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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter Mouton June 2, 2022

Framing bilingualism within the context of a transnational border: place-based and place-conscious enactments for two kinds of bilingual youth in Laredo, Texas

Christian Faltis ORCID logo
From the journal Educational Linguistics

Abstract

In this paper, the bilingualism of local communities and the way that a group of high school teachers discuss and understand bilingualism and biliteracy of two kinds of bilingual youth are examined from a place-based, place-conscious perspective. The high school teachers want to create a new dual language program for local students from Laredo and students from across the Rio Grande River, Nuevo Laredo. The paper shows how the teachers’ language orientations and ideologies inform the ways they view the language capabilities differently for each group of students, favoring academic Spanish and lamenting the language deficits of local Laredo bilingual youth. The paper ends with a recommendation for ways to trouble language orientations and ideologies with an eye toward gaining a deeper, more place-conscious understanding of youth bilingualism and how schools and teachers bear responsible for improving conditions for expanding bilingualism of local youth.

1 Introduction

In this paper, I invite readers to imagine the bilingual schooling experiences of transnational youth who live and attend schools in a city situated in an enduringly poly-colonized region on the U.S. side of the border between Mexico and the U.S. Most students (98%) who grow up and attend school in this city are Mexican Americans, and they are what Valdés (2005) calls circumstantial bilinguals, or quotidian translanguagers, dynamic users of Spanish and English (García 2017) throughout their formative years of education for interaction with family members, friends, and an assortment of local community members, such as physicians, cashiers, waiters, lawyers, and teachers, among others. The term circumstantial, however, is a bit misleading since both elementary and secondary schools in this city, as we will learn more about below, promote English-only.

The transnational border place I am referring to is Laredo, Texas, a city of 259,000 residents, located in South Texas, directly across from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, México, with a population of 453,000. In Nuevo Laredo, while there is plenty of evidence of neoliberal globalization, such as a Walmart store, Home Depot, U.S. based supermarkets, and fast-food eateries (comida chatarra), everyone communicates entirely en español. Most bilinguals living in Nuevo Laredo are predominately what I refer to as monoglossic bilinguals, children and youth who study English as a foreign language as a subject in schools as part of México’s emphasis on introducing English beginning in primary school. While other languages (French and Mandarin) and some indigenous languages such as Náhuatl, Zápotec, and Mayan are offered in a few colleges and universities, English is the most popular new language to study. In fact, English as a new language is offered for study in nearly half of Mexican public colleges and universities (Borjian 2015). There are some elite monoglossic bilinguals, upper middle-class Nuevo Laredoese Mexican family members who use their learned spoken and written English in the domains of work, international government, and higher education (Valdés 2005). These are the families with the financial means to enroll their children in highly rated public schools or private English-only schools in the U.S.

The city of Laredo is situated in what Garza et al. (2021) refer to as the Río Grande Valley, a bioregion of South Texas from Laredo to Brownsville and on the Mexican side, from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas to Matamoros, Tamaulipas. The Río Grande Valley[1] was first militarily colonized in the mid-1700 by Spanish forces led by José de Escandón, and after, in the 1800s, white Texas rancher-colonizers claimed the area between Laredo and Brownsville as U.S. property, initiating it as a transnational homeland for Mexicanos and Mexican Americans alike. In 1836, Texas, after a violent encounter between Mexicans and Texans (most of these were white settler colonizers), Texas became an independent U.S. territory, and eventually became a state in 1845. However, relations between Texas and Mexico remained hostile over the boundaries of Texas and Mexico, and the U.S. declared war with Mexico, in 1846, eventually taking more than half of the Mexico’s northern territories in 1848, according to the Treaty de Guadalupe Hidalgo.

In this article, I propose that the translanguaging practices of bilingual children and youth who grow up in Laredo need to be understood in the context of place-based and place-conscious enactments of languaging on a transnational border. Translanguaging among Laredo youth is disparaged by the teachers as being macaronic, lacking in cognition, harmful to learning, and thus, not worth attention in schools. In contrast, the teachers view the potential bilingualism of youth who come from Nuevo Laredo, México to Laredo to enroll in Laredo schools, especially at the secondary level, as helpful for learning English, owing to their strong development of “academic Spanish”. The argument I make relies on an analysis of a video-taped conversation among five high school teachers who teach in a South Laredo high school. In their conversations about curriculum, the five teachers also discuss their experiences with local bilingual students and students from Nuevo Laredo who enter their school as Spanish-only users with the goal of adding English to their language repertoires.

I put forth the idea that bilingualism is place-based and place-conscious for children and youth who attend school on a transnational border, informed by language orientations and ideologies that are implemented in ways that privilege distinct values and understandings about bilingualism between the two student groups and the support systems believed to be needed for each group. In the discussion section at the end of this article, I problematize the social, political, and educational complexities of border bilingualism within the context of hegemonic language ideologies and language as a problem/resource orientations that favor separate named languages for one group and disparage the dynamic bilingualism for the other.

1.1 Positionality

I live and work in Laredo as a professor of bilingual teacher education and have been involved in studying bilingualism and bilingual education for 40 years. I was born in a small town in Northern California and at the age of 2 my mother suffered a long-term medical condition and had to be placed in an institution. My father, a Spanish teacher at the local high school was left with 3 young children. When I was 5 years old, my father sent my brother and me to a school in Morelia, México for the summer, were I added Spanish to my vibrant speaking repertoire. At age 7, he sent us to Mexico City to study and live at a school for a year, and then again at age 10–11 to Hermosillo, Sonora. By age 12, I was more fluent in Spanish than I was in English, and upon returning to the U.S., I entered school and was put into lower-level classes. I studied Spanish and La Raza Studies for my undergraduate degree. I taught Spanish and ESL for a couple of years, before enrolling in a graduate program in Chicano Studies, as the sole white person in the program. While in that program, I began to deeply question my bilingual life and the ways I used Spanish and English with my friends and compadres Chicanos en San José, California. After graduation, I moved to Medellín, Colombia for a year of teaching, while I continued to study bilingualism and to expand my knowledge and practices of Spanish and English. Upon returning to the U.S., I enrolled in doctoral program in California that specialized in bilingual education. Being bilingual and biliterate is a gift to me and supporting bilingualism as a place-based and place-consciousness enactment while at the same time, challenging colonial hegemony and monoglossic language ideologies has been and continues to be my raison d’etre.

1.2 Place-based- and place-conscious pedagogies

Place-based theories of learning consider the noticeably distinct ecological, structural, and locally developed resources deeply ingrained places that are understood and learned by communities living in that place (McClay 2014). Place-based pedagogies (Sobel 2004), are ways of teaching and learning in environments with specific contexts, owning to an understanding of the people who live in those environments, their colonial histories and complexities, their local ways of being, doing, and acting, and how these are considered as problems or resources. Respectively, it is important to assure that place-based pedagogies are culturally relevant and sustaining to connect the curriculum to the teaching practices in multiple ways so that the practices challenge the ideas and understanding concerning human exceptionalism, the human-non-human divide, settler colonialism, and anti-blackness/anti-brownness (Nxumalo and Cedillo 2017). In this manner, new teachers will be prepared to locate their places within the social, historical, linguistic, and cultural geography of the local communities in which they plan to teach (Vernikoff et al. 2019).

Place-conscious pedagogies, in contrast, position teacher educators to teach pre-service teachers about how the world systems of oppression work and ways to challenge them. Teacher educators also prepare pre-service teacher to understand how their lives fit into the space they will eventually take up in schools and communities (Gruenwald 2003), especially how they can shape the places where they live and teach (Greenwood 2013) in ways that counter oppressive systems. In Laredo, from a critical perspective, place-conscious pedagogies (Darron and Sharon 2019) require what Powell and Carrillo (2019) refer to as a “borderlands identity” drawing on place-consciousness related to historic and systemic conditions of violence around language use that comes with learning to navigating Eurocentric colonialism and English-only hegemony (Borden 2014; Przymus and Huddleston 2021). A borderlands identity, that is, to think, speak, and be on the borderlands, also reflects strategies and perspectives that have emerged as useful for rejecting colonial forces of oppression in modern-day society (Garza et al. 2021), including the ways local bilingual practices are positioned and valued/devalued as a monoglossic or heteroglossic practice. According to Elenes (2006), the main goal of thinking, speaking, and doing from a borderlands perspective is to confront and challenge ideologies and change practices that reproduce racism, sexism, y other forms of oppression to move toward social justice. In other words, borderlands thinking rejects the colonial forces of oppression, especially those that intend to reinforce the hegemony of monolingualism and English as the only language in students can learn important ideas and demonstrate their knowledge (Achugar 2008). Critical place-conscious pedagogy begins with the language and cultural practices that favor English language and Western curricular hegemonies in order to replace these practices with ways of knowing that are specifically located within the communities affected by these hegemonies. The primary goal of place-based y place-conscious language pedagogy is to prepare teachers so that they have the knowledge and practices needed to push back against predetermined monoglossic boundaries of language that have been put into place in schools and society to marginalize the local heteroglossic bilingual languaging practices of teachers, children, youth, and families living and learning on the borderlands (Achugar and Pessoa 2009; de los Ríos and Seltzer 2017).

1.3 Place-based and place-conscious pedagogy in and for Laredo

Turning now to how place-based and place-conscious pedagogy plays out in Laredo, I present five teachers who teach both bilingual youth from Laredo and Spanish speaking youth from Nuevo Laredo who enroll in their high school, which I call Blue Saguaro High School (a pseudonym). Using the conversations about the how the teachers plan to organize the curriculum for Laredoense bilingual students compared to students from Nuevo Laredo, I intend to show through a discourse analysis how the teachers talk about and describe the language needs of the two student groups according to their language ideologies and then, what kinds of classes bilingual students from Laredo Nuevo Laredo should take compared to classes student from Nuevo Laredo should take. The analyzed conversations involved 3 teachers from the Spanish Department, one from the English as a Second Language Program, and one from the Bilingual Program at Blue Saguaro High School. All teachers have multiple years of experience teaching high school in Laredo. The three Spanish teachers were born and schooled in Nuevo Laredo y now live and teach in Laredo. The ESL and bilingual teachers were born Laredo and are very familiar with Nuevo Laredo. All have visited other parts of Mexico, especially northern Mexico. Four of the teachers interacted dynamically using Spanish and English concurrently during their conversations, in ways that commonly heard in Laredo. One of the Spanish teachers spoke only Spanish throughout the discussion, and it appears that she resisted any translanguaging, moving between languages in ways that the other teachers did throughout their conversations.

2 Research questions

The goal of teacher meeting was to plan for a dual language program for the high school, one that involved local Laredo bilingual students and students from Nuevo Laredo. The conversation among the teachers was video-recorded and lasted 54 min. Of particular interest were the following two key research questions:

  1. What orientations toward bilingualism do the teachers have for the two groups of students who attend school on the border?

  2. How do the teachers discuss the language capabilities of the two groups of students?

The conversations followed an agenda about an improvement plan to better serve the “non-LEP” English dominant bilingual students from Laredo and the “English Learners” from Nuevo Laredo. It was proposed that the non-LEP students from Laredo should enroll in Spanish courses for “non-Spanish-speakers,” with the goal of meeting the state Foreign Language requirement for graduation. The non-Spanish-speakers referred to here were bilingual students who had grown up and attended school in English. In reality, they were dynamic bilingual Spanish-speakers who translanguage for communication and meaning-making throughout their daily lives and were forced to learn English language practices used and promoted in school contexts.

In contrast, students from Nuevo Laredo would enroll in Español 3 y 4, with the goal of eventually having them take AP Spanish Language and AP Spanish Literature, which, according to the rationale presented by the lead teacher, would facilitate language transfer from Spanish to English. The lead teacher offered a research citation that he believed supported the claim that “the use of the mother tongue in classroom increases comprehension and facilitates the second language acquisition process” (Salmona Madriñan 2014, p. 50). The lead teacher explained to the group that the research study showed that having a strong first language accelerates learning the new language, English. Accordingly, if the students from Nuevo Laredo were enrolled in high level Spanish courses, this would help them learn English within the relatively short time of 4 years.

Nota bene: The study referred by the lead teacher was conducted in an elite Colombian international school with an English immersion program, and specifically within a kindergarten class. The lead teacher also mentioned to the group that “todo el mundo sabe que se necesita entre 5 a 7 años para adquirir una segunda lengua” [everyone know that it takes 5–7 years to acquire a second language] and for this reason, “es sumamente importante que los estudiantes tengan un domino bien alto del español académico porque esto les ayudará aprender el inglés major y más rápido” [It is very important that the students attain a high level of academic Spanish because this will help them learn English better and more quickly]. There was no mention of how what the research cited could be of any benefit to local children who enter school speaking Spanish to become bilingual and biliterate or how it related to high school aged students.

2.1 Methodology

In this study, I looked for messages about language embedded in the video-recorded discussions around the goal of implementing a dual language program at Saguaro High School. I used a form of Gee’s Cultural Model discourse analysis (2004) to look for confirming and disconfirming evidence about the ways teachers held orientations toward bilingualism and how they express language ideologies through their views on the language abilities of the youth from the two Laredos. Viewing the video-recorded meeting multiple times, I coded each comment about or reference to language abilities or proficiency for each group of students. Next, I made linkages of these codes to language ideologies and then reviewed and checked them. Based on the linkages, I then made assertions to answer the two research questions.

The theoretical framework used to understand the teachers’ orientations and how they discussed the two groups of students’ language abilities relied on Ruiz (1984) who proposed language orientations as a resource, a right, and a problem in place-based contexts. According to Ruiz, language orientations “delimit the ways we talk about language and language issues, they determine the basic questions we ask, the conclusions we draw from the data, and even the data themselves” (Ruiz 1984, p. 16). Accordingly, in Laredo, viewing language as a problem means that monolingualism is valued and being bilingualism in ways that mix the two languages is problematic. This orientation is reflected in the ways that the teacher talked about minority and majority languages. Bilingualism as a problem means that teachers perceive local bilingual students as having low ability in spoken and written with the potential to link their bilingualism and lack of biliteracy to social problems (poverty, crime, and low academic achievement) and communicative disabilities. When language is viewed as a resource, monolingual bilingualism positions people who have learned their two languages in separate academic contexts with exceptional abilities to benefit society, and bilingualism and biliteracy are believed to contribute strongly to academic achievement and advancement. When language is viewed as a right, there are concerns that language inequality, such as not teaching the minoritized language, or viewing language minoritized language as deficient, leads to social inequality, because how children and youth learn and use language mediates access to social mobility (Hult and Hornberger 2016). In this study, the focus is on language as a problem and language as a resource as discussed among the teachers who sought to develop programs for students from the two Laredos.

A second theoretical framework that helped me with the analysis to understand the orientations toward language and the language abilities of the bilingual students was translanguaging (García and Wei 2014). A translanguaging orientation toward language use rejects dominant monoglossic views of bilingualism, i.e., two separate monolingual languages in one person (Flores and Schissel 2014), and instead frames bilingualism as dynamic and fluid, such that a bilingual individual’s languaging practices are always “manifestations of acts of deployment and suppression of linguistic features (words, sounds, rules) that society assigns to one or another language,” (Ortheguy et al. 2015 in García 2017). In contrast, a monoglossic approach to bilingualism assigns language features of one named language or the other named language as separate systems. A monoglossic understanding of bilingualism often entails sequential learning of one named language at home and another in school with the new language taught and used as a separate named language, if students have acquired a “strong, academic” school language (Cummins 1979).

Translanguaging, dynamic shifts between languages, represents the local practices of bilingual children and youth who have been forces by schools to learn and communicate exclusively in English and who have developed ways of languaging bilingually with named languages that are not accepted by teachers as appropriate for learning in school (Caldas and Faltis 2017). Importantly, translanguaging is place-based and place-conscious, in the sense that children and youth who translanguage with other bilinguals do so within social contexts that foster translanguaging. However, it can be said that bilingualism, defined as two separate languages is also ideologically place-based and place-conscious within dominant languaging spheres, such as within schools and work, especially when users and proponents draw on and adhere to dominant monoglossic language ideologies.

In summary, the goal of this analysis is to unpack messages embedded in the ways teachers discuss the language practices of the Laredoenses and Nuevo Laredoenses with respect to their language needs and abilities. The messages or orientations communicated by the five teachers, both implicit and explicit, about the two groups of bilingual students were taken to be examples of language ideologies – values, attitudes, and beliefs – about language and language use (Woolard 2020). Of particular importance, with respect to research question two, were teachers’ expressions about goodness, correctness, academic uses, and how students from the two groups do and should speak and write in Spanish and English.

3 Findings

There are several key findings that help answer the research questions posed for this place-based, place-conscious examination of how 5 Blue Saguaro high school teachers hold language orientations and language ideologies about the language capabilities of the two groups of high school students they are planning to serve as they plan a dual language program for them. Let’s look at the first research question: What orientations toward bilingualism do the teachers have for the two groups of students who attend school on the border?

For this question, I looked for instances during the conversations when teacher talked about language as a problem or language as a resource. In general, the message communicated by the teachers was that for the students from Nuevo Laredo, language, in this case, Spanish, was considered a resource for developing monoglossic bilingualism and biliteracy. According to the teachers, these students came to Blue Saguaro High School with an accumulation of spoken and written Spanish that with some additional support in upper-level Spanish classes would make learning English a less onerous task than if they had entered school with minimal Spanish literacy and content area knowledge. In other words, their Spanish language abilities act as a resource for learning English, because their Spanish was “academically strong.”

In a connected fashion, Nuevo Laredoan students were talked about as being “additive bilinguals” (Lambert 1974). In other words, these students were adding a language that has economic and social power. Additive bilingualism supports a monoglossic perspective of bilingualism (Flores and Schissel 2014), with the assumption that monolingualism is the norm and that bilingualism equals double monolingualism in two distinct named languages. In this case, the teachers mentioned at least three times in their conversations that the students from Nuevo Laredo would be adding English to their already strong Spanish, which gives them an advantage for learning English quickly. “They are cognitive in Spanish” said the ESL teacher, and “we want to grow their thinking.” The Nuevo Laredonese students were able to read and write Spanish well, and they had studied the content areas up to high school in Spanish. All they needed now, according to the teachers, was to expand their cognitive academic language, echoing Cummin’s (1979) specious argument that cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) in a particular language supports the transfer of knowledge and facilitates language learning (Flores 2020).

When the discussion turned to the language capabilities of non-LEP students at Blue Saguaro High, similar to what Achugar and Pessoa (2009) found, the teachers portrayed them as not supporting Spanish, “no se valoran el español” [they don’t value Spanish] and “they have lots of BICS” and they “suffer in the Spanish 1 and 2 classes.” “La comprehension (en español escrito) no está” [They don’t comprehend written Spanish]. Another teacher lamented that their Spanish has deteriorated over time. “Su español es diferente, no es lo correcto, no es el español que queremos” [Their Spanish is different, it isn’t correct, it isn’t the Spanish we want], said the Spanish teacher who preferred only to speak with the group in Spanish. “Their writing es muy debil, y es necesario subir su nivel de lengua académica [Their writing is very weak, and we need to raise the level of their academic language].” Again, a reference to Cummin’s (1979) bogus claim (MacSwan 2000) that weak bilinguals only can communicate with basic interpersonal communication skills and therefore, are unable to draw on cognitive understanding of complex texts and communication. This finding is similar to what Henderson (2019) discovered in elementary dual language programs in Texas and Utah: Since they don’t speak academic language, therefore they are not welcome in dual language programs (p. 168). The high school teachers tapped into a standard language ideology of purism and perfection.

Regarding the first research question, the allusion to BICS and to these non-LEP students not valuing Spanish is telling. The orientation to language and bilingualism here is that their un-academic languaging practices are a problem that the children themselves are responsible for creating. The message about their Spanish is: We don’t want the Spanish you bring to school because this kind of Spanish is unacceptable for communication, for learning, and for building cognitive abilities. In other words, their bilingualism is not a learning resource, nor is it a resource for expanding their expressive abilities because, according to the teachers, their bilingualism was not developed monolingually. It is imperative to state here that the teachers understood the dynamic bilingualism of Laredoen students as being inherently limited and deficient. From the teachers’ ideological stance, dynamic bilingual children and youth lack linguistic purism and are so imperfect in their languaging abilities that they should not be enrolled a dual language program.

However, it is possible to understand the dynamic bilingualism of Laredo students from a heteroglossic perspective, which means that children and youth from Laredo learn to translanguage within and across language when interacting with other bilinguals who have also been denied the opportunity to expand their bilingual languaging practices in monoglossic-oriented, English medium schools. The teachers in this study, it was learned, consider translanguaging across Spanish and English as deficient languaging and thus, not useful in schools or in dual language programs. The teachers conceive of translanguaging as a problem that the students themselves created because “they don’t value Spanish.” This sort of blame the victim reflects the positions of scholars and educators who accept the very old idea that true bilingualism is native-like proficiency in two separate languages (Bloomfield 1933), something that is only possible if a person has had the same opportunities to use their two language for academic learning in contexts in which the ideas, the concepts, and practices are learned through one named language at a time and developed by those who have power over them. In this case, I mean Spanish and English, curricularized (Valdés 2018) and taught in schools and dual language programs as distinct languages, as pure and perfect languages, in ways that reflect what the colonizers of Mexico and the U. S. demanded of schools (see Henderson 2019 for similar conclusions with elementary dual language teachers).

4 Discussion

Bilingualism on this poly-colonized border region is complex, and in my view, disheartening because while bilingualism is commonplace throughout Laredo, and much less so in Nuevo Laredo, students who come up through Laredo public schools are taught early on to “stop speaking Spanish” as several of my university students have mentioned when I ask them to talk about their early schooling experiences, The university where I teach has the highest percentage of Mexican-origin students at any university in the United States. Most students in elementary and high schools in Laredo are emergent dynamic bilingual users of Spanish and English, who translanguage across Spanish and English when communicating among themselves and with others outside of their family and friends. And yet, when they enter high school in Laredo, they are positioned as having a kind of bilingualism that is devalued, underappreciated, and full of “errors.” While the teachers in the video presentations did not say that the Spanish of bilinguals in Laredo is considered to be “mocho,” meaning mumbled or garbled Spanish, my own undergraduate students, most of whom attended Laredo secondary schools, have talked with me about how their Spanish was ridiculed by teachers as being pocho and mocho Spanish (see Showstack 2015, and Achugar and Pessoa 2009 for similar findings on the borderlands). They expressed to me that they believe they don’t speak academic or perfect Spanish, mirroring the comments the five teachers made about Laredo bilingual youth. The teachers’ comments, coupled with my own experiences with undergraduate bilingual students represent a place-based orientation of language as a problem for students who grow up and attend Laredo schools, based on perfect and pure language ideologies (Faltis 2022). Their translanguaging practices are not understood by their teachers or the schools as evidence of sophisticated emergent bilingualism, and no support is provided for students to expand their languaging and literacy practices in Spanish and English throughout their schooling. As a matter of fact, bilingual students in Laredo can only take Spanish as a Foreign Language in middle and high school. Accordingly, the high school dual language teachers who held place-based and place-conscious deficit views of bilingualism did not promote the bilingualism of students from Laredo as ways of meaning-making and expressions of communicative needs, the primary goal and function of all language users (Mortimer and Dolsa 2020). Instead, they appeared to rely on linear-hierarchical-colonial ideologies of monoglossic bilingualism, which makes it almost impossible to empathize with dynamic bilingual students from Laredo. As a result, the teachers also cannot visualize or contemplate a dual language program created for students who are dynamic, emergent bilinguals. As the teachers remarked throughout their conversations, the dual program was only well-suited for students who already had developed their home language through schooling (see Mortimer and Dolsa 2020 for a study in a similar border city context where students comment on how they see themselves as dynamic bilinguals and emergent language users). To summarize, in terms of language orientations and language ideologies, the table below lays out how the teachers viewed the languaging practices of the two groups of students and what programs would be best for them:

Language as a resource Monoglossic English added to developed Spanish, produces true bilingual students who learn pure Spanish and English. Dual language program will serve these students well.
Language as a problem Dynamic translanguaging develops because of mixing Spanish with English and is thus, not real bilingualism; it is imperfect. These students need to learn academic Spanish.

4.1 Can place-based orientations toward language be changed?

This being the case begs the following question: Is it possible to change the place-based and place-conscious language ideologies and language orientations of these and other teachers who hold similar views and positions about bilingualism in Laredo and similar borderland places? Laredo has gone from being the home of the first ever bilingual education program in Texas upon the passage of the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 (Fishman and Lovas 1970) to currently having only 5 transitional bilingual programs in elementary schools throughout the city, all with a focus on “stop speaking Spanish”. There is only one elementary school 50/50 dual language program in Laredo. Accordingly, while it is important work that these five teachers are doing to plan a dual language program for their high school, there is a general lack of understanding of translanguaging and translanguaging pedagogy (García et al. 2017) across Laredo schools. The teachers, especially the Spanish teachers, need to expand their readings and understanding of bilingualism, biliteracy, and bilingual pedagogy through professional development. There are a plethora of readings and virtual workshops, and YouTube videos that could expand their understandings of dynamic bilingualism and translanguaging as everyday practices by children and youth in Laredo that could be made culturally and linguistical relevant and sustaining within their dual language program (see Valdés 2005, 2015, 2017). The teachers will also need to address their standard, pure, perfect, and eugenics-based language place-based ideologies in terms of how these exclude students and perpetuate negative deficit images of dynamic bilingualism (Faltis 2022) used to communicate throughout Laredo.

Cervantes-Soon and Carrillo (2016), in their framework of border pedagogy, suggest three key practices for bilingual and dual language teachers who have bought into separate, monoglossic bilingualism and that rely on pure and perfect language ideologies: straddling, translanguaging, and testimonio. Straddling involves the process of implementing strategic moves around, between, across, and through places where values often contradict and undermine each other so that teachers learn about ways to escape and even manipulate oppressive power structures such as monoglossic bilingualism and pure, perfect language ideologies (Cervantes-Soon and Carrillo 2016). Straddling, a form of place-based and place-conscious pedagogy, can help teachers name inequities and understand how they become conscious about place-based languaging practices and language ideologies they hold about Laredo and Nuevo Laredo students to then understand who they are as teachers of these students, and what impact their beliefs have on how they view and teach students, and how they beliefs exclude certain students. As we know, translanguaging centers and draws from the cultural wealth of local languaging practices and once teachers understand this, they can begin to transform power and decolonize social and educational spaces that are inhabited by monoglossic, pure and perfect, eugenics-based language ideologies. It is important that teachers recognize that the language orientations and ideologies they hold about language can impact how their own students understand bilingual languaging practices. When teachers learn about translanguaging through place-based and place-conscious testimonios of the histories and practices of bilingualism in the community, they can question the idea of bounded, named languages and learn to see dynamic bilingualism as a strength and learning strategy for children (García and Wei 2014). Students in Laredo act on their dynamic bilingualism, and teachers and students need to learn to leverage translanguaging to showcase the extraordinary learning that can occur when both teachers and students believe and creatively use Spanish and English together rather than separately (Palmer et al. 2014). Teachers need to straddle their worlds to better understand the place-based colonial legacies of standard, perfect, and pure ideologies that give value to certain language users while marginalizing others. By becoming place-based and place-conscious about local practices through testimonios (Guzmán and Salazar 2021; Saavedra 2011), teachers can reposition the bilingualism of their students as acts of creativity and a deep awareness of language.

This study shows the importance of using place-based and place-conscious understandings of bilingualism and bilingual education. For bilingual communities that reside in larger cities throughout the U.S., for example, Dallas, Texas or Phoenix, Arizona, a place-based, place-conscious approach to understanding both the local communities and the ways that schools attended by the children and youth from the communities position their languaging practices can open discussions about whose languages count and what are the reasons they count (Achugar and Pessoa 2009). Each local community and the schools the children of the community attend will have their own sets of practices, language ideologies, and orientations toward language. If schools truly want to “serve” their students, the teachers and students would do well to consider the place-based and place-conscious language orientations, ideologies, and practices that favor one group over others, and that position certain students as capable, while others are deemed incapable of learning (Espinoza et al. 2021).

Future studies on bilingualism and biliteracy, bilingual and dual language education should consider place-based and place-conscious pedagogies and the ideological frameworks that inform how schools relate to the children and youth who attend them. In this manner, it may be possible to enter serious discussions with schools about bilingualism and biliteracy and the potential for developing new ways of promoting strong, vibrant bilingualism among future generations of children and youth.


Corresponding author: Christian Faltis, Texas A&M International University, Laredo, USA, E-mail:

  1. Research funding: No research funding was provided for this study.

  2. Author contributions: I was the single author of this manuscript.

  3. Competing interests: There were no competing interests regarding this study or manuscript.

  4. Informed consent: Not applicable. No one or place in the video was identified.

  5. Ethical approval: Not applicable.

  6. Further statement: The data from this research was from a video discussion that was available publicly. No one or place in the video was identified. Pseudonyms were used.

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Received: 2022-02-11
Accepted: 2022-02-25
Published Online: 2022-06-02
Published in Print: 2022-06-27

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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