we examine how some students cope with the stigma associated with
lack of English proficiency in our society. Specifically, we examine the passing
attempts of a small sample of Latino immigrant children. â€œPassingâ€ here refers to the
use of strategies to appear more competent in English than was actually the case. Our
findings suggest that passing for English fluent may be both a strategy of selfpreservation and a form of resistance.
We draw on various theoretical frameworks to understand why students attempt to
pass, how this practice reflects existing race relations, and how passing relates to
childrenâ€™s developing identities and agency. We begin with Goffmanâ€™s (1959) theory
of passing that reveals the human need to see oneself and be seen in socially positive
terms. We also draw on critical race theory (SolÃ³rzano 1998) to point out that passing
for English fluent is yet another form of passing for white. Finally, we examine
identity and agency from a Bakhtinian-sociohistoric perspective (Holland et al. 1998).
From this perspective, childrenâ€™s passing strategies may both reflect and support
identity development and agency. This framework allows for the dynamic and
complex reality of both social and individual worlds that so often lead to â€œimprovisationsâ€ (Holland et al. 1998). We present Latino children as creative and resourceful
human beings who actively mediate their own psychological functions and their
Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Vol. 40, Issue 1, pp.20â€“40, ISSN 0161-7761, online ISSN 1548-1492.
Â© 2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved.
Passing and the Presentation of Self
In his seminal work, â€œThe Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,â€ Goffman (1959)
posits that individuals develop â€œfrontsâ€ to present themselves through a desired
identity. Goffman developed an analogy between everyday social interactions and the
theater and argued that interactions are composed of actors, a stage, and an audience.
Individuals construct a front and backstage identity. The front is that which the actor
presents to a particular audience to influence the perceptions the audience forms of
the actor. This front can be sincere or cynical. That is, the actor may actually believe
that the front she is putting on is an authentic identity, or the actor may be aware of her
deception and may even gain satisfaction from her ability to dupe the audience.
However, there is movement along this cynical and sincere continuum so that a
person who is aware of his deception may eventually begin to believe that the identity
he is presenting is authentic and/or may actually develop the attitudes and beliefs
associated with the particular identity he is assuming. Given this, an important
concern is to what extent the children who display passing strategies are aware of their
duplicity and whether there is any evidence to suggest that they may begin to believe
themselves to be more fluent than they actually are.
Goffman (1959) contends that most people select fronts that are considered socially
acceptable and often the front represents aspects of an ideal identity, what the actor
aspires to becoming. Furthermore, fronts selected often coincide with peopleâ€™s aspiration for social mobility. Goffman refers to â€œpassingâ€ and â€œmanagementâ€ activities
as the means by which fronts are maintained. According to Goffman, individuals
attempting to pass as having a particular identity manage the contexts around them
and construct elaborate scenes that provide support to the front identity. One problem
is that maintaining the front may take up so much energy that there is little opportunity to make the task oneâ€™s own. A student who wishes to pass as fluent in English
may be so busy pretending to understand that she may not draw on comprehension
strategies or ask for assistance to maintain the appearance of fluency.
A Critical Race Perspective on Passing for English Fluent: Language as Proxy
Goffmanâ€™s work points to the need to be perceived in socially acceptable ways and
posits passing as evidence of agency. Critical race theory (CRT) helps us understand
passing as a social practice that indexes a desired or more legitimate identity in the
context of U.S. race relations. CRT developed from critiques of critical theory for
neglecting the role of race in the field of law (Crenshaw et al. 1996). Critical theory
posits that major institutions in our society favor those already in power through
multiple formal and informal processes. CRT posits that race is a pervasive category
and must be foregrounded in any theoretical and practice-based account of inequalities (Crenshaw et al. 1996).
Adopting a CRT perspective, SolÃ³rzano and his colleagues (SolÃ³rzano 1998; Yosso
et al. 2004) argue that the educational experiences of nondominant groups must be
examined in a way that highlights the role of race and racism and their intersections
with other forms of domination. Latina/o critical race theory (LatCrit) complements
and supplements CRT by addressing race and racism in the contexts of immigration,
language, phenotype, and other issues salient among Latinas/os and Chicanas/os in
the United States (Valdes 1998).
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 21
From a CRT and a LatCrit perspective, passing for English fluent is a direct
consequence of the unequal relations of power that Latino children experience vis-Ã vis their white counterparts. Latino marginalization is directly related to race and
racism, to the notion that whites are in some way genetically and culturally superior
to other groups in general and to Latinos in particular. Racism occurs at both institutional and individual levels, and Latino studentsâ€™ language-related experiences are
a direct consequence of both.
Above, we discussed Goffmanâ€™s (1959) theory that individuals often put on fronts
that support socially acceptable or â€œidealâ€ roles. How, then, can Latino students
preserve a sense of dignity as Spanish speakers in an English-speaking world? That is,
how can they present themselves as competent, intelligent, resourceful, and valuable
when so many interactions they engage in with the outside world render them
incapable, limited, underprepared victims of cultural deprivation? From a CRT and a
LatCrit perspective, these labels, often attached to language, are used to hide what
Villenas (2001) has termed â€œbenevolent racisms,â€ racial prejudice or discrimination
veiled under notions of â€œhelpingâ€ nondominant groups to improve their social situations. While hidden under the guise of â€œhelping,â€ formal and informal policies and
practices that support notions of the superior nature of English vis-Ã -vis certain
minority languages, such as Spanish, are deeply rooted in racial prejudices. It is
interesting to note that while condemning people for their race is no longer legally
acceptable or socially acceptable in increasing contexts, the same does not apply to
language. Many people still feel comfortable voicing their beliefs that Latinos in the
United States need to leave Spanish and other cultural traditions behind and that they
need to assimilate to U.S. â€œnormsâ€ as quickly as possible. A CRT and LatCrit perspective helps us see that language has now become the new acceptable category that
maintains the old order of distinguishing people by race.
In an argument critiquing the intent and impact of the Brown v. Board of Education
landmark case that ruled for school desegregation, GutiÃ©rrez and Jaramillo (2006)
have revealed the similarities between the Jim Crow era with its separate but equal
laws and our current educational system that applies the â€œsameness as fairness
ruleâ€ without regard for language fluency, income, and other factors that impact
racial minorities, such as English-only policies and No Child Left Behind. The result,
they argue, is a new social order in which language has become a proxy for
race. GutiÃ©rrez and Jaramillo (2006) point out that the Brown v. Board of Education
ruling was not a â€œmoral imperativeâ€ to eliminate the practice of categorizing people
based on race. Rather, the ruling sought to eliminate segregation in schools to
rectify the problem of unequal education between white students and black
Indeed, the Jim Crow era of separate but equal laws saw the most significant era of
passing for white. Blacks who successfully passed for white gained white privileges,
such as better housing, better schools, and better jobs with higher wages. However,
they also had to interact primarily with other whites, and many had to forgo interacting with family members to conceal their identity (Haizlip 1995). Although sometimes believed to be a historical phenomenon of the black community, passing for
white has occurred among multiple racial and ethnic groups (Kroeger 2003) and
continues even today (Broyard 2007). This profoundly troubling practice is a testament to the lack of equal opportunity and continual repression and marginalization of
22 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
Passing for white has sometimes taken the form of â€œacting white.â€ This generally
involves adopting practices that are sometimes associated with the dominant group
and/or engaging in white social groups. In educational contexts students of color are
often said to be â€œacting whiteâ€ if they engage in the types of practices typically
rewarded in schools (Fordham and Ogbu 1986). Among Latinos and other language
minority groups, passing for white is often couched in terms of language loss and
identity conflicts (Fillmore 2000; Olsen 1997). The most infamous case of this is that of
Richard Rodriguez (1982), who was immersed in English for the sake of procuring
academic success and social mobility. However, the cost of his â€œsuccessâ€ was primary
language loss, loss of parentâ€“child communication, and personal and cultural alienation. In a case study of an immigrant first grader from Costa Rica, Rymes and Pash
(2001) found that the student passed as competent in English and in classroom
routines at the expense of learning. The studentâ€™s passing was motivated by his desire
to fit in with the other students, to appear â€œnormalâ€ to them based on their cultural
assumptions. In this country this need to fit in is more than just being able to get along
with others. It is a need to preserve a sense of dignity amid a social context that
supports the illusion of a meritocracy and suggests that Latinos and other nondominant groups are deficient. Passing for English fluent is then highly tied to notions of
identity, how we define who we are to preserve our sense of dignity, and agency, how
we consciously take action on our own behalf to present this identity. Understanding
identity and agency theoretically allows us to better understand what passing means
to the students we studied and how it may impact them in the long run.
Identity and Agency in Passing
Dorothy Holland and her colleagues (1998) have developed a theory of identity
and agency rooted in the work of Vygotsky (1978, 1987) and Bakhtin (1981). They
critique notions of the self as either purely natural or purely cultural and argue that
both these positions essentialize the self, rendering it static and unified. Studies of
personhood, they argue, must take into account both cultural forms and individual
â€œimprovisations.â€ This intertwining of the social with the individual is the central
basis of both Vygotskyâ€™s and Bakhtinâ€™s theories.
Vygotsky (1978, 1987) has argued that learning and development occur through
tool-mediated activity and that this process is highly impacted by social, cultural, and
historical factors (Wertsch 1991). Novices learn as they participate in cultural activity
alongside a more competent other. Mediation occurs first as social practice (interpersonal) and later as individual practice (intrapersonal). This â€œinternalizationâ€ involves
a qualitative transformation with respect to both the use of the cultural tool and the
activity itself and thus is never a direct replica of that witnessed. Worth noting is that
intrapersonal mediation (inner speech) is still a process that involves the interaction
between the individual and the social. While the expert is no longer needed to
complete the task, her words and other cultural tools and those that have been used
prior are embedded in the activity itself. This emphasis on historical development is
crucial to notions of identities as changing and multiple. Vygotsky did not deal with
identity specifically. Nor does his work tease out issues of power and privilege
inherent in the relationship between the novice and the expert or broader social
categories that impinge upon the social context.
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 23
Bakhtin (1981) dealt specifically with identity. He saw the self as produced
through words and languages, and he examined the role of ideology and discourse
in authoring the world and the self. For Bakhtin, languages are inherently social
perspectives on the world. Through words, we can produce particular views and
meanings, what he has called â€œauthoring the world.â€ Bakhtin considered authoring
the world to be a dialogic process involving a continual and conflictual dialogue
between the â€œIâ€ and the world, or the stimuli to which one is exposed. As he puts
it, words are always half someone elseâ€™s, they are picked up from the mouths of
others, populated with their intentions and purposes. Only when they are appropriated, populated with oneâ€™s own intentions, do they make up oneâ€™s Voice.
Drawing on Vygotskyâ€™s (Wertsch 1991) emphasis on development, we could add
that oneâ€™s Voice never becomes the â€œI,â€ as even our own intentions and purposes
reflect the heteroglossia to which we have been exposed and from which dialogism
occurs. Heteroglossia, the simultaneity of different languages and their associated
values, guarantees that the process of authoring is a complex act of choosing from
multiple, sometimes conflicting and even contradictory perspectives. Inherent in
this argument is the relative power of particular languages, the extent to which one
has access to specific languages, and the particular discourses and values associated.
According to Bakhtin (1981), â€œauthoring the self,â€ or developing identities, involves
understanding ourselves from the perspective of others, what he calls reaching
â€œoutsidedness.â€ However, when examining the identity development of people of
color, in this case Latino students, understanding themselves through the perspectives of others often involves seeing themselves through the perspectives of those in
power, English speakers, and so on. In addition, the space of authoring, Bakhtinâ€™s
version of the zone of proximal development, is infused with racialized perspectives that position Latinos as racially inferior and culturally deprived. The zone of
proximal development or the space of authoring is highly impacted by the positional identities of specific actors and the relative power and status of the social
roles each plays within the broader society.
The role of context is particularly important in these theories. Identities are produced in the process of participation in cultural activity. Activity, like language, is
socially and historically developed and carries with it particular functions, perspectives, discourses, and values. Activities are organized within particular social worlds
or communities that share a common language, beliefs, values, and practices. It is a
social world within which cultural tools are produced and organized. Drawing on
Vygotskyâ€™s (1978) notion that childrenâ€™s play involves creating make-believe worlds
that represent real social contexts and offer opportunities for cultural production,
Holland and colleagues (1998) refer to these socially and historically developed cultural contexts as â€œfigured worlds.â€ Since people often engage in multiple figured
worlds in which identities are produced in practice, the self is plural, and particular
selves may often contradict or even conflict with each other.
Figured worlds as an analytical tool highlight the differing social relations and
positionality of their members that reflect the unequal social relations of the broader
society. Indeed gender, race, class, and other isms are often depicted in figured worlds
in ways that reflect and perpetuate existing power inequities. People are ascribed the
characteristics of the particular roles they perform, and these are always relational and
positional to other roles. Identities produced in figured worlds are embedded with
relational notions of power, privilege, and status. Latino immigrant children in the
24 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
figured worlds of schools are generally positioned in relation to dominant-group
children, the English fluent, and so forth.
However, an important aspect of figured worlds is the creative and agentic component. While some identities are often unconsciously reproduced, learned through
daily practice, others are clearly figured. That is, in the conscious practice of figuring
the world and through the expert use of cultural tools, people may become aware of
their positioning and remediate, create other ways in which to be positioned. From
this perspective, then, agency is the conscious mediation of cultural tools to effect
both exterior and interior functions. Agency is the capacity to effect a desired outcome
by mediating the world through the mediation of oneâ€™s own â€œhigher psychological
functions,â€ including emotions, beliefs, and values. In Bakhtinâ€™s (1981) terms, agency
involves developing â€œinternally persuasive speechâ€ to mediate the struggle between
multiple and sometimes opposing languages so that a somewhat more stable Voice, or
authorial stance, may be produced, what Vygotsky (1978) describes as the qualitative
transformation that occurs as mental processes move from the social to the individual
From this perspective, passing for English fluent can be thought of as children
acting agentic, drawing on their more or less expert understandings of what it means
to be competent within the figured worlds in which they engage and utilizing specific
cultural tools to resist being positioned as an English learner, with the relational
subordinate identities that this role is ascribed. However, Bakhtinâ€™s (1981) work
illuminates the complexity involved in developing oneâ€™s Voice. Latino immigrant
students are constantly bombarded with multiple and conflicting discourses from the
media, school, home, and community contexts with respect to their race, language,
and cultural practices as well as the role of education and English in the potential for
social mobility. Developing an authorial stance that is critical is likely to take time and
experience within any figured world and is impacted by the positionality of their
particular role. The path to a critical consciousness is likely to follow initial use of
othersâ€™ words, â€œventriloquatingâ€ (Bakhtin 1981) popular discourses about equal
opportunity and English learning as the vehicle for social mobility. How agency is
actualized and what improvisations result are what we consider in the findings
section of this essay.
Agency among nondominant groups has often been studied as resistance. For
example, Kelley (1993) discusses the seemingly spontaneous, unorganized, sometimes collective activity of southern blacks in response to discriminatory practices as
resistance. He posits that silence and accommodation were often purposeful strategies
intended to deceive and that this deception created a sense that power relations were
to some extent being offset. These â€œeverydayâ€ acts are the cultural tools used to resist
developing identities as subordinate and oppressed.
Scott (1990) proposes that oppressed groups create a â€œhidden transcript,â€ a dissident political culture manifested in the groupsâ€™ daily cultural practices, including talk,
dress, and songs. Reminiscent of Goffmanâ€™s (1959) work, Scott posits that these
cultural practices are sometimes performed on stage in front of those in power but in
a disguised form. He contends that these hidden transcripts and everyday acts of
resistance form the infrapolitics of the oppressed, which may ultimately lead to
broader movements of social change.
An important caution in drawing on resistance theories is that although resistance
efforts reveal actors as agentic, they also tend to present acts of resistance as futile acts
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 25
that ultimately reproduce power inequities. However, there is evidence that resistance
is a complex practice. In a recent study (Urrieta 2005), Chicana and Chicano teachers
described â€œplaying the gameâ€ as being deceptively silent about the injustices they
experienced while keeping broader goals of social change in sight. Here, going along
with dominant practices was part of a strategic and long-term resistance effort.
Agency was used for cultural transformation.
The data are drawn from an ethnography examining the cultural practices and
ideologies brought home from school by Latino immigrant children and their cultural
productions. The two-year study involved research with eight fifth-grade children
and their families.
The Community and the School
The study took place in an urban, predominantly Latino immigrant community
that we call La Fuente. All parents were immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and
Guatemala. However, many of the children were U.S. born. Spanish was the primary
language of the home, but all but the youngest of children brought English into the
homes, and some were beginning to use more English than Spanish. All of the families
lived in crowded conditions by U.S. standards.
The public elementary school served over 1,700 students. The student enrollment
was 99 percent Latino, all English learners. One hundred percent of the student
population received free or reduced-price lunch. Prior to the English-only policy that
passed in California, La Fuente Elementary had one of the strongest bilingual programs in the district. One fifth-grade class was targeted for the study. Eight children
from this class were followed into their homes, and their families (including siblings)
became the primary participants for the larger study.
Sources of Data and Collection
Participant-Observation. Lilia D. MonzÃ³1 visited the elementary school at least two
times per week during the first year of her study. Her interactions included observing
classes, playing and talking with children at recess, eating with children at lunch, and
talking with teachers in the hallways or the cafeteria. The bulk of school observations
and interactions took place in one fifth-grade class. Lilia usually engaged with students rather than the teacher during classroom visits, sitting and talking with students informally and helping them with class work.
Although the class was conducted in English only, Lilia spoke almost exclusively
in Spanish to all of the children in school and at home. This was a conscious effort
on Liliaâ€™s part to show children her value for Spanish and Latino cultures. This was
very useful in developing rapport with students, particularly with those who
struggled most with the English-only curriculum. Eight children from this fifthgrade class were selected to be part of the family study. At school, the Lilia
spent most of her time the first year observing and talking to these eight focal
children. The second year of the study, the children spread to various middle
26 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
schools in the surrounding area, and, thus, school observations were minimal. Field
notes from school observations were written in the classroom and contextualized
after leaving the site.
Lilia visited the eight children at home throughout the two years and participated
in routine family tasks including making dinner, playing, reading, homework, and
community outings. Community outings with families included the public library,
the nearby university, various markets, stores in the neighborhood as well as malls
located farther away, social services, immigration, the hospital, various clinics, and
multiple local restaurants and fast food stores. Lilia often volunteered to assist families with transportation and language brokering and provided families with instrumental knowledge about schools. She also accompanied some of the families to school
functions, including back to school nights, parentâ€“teacher conferences, and appointments with teachers and counselors at the local elementary school (the first year) but
also at the various middle schools (the second year of the study) and high schools (for
older siblings). Lilia made over two hundred visits with the eight families, each
lasting an average of three hours. Field notes from home visits were written up after
leaving the site.
Interviews. Although the larger study included interviews with children, parents, and
school personnel, for this essay, we draw exclusively on interviews and informal
conversations with the children. At least one formal interview was conducted with
each of the eight focal children and their older siblings, separately. In addition,
numerous informal conversations took place with the children. Topics discussed that
are salient for this article include childrenâ€™s perceptions and comprehension of the
English-only curriculum, their perceptions of language status and power, and their
concerns regarding their levels of English proficiency. Once â€œpassingâ€ had been
observed multiple times and significant rapport had been built, some children were
specifically asked whether they sought to â€œpassâ€ as English fluent, why they did so,
and what strategies they utilized for this purpose. Interviews were tape-recorded and
Our own subjectivities are ever present in this article. Lilia is a Latina interested in
the identity development of Latino youth. She was born in Cuba and immigrated to
the United States at the age of four. She was raised in Miami until the age of 14, when
her family moved to Los Angeles. She benefited from the advantages to which Cuban
immigrants are privy in Miami, including the social value for bilingualism and ethnic
pride. Her family is of working-class background, with limited schooling and English
skills, factors that parallel the experiences of the Mexican and Central American
communities she studies. Her own experiences with discrimination, alienation, and
identity conflicts have led her to see Latino identities as cultural productions, highly
shaped by their experiences as subordinate members of society.
Robert Rueda is a second-generation Latino who is interested in the social and
cultural aspects of learning and motivation and how these play out in different
learning contexts. He has focused on reading and literacy in young children because
they represent the intersection of a variety of important dimensions of this area,
including the social, cultural, and political aspects. Robert was born and raised in the
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 27
Los Angeles area and grew up in a large working-class family in a largely Mexican
American community. His experiences navigating higher education in the course of
receiving advanced degrees and as a â€œminorityâ€ faculty member in large research
universities have led to his interest in issues of discrimination and identity.
Analysis for home and school data was conducted separately. Home data, including
outings, were analyzed through a multiple-case approach. Each family was treated as
a separate case. School data included data on practices of the formal and informal
curriculum of the class and school. School data pertaining specifically to the focal
children were added to their family case files. A grounded approach to data analysis
was used for each data set. Data were analyzed on an ongoing basis so as to inform
collection. For example, passing became evident early on in the study and led to
increased attention to childrenâ€™s interactions in English-only contexts and language
choice. Interview questions were designed to address this â€œfinding.â€ Numerous
themes were constructed and aggregated within each case to understand multiple
identities and social context. Across-case comparisons were then made. This essay
draws on codes on childrenâ€™s language ideologies, the role of context, access to
curriculum, and help-seeking behaviors.
Strategies for Passing
It became clear early on that children did not always understand instructions,
readings, or lesson content but that they often pretended to understand. This occurred
in the classroom, on outings where interactions took place in English, and, at the
beginning of the study, even in their homes when reading with Lilia. Studentsâ€™
comments indicate that passing was a conscious decision made to protect themselves
from feelings of shame:
A veces no la entiendo [a la maestra], pero sÃ, me hago que yo la entiendo. Digo, â€œOh, yeah,
ya lo entiendo, estÃ¡ fÃ¡cil, esta fÃ¡cil!â€ (laughs) pero no. (Sometimes I donâ€™t understand her [the
teacher], but yes, I pretend that I understand her. I say, â€œOh yeah, now I understand! Itâ€™s easy!
Itâ€™s easy!â€ (laughs) but I donâ€™t.)
Es que aveces una palabra que viene siendo biÃ©n dura para mÃ, para otros no. Ellos lo leen
rÃ¡pido y en voz alta y yo no. Yo lo leo despacito y allÃ me quedo y la maestra me dice la
palabra. Da vergÃ¼enza. Unos dicen, â€œÂ¡No oigo! Â¡No lee biÃ©n! Â¡Apurate! Â¿QuÃ© dice?â€ AsÃ. Por
eso no me gusta leer. (Itâ€™s that sometimes a word that is very hard for me, for others it isnâ€™t.
They read it fast in a loud voice and I donâ€™t. I read it slowly and there I stay and the teacher
tells me the word. Itâ€™s embarrassing. Some say, â€œI can hear! She doesnâ€™t read correctly! Hurry
up! What did she say?â€ Like that. Thatâ€™s why I donâ€™t like to read.)
Affirmative Response without Elaboration
When uncertain about a question, students often chose to risk providing an affirmative response rather than ask for clarification. In one example, Lilia had gone to the
public library with Marco. At the checkout line, the attendant told Marco that he had
an overdue book. Marco responded, â€œNo, I brought it back.â€ The attendant gave
Marco a slip of paper with a phone number and told him to look for the book at home
28 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
and that if he thought he had returned it that he should call the number he had given
him. Lilia, who had been next to Marco during the exchange, noted Marcoâ€™s blank
look. Lilia waited a few seconds to see if Marco would ask for clarification. He did not.
When the attendant continued with the checkout procedure, Lilia asked Marco
quietly, â€œÂ¿Entendiste lo que dijo?â€ [Did you understand what he said?]. He looked at
her, smiled, and shook his head. Lilia repeated the attendantâ€™s instructions in Spanish,
and Marco nodded. When the attendant repeated his instructions, Marco responded
in English that he would do that.
In the classroom this was evident in the so often asked, â€œDo you understand?â€ for
which students readily responded with an affirmative response. This strategy was
observed frequently among children who had difficulty following instructions
and/or content. This was evident to Lilia as she helped students one-on-one, translating into Spanish, often moments after witnessing them falsely indicate to the
teacher that they had understood.
Completing Assignments Como Sea (Any Which Way)
Some students often did not understand their independent work assignments. In
some cases it was a misreading or perhaps not knowing the material, but in other
cases they did not know what the task required as their responses were totally off the
mark with respect even to the main broad topic. When Lilia was not certain of the
assignment because she had not been there when it had been explained or was not
familiar with the story it was based on, she suggested to students that they ask the
teacher for assistance. Rarely did students follow up on her suggestion. Instead, they
would remain thinking and ignore her suggestion, which often resulted in her going
to ask the teacher and returning to explain it to them. However, some students would
come right out and say, â€œNo, estÃ¡ bien. AsÃ lo dejoâ€ [No, thatâ€™s ok. Iâ€™ll leave it like this].
Six of the eight students told Lilia that they sometimes just wrote â€œanythingâ€ on
assignments when they did not know what to do rather than ask the teacher or a peer
Deflecting Reasons for Poor Performance from English Fluency
Elizabeth, who was especially having difficulty with understanding academic
content because of limited English vocabulary and some difficulty with reading
fluency in both English and Spanish, was particularly adept at avoiding doing her
work. She often got up from her seat or turned in her chair to talk to other students,
played with pencils and markers, looked around the room, stared into space, rummaged through her desk, and played with her many bracelets.
Elizabeth was very quiet. The teacher rarely noticed her behavior. On one occasion,
Lilia observed that for a period of two and a half hours during which time the
students were to be writing an essay about a friend using a Venn diagram, Elizabeth
had not even written her name on the paper. Twice during that time, Lilia attempted
to help her by making suggestions of what she might include in Spanish and then
translating the sentences into English. However, Elizabeth would leave her desk and
walk elsewhere in the room.
At one point Lilia leaned close to Elizabeth and quietly told her without reprimand
but with concern, â€œElizabeth, hace dos horas que te estoy mirando y escribiendo lo
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 29
que estas haciendo, y no has escrito nada. Â¿Por quÃ©?â€ [Elizabeth, Iâ€™ve been watching
you for two hours and writing down what you are doing, and you have not written
anything. Why?]. Elizabeth smiled and laughed it off, promising, â€œYa, ahora sÃ voy a
empezarâ€ [Ok, now I am going to start]. But again she became distracted. When the
teacher said, â€œThose of you who have not finished will have to do it after school,â€
Elizabeth quickly began writing. She mumbled to herself, â€œEs que yo no entiendoâ€
[Itâ€™s that I donâ€™t understand].
At the beginning of the study, Lilia often asked the children if they understood the
teacher who spoke to them only in English. From her observations she believed that
they often did not understand. Lilia had expected that even the most conversationally
fluent of the students would have some difficulty with vocabulary in reading and
social studies since this was for many students their first year in an English-only class.
However, none of the students said this was true. Instead, they were emphatic that
they had absolutely no problem understanding in English both the teacher and the
texts. They stated that they understood, nodded their heads, and scrunched their faces
in such a way as to indicate that the question was absurd.
Disrupting Student Reading-Aloud Practices
During reading aloud, students consistently disrupted the reading, frustrating the
teacher and ending the activity as shown below:
A student reads aloud, and others are supposed to be following along.
A student yells out, â€œI canâ€™t hear her!â€
Another student yells out, â€œWhat did she say?â€
The teacher says, â€œSpeak up in your reading.â€
The student reads another few words.
Another child yells out, â€œI still canâ€™t hear her.â€
Another child yells to the one who yelled, â€œShut up!â€
The student continues reading through the commotion.
This continues with every subsequent reader until the teacher becomes exasperated and
stops the activity.
Students who had some difficulty with reading in English often mumbled when
asked to read aloud. They would begin reading one or two words and then read
under their breath so that neither their peers nor the teacher could hear them. This
often set off the previous disruption and added to it. A few students told Lilia that
they mumbled on purpose when it was their turn to read because they did not want
their peers to detect their mistakes and/or they wanted to add to the group disruption
already occurring that would eventually end their reading-aloud practice.
Avoiding Eye Contact with the Teacher
When the teacher asked questions in a whole-group setting, the less-English-fluent
students were often seen sinking down in their chairs, averting their eyes from the
teacher, or pretending to be engaged with another task. This strategy was also used to
avoid having to read aloud. One student described it this way:
S Aveces (Sometimes) I pick up the book like this [raises a pretend book in front of her face
and laughs]. I donâ€™t like to read.
30 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
L Â¿Para que no te vea la maestra? (So the teacher doesnâ€™t see you?)
S Yeah [laughs].
This also occurred with the more-English-fluent students. As with the other strategies
for passing, it was difficult to determine whether students were passing as English
fluent or passing as competent in the subject matter since the subject matter was all in
English and almost no scaffolding occurred using the primary language. However, it
was fairly obvious that those who had the greatest trouble with following instruction
often had difficulty understanding content.
â€œMessing Upâ€ on Purpose during Reading Aloud
Reading-aloud practices were common in this classroom, which used the Open
Court reading program. The teacher called on students to read aloud, and they would
read until the next child was called on. Round-robin is considered an inappropriate
reading strategy because children tend to preread the selection that they believe they
will have to read aloud, missing out on reading along silently while other children
read aloud, which is crucial to comprehension (Flippo 1999). Popcorn reading is a
similar approach in which children are chosen to read in no apparent order so that
they cannot anticipate when their turn to read will be. Popcorn reading was the
approach used most often in this class. Reading aloud in English for English learners
is inappropriate because it puts children on display when their reading fluency levels
and pronunciation may be very different.
Another disturbing part of these reading-aloud practices was that the cue to stop
reading was when they â€œmessed upâ€ by reading a word incorrectly. One child told
Lilia that she often messed up on purpose to keep her readings to a minimum. This
was one of the less fluent English readers. Although one might think that this strategy
for passing runs counter to the goal of protecting themselves from feeling humiliated,
it does not. When this child read aloud and messed up on purpose, she read a few
short words quickly and could pretend to have just misread a word because she was
not reading carefully. However, if this student had attempted to read, she would have
read the material slowly and struggled with numerous words. In this process her
reading fluency and decoding skills would have been evident to the class.
The Power of English
All of the children expressed a value for bilingualism. They said they needed to
maintain their Spanish to communicate with their parents and family members when
visiting their countries of origin. Two children also believed speaking Spanish would
help with employment. The children also understood the need for English in this
country. Their comments suggest a keen awareness of the role English plays in social
and economic mobility and daily functioning:
L Â¿CuÃ¡ndo seas de la edad mÃa, vas a hablar mÃ¡s inglÃ©s o mÃ¡s espaÃ±ol? (When you are my
age, will you be speaking more English or more Spanish?)
S MÃ¡s inglÃ©s. (More English.)
L Â¿SÃ, por quÃ©? (Why do you think that?)
S I know some people that they forget Spanish so Iâ€™m scared about that. That just because my
parents maybe talk a little bit in English and Valeria [younger sister] pronto va a hablar
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 31
English tambiÃ©n y LucÃa [older sister] tambiÃ©n ya habla inglÃ©s (soon will speak English also
and LucÃa also already speaks English) and Iâ€™m scared that I will forget Spanish.
L Â¿QuÃ© pasarÃa si se te olvida? CÃ³mo te sentirÃas? (What would happen if you forget Spanish?
How would you feel?)
S Bad because thatâ€™s the first thing I learned. My dad and my mom are always telling me itâ€™s
good to be bilingÃ¼e (bilingual). My dad always says, â€œI want you guys to never forget in
Spanish, thatâ€™s our, nuestra tradition.â€ And when I go to Mexico what am I going to say, Iâ€™m
not going to know nothing of Spanish. Why should I go then? Entonces siempre practico el
espaÃ±ol en mi casa. Pero desde que salÃ de fourth grade ya no escribo en espaÃ±ol. (So I always
practice Spanish at home. But since I left fourth grade I donâ€™t write in Spanish.) Thatâ€™s the
problem that osea, nosotros empezamos en espaÃ±ol y acabamos todo con inglÃ©s. (We start in
Spanish but we finish everything with English.) And I always say I want to go to vacation to
always practice the Spanish and the English. I could have two months in Mexico and two
However, numerous comments suggest that as early as fifth grade, children were
developing a sophisticated awareness of the power and status of English vis-Ã -vis
Spanish. Many comments made by students reveal the interconnection among language, race, class, and identity. For example, â€œdifferenceâ€ was a theme that came
across in conversations with all of the focal children and their older siblings. To them
being different was a result of not being American (although some were born in the
United States), not being white, and/or not speaking English fluently. They also saw
these differences as linked to a sense of belonging or â€œfitting in.â€ One student put it
this way: â€œItâ€™s like if you move to Portugal and there they speak uh, the language of
Portugal, then you want to speak that language because you want to belong there. You
donâ€™t want to be different.â€
What is interesting about this need to fit in is that these students attended schools
where almost all students were Latino English learners. In a similar vein, another
student made a link between language and citizenship. He said that his mother could
not be considered American because she did not speak English. This has serious
implications for the identity development of non-English speakers. Although this
child may not fully understand yet that citizenship is not merely a place of residence
attached to the right to vote but a symbol of full participation as a person, it is likely
that as he gets older he will develop this understanding and with it the sense that if
you are not â€œAmericanâ€ in this country, you are an outsider, someone at the margins.
Then, he may wonder where he does belong since he has lived here since he was two
Children also seemed to construct a link between language proficiency and intelligence or knowledge. For example, one fifth-grade student expressed her feelings
regarding the sudden switch in language of instruction after the passing of Proposition 227 like this: â€œItâ€™s like everything we learned before is in the trash.â€ Previously
placed in the transitional bilingual program for grades Kâ€“3 in which much of her
instruction was in Spanish, she was placed in fourth grade in the newly designed
English-immersion program without any transitional support. In this new program
instruction, informal conversation with teachers, books, and materials were all in
English only. Students were even discouraged from speaking in Spanish among
themselves during recess and lunch. This sudden switch to a program in which
studentsâ€™ home language was no longer acceptable for academic or social purposes
diminished the value of Spanish and everything students had learned previously in
32 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
Not surprisingly, this same student remarked that she felt afraid when speaking in
English in public and showed Lilia her shaking hands as they held a very informal
conversation in English while driving back from an outing. She said she was afraid
that people would laugh at her. She also commented on her loss of confidence in her
literacy skills: â€œLast year I was one of the top, not the best but one of the better ones
in reading and writing, but now I think I am very low.â€
The Roles Available to Latino Immigrant Children
The children were observed in a variety of contexts within the community, including schools, public libraries, fast food restaurants, clinics, and other public service
agencies. An interesting finding was that although the community was predominantly
Spanish speaking, most establishments almost always greeted their customers in
English. A number of service agencies did not employ someone who could help their
customers in Spanish, and a number of those that did have workers who spoke
Spanish did not offer to find someone to translate for them. Below we document the
language roles available to the children in a variety of contexts.
By white-collar contexts we are referring to contexts where services are of a
professional nature, such as contexts in medical offices, dental offices, and hospitals.
Lilia accompanied families to medical contexts seven times. In each instance the
doctors that the children were examined by did not speak Spanish and appeared to be
white or Asian. Latinos fluent in Spanish were found in these offices in the roles of
nurses or administrative assistants. Although many of them did speak Spanish, they
did not automatically begin speaking Spanish to the parents or children. Rather, it was
after they saw signs of parents struggling to communicate that they switched from
English to Spanish for specific questions. Often they would continue to speak to the
children in English for quick comments such as â€œThe doctor will be in soon.â€ Consider the following excerpt from the field notes:
Sra. Perez and I picked up the girls from school and walked to the clinic. The girls each had
a cold and a fever. The receptionist/nurse spoke Spanish and directed almost all her questions to the mother. Then the doctor called Julie into his office. We all went inside. He did not
speak Spanish. He asked Julie some questions and she responded in English. I wondered
why no one was asked to translate so the doctor could speak to the mother. He said that she
had a swollen throat and that she had a high fever. Julie was translating. She said â€œSon las
amigdalas. Que tengo fiebre.â€ (Itâ€™s the tonsils. That I have a fever.) When he had finished
examining Julie he examined her younger sister, Valeria. Again he talked in English and Julie
told the mother what he had said. He said that it was her tonsils. I waited to see if Julie would
rectify that the doctor had only commented on Valeriaâ€™s tonsils and not her own but since she
did not, I clarified. I told them that for Julie I had only heard him say a swollen throat. Sra.
Perez asked Julie accusingly, â€œÂ¿Son las amigdalas o no? Â¿CÃ³mo se dice?â€ (Is it the tonsils or
not? How do you say that?) Julie said, â€œYo no se.â€ (I donâ€™t know.)
We see that everyone involved in the context assumes Julie will be the translator. This
is a common role for Julie, as it is for many of the children. The role of translator is a
complex and difficult one, especially during face-to-face interactions (Orellana 2001).
The role of translator can be very positive as it provides a certain amount of power to
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 33
the children, who will learn to see themselves capable of contributing to family
functioning. However, the role of translator can also lead to feelings of shame when
the expectation of fluency is not realistic.
American Franchises and Government Offices
Here we refer to the numerous chains of stores that seem to dominate the market
in most U.S. communities. La Fuente was no exception to this as its major commercial
avenues were lined with fast food and other chains such as McDonaldâ€™s, Thrifty, and
so on. We also include here government offices such as the post office. These were
establishments that typically do not require workers to have education beyond
perhaps a high school diploma. The families visited these establishments in La Fuente
frequently. Workers at these establishments likely lived within or near the community.
Many of them likely spoke Spanish. However, the workers within these contexts were
fluent in English and addressed clients initially in English, â€œHow can I help you?â€
Parents were familiar with these English queries and responded in Spanish. The
interaction would then proceed in Spanish. When children took over the interaction
they conducted it in English even though it was evident that the worker could
conduct the interaction in Spanish. Children had figured out that English was the
language used in public spaces, even when the context was such that everyone was
Although many of the workers in these blue-collar establishments were Spanish
speakers, the children may not have been identifying themselves with them. During
one visit to a mall in the Los Angeles downtown, not far from La Fuente, the child
with whom Lilia was having lunch identified the cleaning staff as Latino. She did not
seem to identify with the other staff with which she had contact in the process of
ordering the food who also may have been Latino, perhaps because of their initial
address in English. Consider her comments below:
All people that you see here working. [looks around] Um cleaning the restrooms, picking up
trash, who do you see them? Africans Americans or Latinos. Who do you see cleaning the
houses? The same people. Who do you see in the vegetable places, doing, putting seeds and
all that stuff, cosechando? Who do you see? Africans Americans and Latinos. Los Americans
you donâ€™t see them anywhere. You see them in the office or you see them resting. Why? Cause
they already have money.
Academic contexts are especially important in shaping the lives of children. The
children were observed regularly in academic contexts, including in schools (primarily year one of the study), at home doing homework, at the nearby university, and at
various public libraries, which were visited a total of eight times.
In schools, Spanish was heard often among students (especially in elementary
school) informally in class and out of class. There were also bilingual classes offered
in the Kâ€“2 grades. However, it was evident that the schoolâ€™s major agenda was to
make sure that students became English fluent as quickly as possible. Consider the
classroom language contexts presented below.
The fifth-grade class had been composed of students in each of the three language
programs available at the time, English immersion with no primary language
34 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
assistance, English immersion with limited primary language use for clarification
purposes only, and the transitional bilingual program for those students whose
parents had signed waivers (see MonzÃ³ 2005). This mix of language programs in the
same class made teaching an almost impossible task, particularly as the school had
adopted Open Court, a scripted reading program in English that was developed
primarily for whole-group instruction. When asked about the language of instruction
for the differently placed students in the class, the teacher said that the principal had
told her to just use English with all the students. Indeed, only two observations took
place in which Spanish was used to scaffold, and both occasions were during one-onone assistance. Observations revealed that many of the children were having tremendous difficulty with understanding texts and story plots in the Open Court reader.
Within these language contexts, students cannot display their strengths and Spanish
use signifies remedial needs. Needing assistance in English is associated with lower
abilities or skills across domains.
Similar roles were available to students when visiting public libraries. Even though
the libraries were in La Fuente and other nearby highly Latino immigrant communities, they did not have a Spanish-speaking librarian to assist Spanish speakers. Lilia
witnessed children struggling to fill out forms for library cards and check out books
and noted that they did not ask for assistance from librarians regarding source
material for school assignments, opting instead to not complete the assignments.
Given this, students were not able to take on roles as confident or â€œgoodâ€ students.
According to students, a â€œgoodâ€ student was one who spoke English well, got good
grades, and was able to accomplish assignments without too much difficulty. This was
not the case for these students since they could not access the assistance they needed.
The university offers young visitors the role of potential future students. However,
students immediately noted that university contexts were almost entirely English
only. Two students commented on issues of class, race, and language with reference to
the university they visited with Lilia:
Walking back to the car, LucÃa said, â€œlo que no veo aquÃ son casi ningÃºn Latino o alomejor no
se miran. Como usted (Lilia) no parece Latina. No se por quÃ© pero no parece.â€ (What I donâ€™t
see here are almost any Latinos or perhaps you donâ€™t see them. Like you [Lilia] donâ€™t look
Latina. I donâ€™t know why but you donâ€™t look it.) Then Julie, her younger sister, agreed to both
Sra. GÃ³mez commented, â€œElizabeth llegÃ³ contandome de que en la universidad todos
estaban hablando en sus telÃ©fonos celulares y que todos hablaban puro inglÃ©s.â€ (Elizabeth
arrived telling me that at the university everyone was talking on their cell phones and that
everyone spoke only English.)
In addition, Lilia noted that students in an attempt to fit in at the university setting
seemed to switch to English with Lilia more than they normally did in other contexts
where they interacted with Lilia more in Spanish.
Our findings show that the â€œpressâ€ to learn English is real and powerful and that
students are acutely aware of their language limitations and attach nonâ€“English proficiency to a variety of negative characteristics such as low intelligence. Furthermore,
students seem to be aware that English holds greater power and status in our society
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 35
than Spanish and see themselves as â€œdifferentâ€ from the mainstream. In addition,
studentsâ€™ comments highlight the intersectionality of race, class, and language.
Passing is thus revealed to be more than an attempt to appear fluent in English; it is
an attempt to be accepted as a full member of a society.
Even within this highly Latino immigrant community, children had few roles to
play that fostered a sense of pride in their language and culture. Roles that provided
them with a sense of power and achievement were those in which they successfully
utilized English, such as when they successfully translated. However, given that
Spanish in public venues was used only when necessary for comprehension, and often
not even then, Spanish was relegated to a second-class status used only in familial
contexts or for remedial purposes.
Studentsâ€™ comments on language issues, race and class, and belonging reveal a
sense of self produced through the multiple Voices (Bakhtin 1981) of parents, peers,
and official sources such as professionals in white-collar contexts and policy-based
practices in schools. These Voices tended to reflect both positive and negative discourses on Spanish maintenance, on bilingualism, and ultimately, on Latino ethnicity
and culture. If identity must, as Bakhtin (1981) posits, be evidenced through the eyes
of others, then clearly these multiple discourses are the sources from which children
produce identities. The development of Voice (Bakhtin 1981) among students is evidenced in process, with ventriloquation of their parentsâ€™ comments on language and
with greater critical awareness utilizing othersâ€™ words in ways that reflect their own
concerns, as with the student who questions why she only sees Latinos and blacks in
Passing is shown to be a way of â€œansweringâ€ (Bakhtin 1981) the discourses and
ideologies to which the world exposes students. In the figured world of English fluent
the roles range from English learners to native English speakers. Positional roles also
exist within figured worlds and are often the same ones that exist in the broader
society (Holland et al. 1998). Race, income level, and immigration status are often
related to language fluency and thus impact the relative power and status and resulting access to cultural forms within this figured world.
Positionality is an important aspect of the zone of proximal development or the
â€œspace of authoring.â€ In the context of schooling, for example, we can understand
how these childrenâ€™s development through mediation by a more competent other is
affected by a sense of fear of possible ridicule from peers, teachersâ€™ orders to use
English only, and the tremendous pressure that children must feel to learn English
quickly to be viewed in a more positive light. In addition, childrenâ€™s development in
both English language and literacy and academic content is highly dependent on
access to particular mediational tools, determined often by teachers, principals, and
educational policies, such as English-only and mandated reading programs that primarily affect nondominant-group students in urban schools. Learning a second
language for academic purposes takes approximately seven years (Cummins 1996).
However, this was not explained to children who were developing low academic
self-concepts. Parents also were unaware of the process of second language learning,
which sometimes resulted in unrealistic expectations. That Latino immigrant students
are made to develop deficit notions of self due to policies that ignore educational
theory has much to do with their social position in society.
An important point is that students did not passively accept the social positions
they were cast into as English learners. Instead, they were proactive and strategic in
36 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
their attempts to deal with their language issues by devising strategies that would
allow them to pass for a more valued social position, that of fluent in English. The
examples of passing and management strategies show students as quick-thinking,
resourceful problem solvers. Passing, then, can be understood as an agentic strategy
for mediating the ways in which they were viewed by others and how they viewed
themselves. Passing strategies reveal a certain expertise with the cultural tools
utilized, including the use of speech, gestures, facial expressions, looking busy, and
Passing can be seen as a form of both individual and collective resistance. It may
appear that passing only serves to eventually reproduce inequalities by keeping
Latino youth from receiving the English and academic benefits they need. Indeed,
none of the strategies observed seemed academically advantageous, and some were
socially and academically stigmatizing (disrupting reading-aloud activities) and may
have led to differential outcomes such as negative teacher evaluations. A serious
concern is that engaging in passing and management may diminish studentsâ€™ ability
to keep up with the academic content (Goffman 1959). This concern is consistent with
recent work on cognitive load theory (Paas et al. 2003) that argues that having to
allocate cognitive resources to the task of appearing competent adds a source of
extraneous cognitive load that does not directly contribute to learning and which
could be expected to lead to negative achievement outcomes over time.
However, preserving a sense of personal dignity by avoiding ridicule and a sense
of shame may be very important to a studentâ€™s socioemotional development and may
support school persistence. It may be that by figuring the world of English fluency
and taking on the roles of English fluent by passing, children are learning about
identities associated with English fluency and perhaps developing hoped-for
â€œpossible selvesâ€ (Osyerman et al. 2006). Possible selves refer to an individualâ€™s selfrelevant expectations for the future. These possible selves include what a person
hopes to become, expects to become, and fears that he or she might become. Hopedfor possible selves provide the individual with futures to dream or fantasize about.
When positive possible selves are viewed as attainable and when specific scripts,
plans, and behavioral control strategies are attached to them, they become expected
selves and have the potential to organize and energize oneâ€™s actions (Osyerman et al.
From this perspective, passing may not necessarily be the self-defeating act that
some resistance efforts are depicted as. It may be that passing allows students to
maintain a sense of dignity while silently waiting for their English skills to strengthen.
This is especially true if children perhaps are simultaneously utilizing other, more
invisible, means by which to make sense of instructions and curriculum. Research on
this is particularly warranted.
This work has important theoretical, policy, and teaching implications. Theoretically, this work focuses our attention to a possible reorienting of resistance research,
which is often couched in terms of constructing resistance strategies and their obvious
consequences. However, research on resistance should also address long-term consequences and whether resistance efforts that seem to reproduce inequalities are
accompanied by compensating activities. In addition, this work suggests that research
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 37
on language cannot be isolated from the broader construct of race, class, and possibly
other social categories that differentially allocate power in our society.
This work also points to the need to reconsider current English-only policies. Not
only are they unsound for both English and academic development, but they reinforce power differences in our society and relegate non-English speakers to secondclass citizens. In doing so, they promote among English learners the production of
identities embedded with deficiency perspectives and inaccurate academic selfconcepts. We have considered some positive results to passing strategies. They are,
nonetheless, a response to social discourses and discrimination practices toward
Latinos in the United States. Policies that reinforce cultural deficiency perspectives
must be reversed.
Teachers and other school personnel, although held to specific education policies
including English only, must find ways to create pride in cultural and linguistic
differences. Curriculum in our society needs to include theoretical and practical
understandings of diversity and marginalization beginning at the elementary grades.
Clearly these children are aware of power issues in our society. Ignoring these in our
curriculum and presenting a unified, romanticized view of society is a way of maintaining the status quo. A clear understanding among English learners of the process
of language development is also needed. Teachers need to be aware of and be able to
recognize passing strategies among their students. Furthermore, instruction must
consider avenues for children to seek assistance in less obvious ways. For example,
partnering students with different English-fluency levels and allowing them to
discuss instruction and content in both languages can support studentsâ€™ language
needs. In addition, a more personal relationship between students and teachers is
required so that students will feel comfortable in sharing their language needs.
Lilia D. MonzÃ³ is assistant professor of education in the College of Educational Studies at
Chapman University. She completed her doctoral program at the University of Southern
California. She studies the cultural productions of Latino immigrant children and families and
the educational and schooling contexts in which they engage ([email protected]).
Robert Rueda is a professor in the area of psychology in education at the Rossier School of
Education at the University of Southern California. He completed his doctoral work at the
University of California, Los Angeles, in educational psychology and completed a postdoctoral
fellowship at the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at the University of California,
San Diego. His research has centered on the sociocultural basis of motivation, learning, and
instruction, with a focus on reading and literacy in English learners; students in at-risk conditions; and teaches courses in learning and motivation ([email protected]).
Acknowledgments. We are thankful for funding through dissertation grants awarded to Lilia
D. MonzÃ³ from AERA/OERI and from the Social Science Research Council through funds from
the Mellon Foundation. We thank the teachers and parents who gave entry and facilitated this
work and the children on whom this work is based.
1. The authors are identified in text the first time by full names and subsequently by first
names only. Although this strays from convention, the authors felt this was important to honor
the relationships that were built with participants through the mutual sharing of sociocultural
experience as ethnic and linguistic minorities in the U.S. It is the authorsâ€™ hope that to some
extent this approach minimizes the unequal power relations in text between researchers and
38 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
Bakhtin, Michael M.
1981 The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.
2007 One Drop: My Fatherâ€™s Hidden Lifeâ€”A Story of Race and Family Secrets. New York:
Crenshaw, Kimberly, Neil Gotanda, Garry Peller, and Kendall Thomas, eds.
1996 Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement. New York: New
1996 Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society. Ontario, CA:
California Association for Bilingual Education.
1996 Ethnolinguistic Vitality, Prejudice, and Family Language Transmission. Bilingual
Research Journal 20(2):177â€“207.
Fillmore, Lily Wong
2000 Loss of Family Languages: Should Educators Be Concerned? Theory into Practice
Flippo, Rona F.
1999 What the Experts Say: Helping Children Learn to Read. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fordham, Signithia, and John Ogbu
1986 Black Studentsâ€™ School Success: Coping with the Burden of â€œActing White.â€ Urban
1959 The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books.
GutiÃ©rrez, Kris D., and Nathalia E. Jaramillo
2006 Looking for Educational Equity: The Consequences of Relying on Brown. Yearbook of
the National Society for the Study of Education 105(2):173â€“189.
Haizlip, Shirlee Taylor
1995 Passing. American Heritage 46(1). Electronic document, http://
August 16, 2008.
Holland, Dorothy, William Lachicotte Jr., Debra Skinner, and Carole Cain
1998 Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kelley, Robin D. G.
1993 Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South. Journal of American History
2003 Passing: When People Canâ€™t Be Who They Are. New York: Public Affairs.
MonzÃ³, Lilia D.
2005 Latino Parentsâ€™ â€œChoiceâ€ for Bilingual Education in an Urban California School: Language Politics in the Aftermath of Proposition 227. Bilingual Research Journal 29(2):287â€“
1997 Made in America. Immigrant Students in Our Public Schools. New York: New Press.
Orellana, Margorie Faulstich
2001 The Work Kids Do: Mexican and Central American Immigrant Childrenâ€™s Contributions to Households and Schools in California. Harvard Educational Review 71(3):366â€“
Osyerman, Daphna, Deborah Bybee, and Kathy Terry
2006 Possible Selves and Academic Outcomes: How and When Possible Selves Impel Action.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 91(1):188â€“204.
Paas, Fred, Alexander Renkl, and John Sweller, eds.
2003 Cognitive Load Theory. Special issue, Educational Psychologist 38(1).
1982 Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. Boston: David R. Godine.
MonzÃ³ and Rueda Passing for English Fluent 39
Rymes, Betsy, and Diana Pash
2001 Questioning Identity: The Case of One Second Language Learner. Anthropology and
Education Quarterly 32(3):276â€“300.
Scott, James C.
1990 Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven, CT: Yale
SolÃ³rzano, Daniel G.
1998 Critical Race Theory, Racial and Gender Microagressions and the Experiences of
Chicana and Chicano Scholars. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education
Urrieta, Luis, Jr.
2005 â€œPlaying the Gameâ€ versus â€œSelling Outâ€: Chicanasâ€™ and Chicanosâ€™ Relationship to
Whitestream Schools. In Performance Theories in Education: Power, Pedagogy, and the
Politics of Identity. Bryant K. Alexander, Gary L. Anderson, and Bernardo P. Gallegos,
eds. Pp. 173â€“196. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Valdes, Francisco, ed.
1998 LatCrit: Latinas/os and the Law. Special issue, La Raza Law Journal 10.
1996 Con Respeto: Bridging the Distance between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools.
New York: Teachers College Press.
2001 Latina Mothers and Small-Town Racisms: Creating Narratives of Dignity and Moral
Education in North Carolina. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 32(1):3â€“28.
Vygotsky, Lev S.
1978 Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Michael Cole,
Vera John-Steiner, Sylvia Scribner, and Ellen Souberman, eds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
1987 L. S. Vygotsky, Collected Works, vol. 1. R. Rieber and A. Carton, eds. N. Minick,
trans. New York: Plenum.
Wertsch, James V.
1991 Voices of the Mind: A Sociocultural Approach to Mediated Action. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Yosso, Tara J., Laurence Parker, Danel G. SolÃ³rzano, and Marvin Lynn
2004 From Jim Crow to Affirmative Action and Back Again: A Critical Race Discussion of
Racialized Rationales and Access to Higher Education. Review of Research in Education
40 Anthropology & Education Quarterly Volume 40, 2009
Passing for English Fluent: Latino Immigrant Children