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Chicanas and Chicanos in School

Chicanas and Chicanos in School
Racial Profiling, Identity Battles, and Empowerment

A powerful account of how racial identity issues affect Chicana/o students’ school success.

Series: Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Endowment, Book Eleven

May 2005
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301 pages | 6 x 9 |

By any measure of test scores and graduation rates, public schools are failing to educate a large percentage of Chicana/o youth. But despite years of analysis of this failure, no consensus has been reached as to how to realistically address it. Taking a new approach to these issues, Marcos Pizarro goes directly to Chicana/o students in both urban and rural school districts to ask what their school experiences are really like, how teachers and administrators support or thwart their educational aspirations, and how schools could better serve their Chicana/o students.

In this accessible, from-the-trenches account of the Chicana/o school experience, Marcos Pizarro makes the case that racial identity formation is the crucial variable in Chicana/o students' success or failure in school. He draws on the insights of students in East Los Angeles and rural Washington State, as well as years of research and activism in public education, to demonstrate that Chicana/o students face the daunting challenge of forming a positive sense of racial identity within an educational system that unintentionally yet consistently holds them to low standards because of their race. From his analysis of this systemic problem, he develops a model for understanding the process of racialization and for empowering Chicana/o students to succeed in school that can be used by teachers, school administrators, parents, community members, and students themselves.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. Rethinking Research in Chicana/o Communities
  • Part 1. Insights from Los Angeles Chicana/o Youth
    • Chapter 1. Identity Formation in Los Angeles
    • Chapter 2. Identity and School Performance in Los Angeles
    • Chapter 3. Lessons from Los Angeles Students for School Success
  • Part 2. Insights from Acoma Chicana/o Youth
    • Chapter 4. Identity Formation in Acoma
    • Chapter 5. Identity and School Performance in Acoma
    • Chapter 6. Lessons from Acoma Students for School Success
  • Time-out: Ernesto Sanchez's Autobiographical Analysis of Identity and School in Acoma
  • Part 3. Understanding and Transforming the School Lives of Chicana/o Youth
    • Chapter 7. Racial Profiling, Identity, and School Achievement: Lessons from Power Conflicts in Diverse Contexts
    • Chapter 8. Chicana/o Student Educational Empowerment
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography

Marcos Pizarro is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Master's Program in Mexican American Studies at San José State University.


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Chicana/o students live much of their lives in great jeopardy. Of all the data that point out the severity of this situation, perhaps the most alarming is that as recently as 1998 more than one of every three Chicana/o and Latina/o youth were being raised in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau 1998). The limited opportunities that define a life of poverty translate into numerous negative outcomes that reveal the dangers of life as a young Chicana/o today: high rates of teen pregnancy, gang involvement, drug abuse, and incarceration. The cyclical nature of the inequality that has defined much of the Chicana/o experience over the past 150 years is perhaps best understood by considering the school outcomes of Chicana/o youth during this time. Chicanas/os face the highest dropout rates of any major ethnic group in the United States—as many as half of a given cohort of Chicana/o students does not complete high school—and their relative educational outcomes have been stable or have worsened over time (National Center for Education Statistics 1999, 2001). Correspondingly, Chicanas/os have faced little progress in the job market, particularly with regard to measures such as relative incomes and unemployment (Lopez, Ramirez, and Rochin 1999; National Center for Education Statistics 2001; Reddy 1995; U.S. Census Bureau 2000).

This stark reality comes as no surprise to most, for the media teaches the U.S. citizenry that these are expected outcomes for Chicanas/os. The average U.S. resident comes to learn early in life that a Chicana/o identity is associated with these low educational and life outcomes. The weight of the social forces behind these popular understandings is often so great that Chicanas/os themselves not only believe them but also shape their lives around these low expectations. Chicana/o identity is far more complex than this, however. In fact, many Chicanas/os are successful in school and in life and develop a sense of identity that challenges the commonly understood notions of what it means to be a Chicana/o in the United States today. This book attempts to explain the various Chicana/o identities that exist today and the forces and patterns that lead to their development. By understanding these trends, I argue, not only can we see some of the critical forces that lead to Chicana/o failure, but we can also learn strategies for addressing this failure from those who are successful.

Very little research has been done in this area. Although interest in the importance of identity in the Chicana/o experience is increasing, the complexity of identity has limited much of this work to quantitative studies, which, though informative, cannot delve deeply into the intricacies of students' experiences. The present book represents perhaps the only research being conducted to qualitatively understand Chicana/o identity in educational contexts, its evolution, and the ways in which interventions can be developed to assist at-risk Chicana/o youth. Still, as this chapter will reveal, a large body of work informs my research. This chapter explains the need for this book and also provides an explanation of how the research was conducted.

Labels and Definitions

I have made a conscious and careful decision to use the word "Chicana/o" to refer to the groups of young men and women of Mexican descent who participated in the projects described in this book. Labels have been a source of great debate both within the larger Latina/o community and among researchers who work with different groups of peoples of Latin American descent. Some researchers have selected the label they use to refer to participants, whereas others have tried to use the label with which participants are most comfortable. There is simply no way to choose a label that is accurate or acceptable to everyone. Beyond the multiple labels that are used not only within the community but even among individuals, multiple meanings are attached to each of these labels. Conversely, some individuals attach almost the same meaning to different labels.

Many of the students I worked with used the term "Chicana/o." Others were unclear of its meaning, and still others would not use this label for themselves. Some students had always used the Chicana/o label, others picked it up in college, and some were in the middle of a long process of adopting the term. I chose to use this term in this project because, regardless of the label chosen by individuals, as a whole the participants revealed that they are political subjects in their schools and communities. Most described contexts in which they were targets at racial, ethnic, class, gender, sexual orientation, or other levels. Even more powerful, together these students painted a portrait that all but demands a political response from their communities. The forces that bear on their lives are the same ones that led youth in the 1960s to adopt the "Chicano" label. "Chicana/o," therefore, is used in this text out of respect for the tremendous struggle that these students fight on a daily basis. Yet I also want the reader to understand that these Chicanas/os include "Mexicans," "Latinos," "Hispanics," and "Americans." This is all part of the Chicana/o experience.

At times, I make reference to the actual labels that individuals used. More often, I explain the unique characteristics of individuals that make them distinct from their peers. At a technical level, in this text "Chicana/o" refers to females and males of Mexican descent living in and socialized in the United States. Traditionally, researchers use this term only for those born in the United States, but the nuances involved in making this distinction are so complex that it is more useful to discuss them in the research itself rather than to simply eliminate Mexican-born students. Simply put, the distinctions between "Mexicanas/os" (traditionally meaning foreign born) and "Chicanas/os" (traditionally meaning U.S. born) are easily blurred. For example, some of the first-generation immigrants in this study came to the United States at such a young age that they have no memories of Mexico, and some Chicanas/os were born in the United States a short time after their families immigrated. Furthermore, the experiences of many of the Mexicanas/os reflect a marginalization whereby they become something that is neither American nor Mexican within a few short years. Adding a 1.5-generation subgroup (that is, students who moved to the United States during early childhood) does not add significant clarity. In fact, many of the first-generation participants themselves believe that they have been socialized as Chicanas/os, whereas other U.S.-born participants identify only as Mexicanas/os. Further complicating these classifications is that some students are first or second generation on one side of their family and third or fourth generation on the other. For these students, the degree to which they are connected to their culture is often influenced by the importance of their connection to different family members, their closeness to these family members, and the amount of influence these family members have over the larger family dynamic. Because of these complexities, I include all Mexican-descent participants in this analysis of Chicana/o students' experiences, regardless of their immigration status, for this reflects the reality of the Chicana/o experience today. What is far more important than ethnic labels, however, is the life experiences of the students. This book attempts to portray those experiences as vividly as possible. Regardless of the reader's feelings about different labels, understanding these experiences should be the motivation for reading this book.

Whenever "Chicana" is used in this book, it refers to females only, and "Chicano" is used to refer to males only. Gender dynamics are a significant component of the students' lives and of this book. I have worked to stay conscious of my limitations as a male in fully understanding these dynamics. I attempted to confront these limitations by constantly raising gender issues with the students and by relying on the insights of Chicana researchers and colleagues who helped with this project. These complexities are explored throughout the work, and my own limitations in this regard should be considered throughout the book.

Beyond these issues, clear definitions of the terms employed in the analyses are required. "Chicana/o identity," in this work, refers to the social identity that Chicanas/os establish for themselves. This social identity is simply how given individuals define themselves in their own social world—specifically, with regard to social groups in which individuals place themselves (and with which they interact), along with the conscious significance they attach to these groups and interactions. Chicana/o identity, therefore, theoretically encompasses the identities of all Chicanas/os, including those who define themselves as upper-middle-class or as lesbian, for example, as well as those who do not consciously ethnically identify. The term also includes Chicanas/os who define themselves as Catholic, Mexicano, and working-class simultaneously, as another example. This investigation thus considers the self-perceptions of all types and categories of Chicanas/os so as to understand the full complexity of Chicana/o identity formations.

Finally, a careful explanation of the use of the terms "race" and "ethnicity" is needed. Ethnicity is understood as the unique cultural characteristics of groups of people that make them distinct from other groups with different cultural characteristics. Chicanas/os are typically defined as an ethnic group because in terms of language, religion, and other cultural practices, they clearly constitute a unique group of people. Ethnicity often becomes an important means of categorizing specific groups because structural forces such as segregation, as well as internal factors such as the need for community, lead these groups to create and live in distinct communities. Racially, Chicanas/os are legally defined as white and are therefore not considered a racial minority. Despite this legal definition, in daily life in the United States, Chicanas/os are not seen as white. In fact, since the earliest interactions between Mexicans and white "Americans," Mexicans have been seen as racially inferior. Furthermore, since 1848, when the first Chicanas/os were created through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, countless Chicanas/os have been the victims of multiple forms of discrimination based solely on their physical or racial features. Even in the current era, the racialization of Chicanas/os defines life for many. California's Proposition 187 of 1994 provides just one example. This legislation was designed to deny undocumented immigrants access to health care and other social services that were seen as a drain on the economy. Many whites, however, used the passage of this legislation as validation of their right to limit the freedom of brown-skinned individuals. During the days following the passage of the proposition, numerous stories appeared that documented cases of brown-skinned U.S. citizens who were denied access to schools, public transportation, and even their own bank accounts. The only means by which these Chicanas/os were targeted was their physical appearance. This reality suggests the need to consider the role of both race and ethnicity in shaping the experiences of Chicanas/os in and out of school today. Other researchers have addressed these issues both directly and indirectly in their work. Gitlin (1994, 169), for example, uses the term "racialized minority" to characterize the process whereby culturally distinct groups are categorized via phenotypical attributes that are supposedly linked to human qualities such as morality, intelligence, and personality. Omi and Winant (1994) provide a detailed analysis of these processes as they outline racial formation theory. Because of the complex interaction between race and ethnicity among Chicanas/os, discussions of race and ethnicity throughout this book are complicated by emphasizing their connections.

A Note on Approach

This book and the research from which it emerged are grounded in a radical Chicana/o Studies. Chicana/o Studies emerged in the late 1960s as a challenge to the academic establishment in the United States. Its goals were many and included (1) rewriting the history of Mexican-descent people in the United States through the experiences of those very people; (2) revealing the way in which racism and colonialism defined the Chicana/o experience through formal systems such as politics, economics, and education, as evidenced in generations of biased academic analyses of the Chicanas/os by Anglo intellectuals; and (3) empowering Chicana/o students with a critical analysis that would help them use their education to address the needs of their communities. Over the past thirty years, researchers in Chicana/o Studies have effectively developed a body of work that challenges the traditional belief that the lack of Chicana/o mobility in the United States is the product of intellectual, cultural, and socioeconomic deficits. Chicana/o Studies research has shown the perseverance and the important contributions of Chicanas/os in U.S. society.

At the same time, much of this work has been attacked by those in the academic mainstream who have critiqued it as biased, activist in nature, and nonacademic or anti-intellectual. Recent work by Chicana/o scholars and critical race theorists, however, has built on the analyses begun by Octavio Romano and others in the late 1960s, which explained that, in fact, all academic work is fundamentally biased. This bias is deemed unavoidable simply because the individuals who develop, conduct, and write about research are influenced at each stage by their own understandings and interpretations of the issues under study, which are shaped, for example, by their own cultural lenses. Interestingly, however, Chicana/o Studies is among the few areas of academic research that are critiqued for bias simply because the work makes its biases clear to readers.

As the preface and initial paragraphs of this chapter emphasize, this book is grounded in a conscious agenda that strives to achieve Chicana/o educational empowerment. As Acuña (1998) powerfully argues, "sometimes there is no other side." If we are to understand the world of Chicana/o students, we have to ask the students themselves. In order for them to feel comfortable and to be forthcoming, we have to let them know that we are asking them about their experiences because we want to help them and others achieve success. This commitment to helping students demands extreme rigor in conducting the research. Helping students requires understanding their world in all its complexity, regardless of how difficult that may be and how much work it might take. In fact, one could argue that this commitment demands a form of motivational validity in research in which the strength of the motivation to do the research well exceeds that of researchers who are motivated to do their work by their careers or funding. Although there are other approaches and stories to be told, this book strives to tell the story of the students. For this reason, I put the analysis in the hands of the students as much as possible, to be sure that readers have a chance to look deeply into their world from as many different approaches as they shared. This makes some chapters long (Chapters 2, 4, and 5), but that depth is essential to the work. This book therefore engages in theory building from the students themselves because it is necessary and almost never done. Because of this approach, the conventional academic contextualization (comparing findings to previous research and theory) that typically accompanies research in the United States is abandoned throughout most of the text, although a backdrop of previous research is provided in this chapter. Later in this chapter the strength of this approach is discussed in more detail. A look at the directions in which past research is leading us will show why a new approach is needed.

Past Research on Chicana/o Identity

During the late 1960s and early 1970s the Chicana/o community, like many other communities of color in the United States during that time, went through a significant transformation with regard to social identity. Abandoning the assimilationist goals of earlier generations, Chicana/o communities (led by students) began a process of redefinition. They developed a new, radicalized identity that stood for community empowerment through affirmation rather than through the adoption of majority traits (García 1997).

By the late 1970s the significance of ethnic identity to the Chicana/o community and the Chicana/o experience became a focal point of study for Chicana/o researchers. These researchers realized that ethnic identity was a critical filter through which Chicanas/os understood their experiences and lives and that it might also shape their behaviors in important ways.

The National Chicano Survey was the first major study that specifically addressed the issue of Chicana/o ethnic identity, although earlier research had considered issues of assimilation and acculturation as they related to Mexican-descent individuals in the United States (see Lai and Sodowsky 1996a for several examples). Abandoning past approaches that emphasized the difficulties Mexican Americans had in adopting U.S. social and cultural practices, the National Chicano Survey attempted to understand how Chicanas/os defined their own identities. The early work with these data revealed what would become a fundamental limitation facing almost all future research on Chicana/o ethnic identity: it is extremely difficult to study ethnic or social identity in ways that allow us to understand these constructs as they are experienced in the real world. Although the research with the National Chicano Survey suggested some intriguing relationships between different Chicana/o characteristics, ethnic identity was understood by way of the labels respondents chose to identify themselves. As many of the researchers themselves pointed out (see Arce 1981), this methodology limited their ability to understand identity, because labels are unreliable determinants of how individuals understand their social identities. For example, two people can have very different definitions of "Chicano," while two others could have very similar definitions for "Chicano" and "Hispanic," and still others might not make any significant distinctions among several ethnic labels (see Sanchez-Jankowski 1999 for one description of the different meanings attached to labels). Still, this preliminary research was important because it suggested how fundamental ethnic identity was to the experiences of Chicanas/os and the many aspects of their lives to which identity might be related.

Later, researchers became interested in how ethnic identity evolved among children. Knight et al. (1993) provided perhaps the most complex model of the process of Chicana/o ethnic identity development. Their socialization model of ethnic identity proposed that both enculturation and acculturation work together to shape the ethnic identity and ethnic behaviors of children. Enculturation is the process whereby Chicanas/os learn Mexican and Chicana/o cultural practices, and acculturation is the process whereby they learn mainstream cultural practices. Ethnic behaviors are defined as specific actions that are typical within Chicana/o communities, such as Spanish language use.

In this model, the social ecology of the family (e.g., generation of migration, acculturation, ethnic identity of parents, language, cultural knowledge, family structure) interacts with the ecology of the community in which they live, and these ecologies work together to influence children's socialization. Family members teach ethnic content, for example, and nonfamily communicate views about ethnicity and ethnic group membership. These factors, the authors suggested, shape the child's ethnic identity, which in turn shapes ethnic behaviors. In addition, the authors explained that cognitive development is an overarching process that moderates the influence of various socialization agents, as well as the extent to which such influences shape ethnic behaviors. This model provides some important insights into the ways in which identity may evolve for Chicana/o youth, but as the authors pointed out, most of the model had not been empirically tested (and that is still the case). Furthermore, the research did not increase our understanding of the meaning of social identity in the lives of Chicanas/os.

Phinney (1993) attempted to address these issues through her research with racial and ethnic minority adolescents (including Chicanas/os), when she asked them to discuss the degree to which they had dealt with and resolved ethnic identity issues. The early identity research led to the development of the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM), in which Phinney (1992) posited three components of ethnic identity: affirmation and belonging (the sense of group membership and attitudes toward the group, including attachment and pride); ethnic identity achievement (the extent to which a person has achieved a secure and confident sense of his or her ethnicity, including knowledge and understanding of the ethnic group); and ethnic behaviors (activities associated with group membership, such as customs, traditions, and social interactions).

Phinney (1993) noted that the first stage of ethnic identity development is unexamined ethnic identity, in which adolescents have given no thought to issues of ethnic identity (whether they are steeped in their own culture or trying to adopt mainstream culture). This unexamined stage continues until an identity crisis occurs, whereby the next stage, ethnic identity search/moratorium, begins. No pivotal event is required to initiate this shift, but the search process is necessary for reaching an achieved identity, the third and final stage. At this stage, individuals are confident and comfortable with their ethnicity, as well as their place in the society at large. An achieved identity status is proposed to be the most adaptive identity status, a proposal supported by research suggesting that adolescents with achieved identities have high self-esteem, strong ego identity, and healthy family and peer relationships (Phinney 1989).

Phinney's work (1993) is important because it considers how ethnic identity may evolve. At the same time, the work is limited by its effort to place individuals into categories that betray the complexity of identity as it exists in the real world, where, as just one alternative example, Chicanas/os may have engaged in a careful assessment of their identities and decided to seek assimilation. In addition, a conversation with almost any Chicana/o will reveal multiple and ongoing shifts in identity far beyond adolescence. Despite Phinney's innovations, the complex process of identity development is still not well understood in her work.

Ethier and Deaux (1994) avoided emphasizing categories in their research with college students. Their work is significant because it looked at three points in time over students' first year in an Ivy League college. Among their central findings was that participants went through a process of "remooring," whereby they replaced the ethnic identity supports they had before college with new ones in the college context. The authors found that the degree of "Hispanic group involvement" before coming to college determined the degree of this involvement at college. Students who made efforts to be involved in their ethnic community at college showed an increase in ethnic identification, whereas those who did not showed a decrease. Ethier and Deaux also had the important insight that these differing degrees of involvement do not necessarily indicate differing degrees of ethnic salience but rather may reflect different responses to the salience. For example, they found that students who felt threatened about their ethnic identity experienced losses in self-esteem. Ethier and Deaux also found that ethnic identification decreased in students who had negative feelings about their ethnic group, whereas it increased in students who had positive feelings about their group.

Earlier work by Deaux (1993) is helpful in analyzing this research, for she suggested the need to consider how ethnic identity interacts with other aspects of social identity and how this larger social identity shapes individuals' lives and behaviors in important ways. Her critique brings us full circle as we return to the difficulties of translating the complex process of identity development into simple terms that can be easily researched. For example, almost all of the work that has considered any aspect of Chicana/o social identity has focused exclusively on ethnic identity. This work has been insightful, as Ethier and Deaux (1994) suggest, but ethnic identity interacts with racial identity (through experiences with discrimination, for example), as well as a number of other arenas of social identity that might be important to individuals.

This limitation also applies to work that focuses on interventions intended to help Chicanas/os in their identity development, such as research in counseling. For example, Casas and Pytluk (1995) noted that the vast majority of counseling research dealing with Chicana/o ethnic identity has focused on the level of acculturation rather than the process of its development. Lai and Sodowsky (1996a, 1996b) provided a bibliography of much of this research, all of which focused on acculturation and, in particular, issues like language usage and preferences as reflected in the common use or adaptation of the Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans (Cuéllar, Harris, and Jasso 1980). This work on acculturation has not considered the complexities of Chicana/o identity that other researchers have suggested are so essential (e.g., Phinney, Bernal and Knight, Hurtado, among others). It has also been unable to provide understanding of the processes of Chicana/o identity formation and the way in which counselors can aid in those processes (see Atkinson, Morten, and Sue 1998 for further discussion of the limits of such research). Although researchers have attempted to analyze the link between acculturation and ethnic identity, a close review of their work reveals that the measures of ethnic identity and acculturation overlap significantly (see Cuéllar et al. 1997 for a comparison of students' scores on the Acculturation Rating Scale II and the MEIM).

Over the course of the last two decades, the research on Chicana/o ethnic identity has evolved tremendously. Perhaps the most important aspect of this body of work has been the new directions it has suggested for research. First, a more uniform and conceptually complex definition/understanding of Chicana/o ethnic identity, grounded in efforts to understand the process of Chicana/o identity development, is needed. The wide range of conceptualizations of Chicana/o ethnic identity makes it difficult to see how different analyses contribute to our understanding of ethnic identity as it is experienced by Chicanas/os in the real world. Similarly, the complex nature of ethnic identity makes it difficult to understand how specific analyses of individual relationships (such as those between acculturation and ethnic consciousness) relate to the daily processes of ethnic identity development. For example, the identity struggles that Chicana/o youth face are often related to their experiences not only as members of an ethnic minority group but also as members of a racialized group. Furthermore, a number of other aspects of Chicana/o life overlap their ethnic and racial identities, including gender, class, sexuality, family, and, of course, education. Arce (1981, 182) put it this way:

Virtually all studies of Chicano identity have been too exclusively focused on the ethnic aspects, without adequately examining an individual's private definition and categorization of his or her total social identity. If such a distinction were adopted, it would be possible to assess the importance of ethnic identity in the broader framework of a multidimensional social identity. For Chicanos, ethnic identity is not simple or unidimensional. It potentially operates on multiple levels (on a private to public continuum), each of which has several components that may be ethnic in general character.

As Arce noted more than twenty years ago, there has been little effort to distinguish between and understand the relationship of racial and ethnic identity in Chicanas/os. The significance of the forces shaping racial identity and their role in determining ethnic identity have not been considered. Because many of the psychological issues facing contemporary Chicanas/os may be connected to racial oppression in the United States, understanding ethnic identity necessarily involves clarification of the role that race plays in the daily lives of Chicanas/os. As Pardo (1998) has suggested, identity is situational and is influenced by a number of forces that simultaneously intersect and shape the larger social identities of Chicanas/os.

Another need that has been identified is to use qualitative research methods to capture the complexity of the aforementioned types of information. At a conceptual and practical level, designing research projects that can deconstruct multiple aspects of Chicana/o ethnic identity and the identity formation process in general is an enormous task. However, some qualitative investigations have begun to consider these complexities.

Olsen (1997) investigated identity issues among students in a California school district and exposed a racial hierarchy regarding who can and cannot be successful and who can have access to the school capital that will lead to later life successes. Her analysis included observations, participation in classes, and interviews with students, teachers, and administrators. Through this in-depth analysis, she uncovered illuminating aspects of the complex reality of students. Olsen found that the racial hierarchy was subtly maintained in the school, given that teachers and administrators alike were among the first to espouse ideals of diversity and equality. The dominant belief among these school staff was that the school operated as a meritocracy, and few saw the subtle ways in which the staff constricted the opportunity of Latina/o students to access resources necessary for the demonstration of merit (through tracking and discipline, for example). Olsen's research suggested the need for qualitative studies that work with Chicanas/os to critically evaluate the complex forces that shape their experiences and identities.

In addition, Chicana feminist writers (most notably Anzaldúa 1987, Castillo 1994, and Moraga 1983), have constructed complicated frameworks that explain the need to understand the interaction of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and race in shaping the identities of Chicanas. These writers have pushed the discourse on identity forward by suggesting that ethnic/racial, gender, sexual, and class identities are neither static nor firm; rather, they are continuously intersecting and evolving as a function of various social forces. Thus qualitative research needs to investigate and develop an understanding of identity as Chicanas/os themselves experience it. Rather than forcing individuals' lives into specific categories, researchers need to engage in the development of grounded theory through extended interviews and oral histories with Chicanas/os in different contexts, of varying age groups, and across diverse life experiences.

At a more basic level, researchers also need to reexamine the epistemological foundations of our approaches. For the most part, identity research is grounded in a shared academic epistemology or worldview, although multiple epistemologies exist in the different communities in which this work is conducted. Chicanas/os do not produce and pass on knowledge in the ways that other communities do (see Pizarro 1998 for a more in-depth description of Chicana/o epistemology). When the dominant epistemological framework or system of knowledge is applied to the study of a group that operates under a different way of thinking, researchers force themselves to employ tools that cannot begin to comprehend the issues and processes involved in what is being studied. By acknowledging the validity and uniqueness of Chicana/o epistemology and of the worldviews that shape a distinct knowledge system among Chicanas/os, researchers can begin to construct frameworks for understanding and intervening in the social identity formation of Chicanas/os that are based in the complexities of Chicana/o life.

In summary, the research into Chicana/o ethnic identity has been groundbreaking and important, but it has been limited in its focus and ability to explain identity as it is actually lived. This limitation is the product of both the quantitative emphasis of past research and the lack of a Chicana/o perspective in designing the research. Some of these critiques are applicable to research on Chicanas/os as a whole, but given the focus of this book on the educational implications of identity, we must also evaluate the research on Chicanas/os and education.

Past Research on Chicana/o Educational Outcomes

Demographic research over the past thirty years shows that Chicanas/os and Latinas/os have the highest dropout rates of any major ethnic or racial group in the United States (California Postsecondary Education Commission 1994; Carter and Segura 1979; Duran 1983; Gey et al. 1992; LAUSD 1985; National Center for Education Statistics 2001; Rumberger and Rodríguez 2002; Schick and Schick 1991; U.S. Census Bureau 2000; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 1971; Valencia 1991). In 1972, 34.3 percent of "Hispanics" aged 16-24 had officially dropped out of high school. By 1998 this rate had decreased only to 29. percent.5 Today the national dropout rate for Chicanas/os approaches 50 percent, and in some urban areas, such as parts of Los Angeles, the dropout rate is as high as 70 percent (Bennett 1988; Chapa and Valencia 1993; LAUSD 1985; National Commission on Secondary Education for Hispanics 1984; Rumberger and Rodríguez 2002; Schick and Schick 1991). Sixty-one percent of Chicana/o adults over age 24 in California in 1992 had not completed high school (Gey et al. 1992, 33). Even more shocking is that in 1990 Latinas/os were 62 percent of the dropout population aged 16-19 in California, but they comprised only 35 percent of all members of that age group in the state (California Postsecondary Education Commission 1994, 65). Most important of all, the educational outcomes (especially graduation rates) of Chicana/o students have improved little, if at all, over the last fifty years (Carter and Segura 1979; Chapa and Valencia 1993; National Center for Education Statistics 1989), while the significant disparity between Chicana/o and white students' educational outcomes has not narrowed (National Center for Education Statistics 1999, 2001; Rumberger and Rodríguez 2002; U.S. Census Bureau 2000; Valencia 1991). In fact, the dropout rate for whites has decreased faster than that for Latinas/os since 1980, resulting in a larger gap in high school completion in 2000 than in 1980 (National Center for Education Statistics 2001).

The significance of these figures becomes even more apparent when we consider the growth of the Chicana/o student population. In California the Chicana/o population is increasing rapidly, and the number of counties, districts, and schools in which Chicanas/os are the majority is steadily rising. Furthermore, projections suggest that by 2005 Chicanas/os and Latinas/os will form the majority of students enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade in California. The complex role of language and immigration status must be analyzed in the context of such trends. Clearly, addressing Chicana/o school failure has become a matter of urgency both for the Chicana/o population and for the larger society. Since the 1970s, this urgency has spawned increasingly innovative analyses of the influences on Chicana/o school outcomes. These analyses have moved beyond deficit models, providing a deeper contextualization of the Chicana/o school experience. As continuing school failure has shown, however, these analyses have been unable to provide strategies for making realistic changes for a large percentage of Chicana/o youth. We are still faced with a critical question: Why have researchers and schools been unable to significantly address the school failure of Chicana/o students?

By briefly considering the history of Chicana/o schooling in the United States as our starting point, we can begin to answer this question. Interestingly, although some powerful historical analyses of the Chicana/o educational experience have been made, for the most part this history is not integrated into our contemporary analyses. While not surprising, it may be detrimental that researchers interested in the history of Chicana/o schooling and those interested in the modern context tend to live in two different worlds.

From the earliest interaction between the United States and Mexico, the Mexican was viewed as inferior on multiple levels: socially, politically, culturally, economically, religiously, and intellectually (Acuña 1988; De León 1983; Menchaca and Valencia 1990). These perceptions of Mexican inferiority were shaped by a combination of ignorance, fear, and greed that were framed within the larger political ideologies of the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In short, the United States rationalized its policies of expansion and exploitation by propagating notions of Mexican inferiority. In so doing, the United States founded its interaction with Mexicans on these ideas such that both individuals and institutions that interacted with the Mexican did so on these premises. By the time that public schooling in the Southwest became fairly common practice in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Mexicans were already both informally and formally excluded from attending public schools on the grounds of their assumed intellectual and cultural inferiority.

As child labor fell out of favor and the mainstream within the United States saw the necessity of "Americanizing" the Mexican, increasing numbers of Mexicans began attending school. During the early twentieth century, "Americans" were concerned that the Mexicans were not properly prepared for their economic and social roles in this country. Although Mexicans were still characterized as inferior, schooling was deemed an important tool in their integration into society and their preparation for their eventual contributions through manual labor. Thus, by the time the Chicana/o child began entering American schools with regularity and in significant numbers, their school participation was fundamentally different from that of "American" children. Chicana/o children were prepared for manual labor and subservience both by the nature and the content of their schooling, which was inferior and segregated (G. Gonzalez 1990; San Miguel 1987).

The ideologies explaining the Chicana/o students' needs in school have evolved over time from intellectual inferiority to cultural inferiority and finally to being limited by their own socioeconomic status and the corresponding attitudes prevalent within a "culture of poverty." Chicanas/os for the most part were relegated to segregated and inferior schooling for the duration of the twentieth century. In fact, studies at the end of the twentieth century found that Chicanas/os had become the most segregated of any ethnic group in U.S. schools, attending underfunded and poorly staffed schools (Applebome 1997).

Throughout this history, Chicanas/os have challenged the notions of inferiority with which they have been confronted, but each time their arguments have built momentum and gained attention, they have been redirected in ways that only change the labels with which their "inferiority" is explained. The reality is that researchers, schools, and politicians too often fail to acknowledge the history upon which the schooling experiences of Chicanas/os today have been built. This immobility has tremendously limited efforts to address Chicana/o school failure. Historical analyses have shown that racist ideologies have been at the foundation of Chicana/o schooling and continue to play a critical role through their more subtle, contemporary manifestations. Still, many people fail to integrate this history into our understandings of contemporary society. Others do not address the reality that the forces presently at work in maintaining Chicana/o school failure also prevent systemic changes that would improve Chicana/o school outcomes.

Today the typical explanation for Chicana/o school failure is that Chicana/o youth and their families lack preparation and interest in school. Quite often, teachers and administrators say that their efforts to educate Chicanas/os are severely limited because the students and their families are uninterested in educational success and have no experience with this success (for various examples of these attitudes, see Olsen 1997, Romo and Falbo 1996, and Valdés 1998). Some school staff believe that the culture of these families works against efforts to educate Chicana/o youth and that the school thus faces a steepening uphill battle to educate these students and prepare them for the world of work. Without question, school personnel have important insights to share on educating Chicana/o youth. At the same time, they also learn to think in specific, often pessimistic ways about what is possible and why within the school. As research in the 1970s suggested, teachers are quite capable of influencing and producing the student outcomes that they expect, despite equal measures of hard work and concern for their students (see Solórzano and Solórzano 1995 for a discussion of the applications of this work to Chicanas/os). As one teacher stated, "It's scary to realize the terrible power that teachers have to create in students a certainty that they belong at the bottom" (Olsen 1997, 83). This is not to say that Chicana/o school failure is simply a function of teacher expectations, but rather that teacher expectations and their role are just one indicator of the social complexity at work in the schooling process, a complexity that belies oversimplified explanations that focus on families and parents alone. The successes of Chicana/o youth who have the same socioeconomic status, parental interest, teachers, and even ability as do their failing peers suggest that we need to look more carefully at these contexts in order to develop strategies for success (Arellano and Padilla 1996). As one of the students I interviewed put it in our discussions about Chicana/o school failure,

It's a real easy answer for a real complex question. I mean you could say, "Oh, just get 'em to try." But to get 'em to try, you gotta really understand why they're not trying—what's going on in their lives, their own personal life—to see what is stopping 'em, what's hindering 'em. What are their thoughts? What are their mentalities? Are they being raised like this? Are they trained to think that they're not good enough? Or what is it?

Whereas the 1970s and 1980s were dominated by research that attempted to expose the educational injustice Chicanas/os were experiencing in the schools (Carter and Segura 1979; San Miguel 1987; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 1971), the 1990s began with efforts to understand the complexities of Chicana/o school performance with an eye toward attainable improvements. Early in the 1990s, Richard Valencia (1991) compiled what remains the most comprehensive contemporary analysis of Chicana/o schooling (a revised version was published in 2002). Exposing the historical, demographic, linguistic, cultural, familial, testing, and institutional forces influencing Chicana/o school failure, the contributors to Chicano School Failure and Success left the reader pessimistically wondering what could realistically be done to improve the situation. Like many to follow him, Valencia did not provide much hope in the conclusions he drew, although they did expose the elements of Chicana/o schooling that must change. He called for making large-scale efforts to embrace integration; unifying the work of practitioners, researchers, and policy makers to provide evidence of the strength of bilingual education and a justification for its further development; changing the popular perceptions of Chicana/o parents and fully involving them in their children's schooling; overhauling testing and assessment in schools; and, finally, instituting democratic governance and curriculum development that include Chicana/o participation, along with a shift from the institutional perception of Chicana/o youth to one that is hopeful and positive. The work done by Valencia and others was crucial in deconstructing the educational experience of Chicanas/os, although the macroemphasis of the conclusions also left the reader with doubts as to the possibility of implementing the major changes that Valencia revealed as necessary.

More recently, Romo and Falbo (1996) engaged in a similar effort to decipher the complexity of Chicana/o schooling by engaging in a comprehensive study with a more focused analysis. By interviewing a large group of Chicana/o students and categorizing their experiences, the authors provided a different angle on Chicana/o schooling. With fairly detailed descriptions and analyses of the experiences and feelings of Chicana/o students, their parents, and their schools, Romo and Falbo helped us understand Chicana/o issues of tracking, gangs, pregnancy, immigration, dropping out and opting for the GED equivalency diploma, cultural barriers to parental involvement, and struggles with inappropriate or unfairly applied policy and bureaucratic practice. Again, the reader is left wondering how so many and such complicated problems can be realistically addressed. Even the authors seemed to struggle with this issue. They provided a list of tactics parents could employ, but they relied heavily on a number of major institutional shifts that would have to occur. While their recommendations are interesting and important—involving administrators in instruction, increasing teacher interactions across grades, rethinking testing, mobilizing support for students at risk, reorganizing learning from individual- to group-based interactions, respecting parents, rewarding hard work rather than ability, and giving a diploma value by linking it directly to opportunities after graduation—these changes are also so sweeping that they make us wonder what it would take to implement them in the face of traditions that have generated Chicana/o school failure for generations.

These few examples demonstrate the difficulty of addressing Chicana/o school failure. This review is not intended in any way to minimize the importance and necessity of previous research. At the same time, the struggle these authors had in developing recommendations that would readily make inroads for overcoming Chicana/o school failure suggest the need for new approaches. Other researchers help put these difficulties into perspective, for they see the significant role that historically ingrained ideologies continue to play in school and the impediments to systemic change.

Solórzano and Solórzano (1995), for example, provided a comprehensive critique of the forces limiting Chicana/o educational opportunities at elementary, secondary, and even postsecondary levels. While discussing some important strategies for addressing these problems through research on Effective Schools and Accelerated Schools programs, they also raised concerns. The authors suggested that even the popular acceptance of the Effective Schools program, which they showed to have strong possibilities for improving Chicana/o schooling, has had almost no impact on Chicana/o youth. Stanton-Salazar (1997, 2001) sheds light on this finding through a complex study that integrates the roles of social networks and social capital in the lives of minority school youth. Beginning with an analysis of the role of networks, Stanton-Salazar noted that "decades of educational research strongly suggest that urban/metropolitan, working-class schools have historically not been strategically oriented toward development of students' social support networks" (1997, 5). By revealing the significance of access to and facility with dominant discourses in school, Stanton-Salazar then described how minority youth are denied access to the basic tools (social capital) necessary for school and life success. He argued that what minority students bring into the school is deemed inappropriate for eventual success, and thus the decision is made not to invest the time in the development of critical network-building tools and social capital among these youth. Stanton-Salazar exposed the daunting reality that not only the school but society itself is structured in ways that hinder both minority school success and the possibility for influencing changes that will address these problems. Fortunately, Stanton-Salazar provided a possible means for Chicana/o school success—he described the minority child with a bicultural socialization that allows for the development of both the skills for gaining access to the dominant discourse and the social capital that are prerequisites for educational success. The complexity and potential problematic of his analysis, however, lies in his belief that the bicultural student cannot maintain school success "without consistent access to institutional support," a requirement that seems difficult to attain, given the counterforces that he already exposed. Nevertheless, Stanton-Salazar provided a turn in the research on Chicana/o schooling by suggesting a means by which dramatic changes in school performance might be possible.

Vigil (1997) provided a similar hopefulness in his analyses of Chicana/o school performance in 1974 and 1988 Los Angeles, which suggested that certain forces, such as identity, role models, and family environment and support, can be controlled by families and can also help Chicana/o students pursue school success. In work with a group of Chicana/o students at an elite university, Arellano and Padilla (1996) made important progress toward this end by considering the external and internal forces that allow certain Chicana/o students to achieve success through their own "academic invulnerability." This research builds on earlier analyses of successful Chicana/o students (Gándara 1995) and is essential to the present project because, although it did not include intervention strategies, it provides perhaps the best framework to date for seeing the importance of factors like school climate, teacher-student interactions, students' school beliefs, and mentors, and it also demonstrates that some Chicana/o students are able to deal with both positive and negative varieties of these influences in ways that lead to their success.

In recent years the school needs of Chicana/o and Latina/o youth have been increasingly emphasized. Much of this work provides helpful insights to those who know little about the experiences and resources of Latina/o youth, but much of it also ignores the complex realities uncovered by some of the authors mentioned above (Koss-Chioino and Vargas 1999). Many studies provide recipes for successful schools in Latina/o communities that are intriguing but require an institutional commitment that few Chicana/o schools and districts exhibit (M. Gonzalez, Huerta-Macias, and Tinajero 1998; P. Reyes, Scribner, and Scribner 1999; Slavin and Calderon 2001). Still others consider the unique needs of non-English-speaking Latinas/os and shed light on their academic lives and curricular and pedagogical needs, but because of this focus many of these works do not unpack the complex racial-political forces involved in shaping their identities (Brice 2002; M. Reyes and Halcon 2001; Valdés 2001). Some researchers have analyzed identity in the school context, but they created identity categories for students that focus primarily on the degree of academic investment they manifest, thus ignoring some of the critical forces that define that investment (Flores-Gonzalez 2002; Rymes 2001). Still others, as discussed earlier, continue to suggest the need for dramatic changes in the system at large (Garcia 2001; Stanton-Salazar 2001).

Overall, the research that has looked at Chicanas/os and the schools has carefully examined various components of the Chicana/o school experience. All of these works make important contributions to the field of Chicana/o education. At the same time, they also leave many wondering how to make changes that can help students today. So much of this research points to the need for dramatic systemic change in U.S. schooling, but this call has been made for generations with little response. Readers find little guidance for realistically pursuing the success of Chicanas/os in the schools today. Other works provide models and ideas for helping Latina/o students, but these studies are almost always based on the assumption that there is institutional and systemic interest in making change when in fact the majority of Chicana/o youth attend schools in districts that have little interest in moving in the suggested directions. Much of the research has not effectively and fully engaged Chicana/o students themselves. The dramatic conditions facing Chicanas/os in the schools all but demand that we consider their own analyses of their school lives so that we might help them immediately rather than emphasizing idealistic but unrealistic solutions.

Perhaps the most important study of the experiences of Chicana/o school youth is Valenzuela's Subtractive Schooling (1999). Valenzuela looks at the world of school through the eyes of Chicana/o youth and exposes a process by which schooling "divests [Chicana/o] youth of important social and cultural resources leaving them progressively vulnerable to academic failure" (1999, 3). She uncovers the daily realities that shape so many of the issues that other researchers have touched on. Valenzuela cuts right to the heart of the racialization process that is central to the schooling of so many Chicana/o youth and that often shapes the failure of these students. Her work also uncovers the potential power of resources within Chicana/o families, although she herself does not provide a detailed analysis of how to tap into these resources.

The Need for Analyzing Identity and Schooling

My personal experiences in school as both a teacher and a student have helped me consider a different approach to understanding and improving Chicana/o student outcomes. When I was a sixth-grade teacher, I taught the most advanced reading group in our elementary school. During reading class, the students changed classrooms because many of them were below their grade level in language skills. This situation had arisen at least partially because about 90 percent of the students were Latina/o, and a great majority of them had Spanish as their first and/or dominant language. Although I taught this class more than ten years ago, I still think about several students often. One of them, "Luis," has influenced my work a great deal. Luis, a fifth grader who was placed in my top reading group, was one of the few students who were reading above grade level. He was usually somewhat shy in class but also had a good sense of humor and was, to me, a nice student to have in class. About the time he started fifth grade, Luis began emulating the appearance of the gangbangers in the community. He had no "positive" role models in his world, and gangbangers represented the only powerful figures he could actually touch and feel. Furthermore, as the oldest child in his family, he had no one but these gang members to protect him from his harsh surroundings. His interest in gang life was expected. Nevertheless, his evolving persona as a gangbanger wannabe had serious implications for him at school. The schools in this inner-city Los Angeles district developed strict dress codes in their efforts to limit gang activity, and Luis became a target for school personnel. With the goal of stringently enforcing the dress code, one of the school administrators made Luis public enemy number one. This administrator would go out every morning before school and look for Luis to try and nail him on a dress code violation. Luis would spend the first few hours of most school days getting busted, going home, and changing clothes. He was made to feel marginal and soon became marginal in the school. The last time I saw him, Luis was on the streets and was no longer just a wannabe.

While some people may view Luis's story as an extreme or rare example, it is not an isolated case. Throughout my teaching experience, I was constantly made aware that the students I taught were not expected to be successful in school or life. Some of the messages were subtle, while others were more blatant. Teachers and administrators had developed a system whereby intelligent Latina/o youth were targeted for disciplinary measures and prevented from learning opportunities precisely because racially based characteristics were used to identify "problem students" and "troublemakers." Furthermore, Luis's story illuminated a critical point to me: the identity of Chicana/o students is often a central force that shapes their school experiences and performance. In every school in which I have taught, researched, or been a student, I have known students who have been labeled in some negative fashion that resulted in a pattern of treatment distinct from that of the "successful students." The point of including Luis's story is not to suggest that all Chicana/o students are the victims of vicious attacks by school personnel (surely, Luis was complicit in his situation), but rather to suggest that identity is a critical factor involved in the way in which school staff interact with students and vice versa. While most of us have probably seen students who have been negatively labeled and also know that this labeling almost automatically defines their school persona and outcomes, no one has effectively explained what determines the nature of identity development and how it is linked to outcomes for Chicana/o students. Okagaki, Frensch, and Dodson (1996), however, provided a preliminary analysis, suggesting that Chicana/o children's feelings about school can be related to their ethnic identity as early as the fourth and fifth grades. Other research has suggested relationships between identity and school performance, but it has been based on a reductive analysis that ignores the complexity of the forces that shape both identity and school performance. Finally, a number of researchers who have conducted preliminary analyses of the relationship between identity and school performance (particularly among college students) have laid an important foundation while also demanding the need for in-depth, qualitative analyses that will allow us to complicate identity beyond ethnic labels and practices (Bernal, Saenz, and Knight 1991; A. Hurtado, Gonzalez, and Vega 1994; S. Hurtado 1994; Velez, Longoria, and Torres 1997).

That some researchers have exposed the need for qualitative analyses is related to the second realization that came from my experiences as a teacher. The complexities of the forces at work in the development of Chicana/o identity and Chicana/o school outcomes (as well as their relationship) are so significant that making advances in this area requires building on the few works that have carefully considered these relationships by performing in-depth, innovative analyses of the experiences of Chicana/o youth (e.g., Franquiz 2001; Olsen 1997). By relying on Chicana/o students' own analyses of the relationship between their identity and school performance in my qualitative analysis, I attempt to address their continued failure and to suggest ways in which students and parents can develop empowering identities that facilitate school success.

In trying to become "objective," western Culture made "objects" of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing "touch" with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence. (Anzaldúa, 1987, 37)

Today Chicana/o communities face many of the same social problems that they faced a generation or more ago, despite the increasing attention that researchers give these problems. Research on and in Chicana/o communities has a long history of reifying the oppression and justifying the unequal outcomes of Chicanas/os. For years, researchers have gone into Chicana/o communities, extracted the information they were seeking, and used that information to explain the condition of Chicanas/os, most often blaming them for this condition and unintentionally or intentionally ignoring a host of systemic influences. Although Chicana/o intellectuals have critiqued this tradition for years, it still exists in new forms today.

Academic research has been built on certain ground rules that reinforce the status quo. For example, objectivity has long been considered an essential component of any research project. The idea behind objectivity is that researchers should not allow any biases to influence their work. The reality, of course, is that even taking on a specific research project reflects one's interests and biases. Furthermore, "objectivity" in this context does not mean lack of bias; rather, it means that the researcher's biases are unclear to the reader and/or are not made explicit. Almost all researchers, for example, share the bias that they are able to understand the world and its complexities better than their research subjects. The dramatic mistakes that researchers have made in their work in Chicana/o communities over the years have made it clear that this is not the case. "Objectivity" in research therefore means not that the researcher is unbiased but rather that the researcher shares the biases of those who have shaped the trajectory of accepted academic research.

With regard to Chicana/o Studies research and other arenas of innovative academic work, even those scholars who have sought a more innovative and just form of research have remained significantly influenced by the conventional research paradigm. As Gitlin argued, despite the shift begun in recent theoretical discussions of innovative research, "these changes in educational research methods have done little to alter the alienating relationship between the researcher and the researched" (1990, 443). Gitlin added that "educational research is still a process that for the most part silences those studied, ignores their personal knowledge, and strengthens the assumption that researchers are the producers of knowledge" (1990, 444).

I contend that one of the reasons that research with Chicanas/os has not led to more dramatic changes in Chicana/o educational outcomes is that the research itself is not grounded in principles of social justice, although it seeks this justice. Even work within the innovative field of Chicana/o Studies has rarely produced research that is participatory and transformative. Instead, Chicanas/os have seen little substantive change in their condition in the United States despite years of scientifically acceptable research and numerous corresponding policies and policy changes in schools.

The primary obstacle for researchers studying the world of Chicana/o youth is that even as we increasingly incorporate the participation of these youth, most of us have not expressed concern that our methods be as true to notions of social justice as we are asking schools and institutions to be. We have not given much thought to the way in which the dominant paradigm not only ignores but also works against social justice through our own methods. My primary concern is that research on and in Chicana/o communities almost always shapes and controls the input of those communities in damaging ways. By defining the focus of the research, the questions that are asked, the answers that are considered appropriate, and, most detrimental of all, the meaning of the answers, we dramatically limit our ability to understand the experiences of Chicanas/os as they themselves do.

The research discussed in this book strives to address these issues. It is an initial attempt to employ social justice research, which I define as research that is engaged in trying to understand Chicana/o experiences in conjunction with communities, under the direction of those communities, and with a recognition of the unique knowledge systems and knowledge bases in those communities. This research process strives for social justice as both process and product and shares the same objectives of community-based activism. By seeking to participate in the creation of new knowledge and "truth" that attacks convention, Chicana/o social justice research helps activist efforts by confronting the intellectual rationales and arguments that support, for example, an anti-Chicana/o hysteria. Finally, Chicana/o social justice research assists community efforts at empowerment by providing opportunities for community-based Chicanas/os to participate in intellectual exploration that can support those efforts.

As was discussed above, this work has been described as nonacademic and anti-intellectual, but it is neither. Instead, it strives to be more truthful in its pursuit of knowledge through academic inquiry. Rather than ignoring the biases implicit in all research, this research exposes them as a means of helping participants and readers understand the role of politics and of position in daily life and in academic work.

It is not my intent to suggest that Chicana/o social justice research is the only method of educational research worth pursuing; much of the research on the state of education for Chicanas/os has been insightful. Nor is it my belief that we can ever fully address the complex problematics of social research (e.g., the role of power). Even more important, I am not suggesting that research is itself empowering or that it can necessarily be made integral in efforts at social change. Chicana/o researchers (and others pursuing social justice) must, however, confront our complicity in the continued school failure of Chicanas/os. We must seek "the truth" as Chicanas/os experience it, and we must attempt to disrupt academic conventions that reinforce racism. Although the research discussed in this book does not attain all of the goals of social justice research, the discussion of this approach to research is critical to understanding the methodological underpinnings of the work.

The Projects

I began my research into Chicana/o identity and its link to school performance through a research project in East Los Angeles. The following year I conducted a mirror project in rural Acoma, Washington. The stark contrast between the two research sites is important because it allows us to consider the role of context in shaping identity and school outcomes. Furthermore, as a quickly growing rural area, Acoma provides a preview of issues that are now facing communities across the United States with newly emerging Mexican enclaves.

In both projects, Chicana/o students at a major university, a community college, and a high school completed surveys and participated in interviews. Through open-ended and a few closed-ended questions, the students discussed their school experiences and the major influences on their school performance. The projects relied almost exclusively on students' own responses. Although the reliability of such data has been debated, the projects intended simply to understand Chicana/o student performance as the students themselves interpreted it. Thus the data collection techniques were appropriate, although the conclusions should be understood within this context (see Valdés 1998 for a similar rationale for focusing on students' perceptions).

In both projects, the students and I attempted to develop a schema to explain how Chicana/o students understood themselves in their social worlds, as well as the meaning this had for them. We began this work with an exploratory survey distributed to Chicana/o students attending a university, a community college, and a high school in each area. The survey was designed to get a sense of how students talked about the arenas of social life that were important to them. Before distributing the survey, I already knew that the core of the research would be done through interviews with students (research I had conducted earlier had suggested that traditional survey methods were ineffective in understanding the full complexities of Chicana/o students' identities). The heart of the survey, therefore, was a series of open-ended questions intended only to provide an opportunity for students to reveal the arenas of their social worlds that were of greatest importance to them and how these arenas might interact with and shape their identities. Because the complexity of Chicana/o identity made it difficult to understand these issues with closed-ended questions, students were asked to identify the aspects of their social worlds that were significant to them and why. Students were provided with the opportunity to select from a list of possible arenas of social life that might be significant and to add to that list when necessary. Given the extensive writing involved in responding to the survey, I expected that the number of students who responded would be small, but I also knew that their responses would provide detailed information equivalent to that generated in interviews I had conducted in earlier projects, and that this detail would allow me to conduct more complex and rich interviews afterward.

The surveys were not identical in the two studies, because the findings from the first project led me to seek new information in the second. In the first project, students were asked to discuss the importance of issues that were related to different aspects of social identity. They were also asked to discuss aspects of their social lives that were important or with which they struggled, since previous research indicated that identity is most often formed around those aspects of social life that are most conflict-laden. In addition, students were asked to simply describe their social identities.

In the second project, the survey was intended to consider every possible social grouping that might be significant to the identity development of Chicana/o students. Students were asked to choose from a list of these arenas of social life. The list was limited to the following categories for the survey: class, community, culture, family, gender, job/employment/financial difficulties, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, school, and sexuality/sexual orientation. Although some of these categories overlap, my previous research had revealed that students interpreted some of these things differently and that they focused on aspects of certain categories that distinguish them from other similar categories. As mentioned, the survey also allowed students to add their own categories, and eventually the list of categories was expanded to include disability/ability/physicality/appearance, friendship groups (cliques, organizations, gangs, etc.), immigration status/generation, interethnic interaction, language, and skin color (all of which were addressed through follow-up interviews). Students also discussed the issues that were important to them. Finally, they were asked to discuss school, the influences on their school performance, and any connections between their school experiences and their identities. The students were also asked to simply describe their social identities.

While the findings from the surveys were important and interesting, they were intended to provide insight into the directions that should be pursued in follow-up interviews with students. I wanted to know all of the potential arenas of identity formation that mattered to students. I also wanted to know if students understood themselves in terms of social identities or if this concept seemed foreign to them. In fact, the survey was quite useful and showed both the importance of social identity to Chicana/o students and the appropriateness of the different potential identity arenas that were listed for the students. With an expanded list, I conducted interviews with students so that we could talk through the significance and process of identity formation face-to-face. The surveys helped us see what was important to students and even some of the reasons for its importance, but much more depth was still needed.

The interviews were open-ended and intended to allow students to create their own framework for explaining themselves. Each interview lasted from one hour to an hour and a half. Students in Los Angeles were asked to discuss identity issues that mattered to them and the influences that made these issues important. In addition, the participants were asked to discuss their schooling, the influences on their schooling, and the links among all of the issues discussed in the interview (identity and its influences, and school and its influences). In addition, I described patterns and issues that had come out of the surveys and asked the students to discuss and explain them. In this part of the interview, some students would tell me why something was happening, whereas others would challenge the finding itself. These initial interviews were followed by a second interview that asked students to discuss the influence of specific identity issues on their lives. The students also discussed their identity formation through open-ended questions that allowed them to cover any issue. Finally, they were asked to discuss issues from their first interviews, as well as findings from the first interviews as whole.

In the first interviews in Acoma, students were asked to discuss school and their educational influences, building on the responses they provided in the surveys. They were again asked which of the issues from the list of potential arenas of identity formation were important to them. More specifically, the interview asked students how these issues were linked to their sense of who they are (identity). Furthermore, the interview asked students why these issues were important and how that importance had evolved over time (considering conflicts and struggles students might have faced when appropriate). To provide the participants with different opportunities to describe themselves in all their complexity, the interview also included discussions of the links and intersections of different aspects of identity, as well as open-ended questions that asked the students to describe themselves in their social worlds. Finally, they were asked to discuss the links between identity and education.

With the student introspections developed through both surveys and interviews in Acoma, we had a great deal of data that unpacked the role of identity in Chicana/o students' lives. Still, I wanted to delve deeper and to have students rethink their self-analyses. In second interviews that we conducted with some of the students, we focused on rethinking the most important parts of identity and why they were so important to students. We also reconsidered the links among different facets of identity and the influences that shaped identity formations. Throughout the second interview, I challenged the students' responses from the first interviews and asked them to consider alternative explanations, so that they could think more critically about the answers they were providing (and to consider the answers of other students when appropriate). This additional information allowed us to look carefully at the forces that shaped students' lives, and it added some texture to our understanding of all the interviews. The second interviews in both projects engaged the students as co-researchers, involving them in directly answering the research questions for the project rather than simple interview questions.

Researching Identity

In these projects, the specific means of making identity something that could be researched departed from those employed in quantitative analyses, which define the terms that determine the nature of an individual's ethnic identity. Instead, the students were asked about the social issues that were important to them, in order to discover the role of different arenas of identity within their overall social identities, and, more importantly, they were asked to explain who they are in their own minds and which identities were most pertinent in their lives. The rationale for this approach was the need to understand how Chicanas/os define their own identities and why they develop these particular identities, so as to avoid defining students' identities through measures that are unable to grasp the value, meaning, and influences behind an individual's response to specific statements related to identity.

In fact, students themselves determined how social identity could be researched by collectively framing this identity as the aspects of their social lives that dominated their own understandings of who they are in their social worlds. Through the aspects of identity that they emphasized, their return to these themes throughout the interviews, and the emotions they attached to these identities in our conversations, the students demonstrated that although social identity cannot be entirely understood via quantifiable data, this is the only way to understand their identities in all of their complexity.

This process of making identity a construct that we could research excludes the possibility of and the role of at least two facets of social identity: unconscious identities and suppressed identities. Unconscious identities are those aspects of social identity that influence students' larger social identities but are not consciously experienced. One example is the way in which gender often unconsciously shapes the identity of many young men. Suppressed identities are those that an individual has chosen to push out of his or her public social identity for any number of reasons. Some students, for example, may try to blend in with their white peers and not identify as Chicana/o. In the end, the students selectively re-created their lives throughout these projects. They did not provide an objective or even a complete history. The goal of this book, however, is to understand identity as students themselves understand it, so as to help them negotiate identity conflicts that they face. Accomplishing this goal requires a focus on students' conscious identities. For this reason, the emphasis on students' definitions and reconstructions of identity is appropriate for the project. The role of unconscious and suppressed identities is discussed in depth in Part 3 of this book.

All of the interviews were taped, transcribed, and coded around the themes students covered. In conducting the analyses for this book, I focused on how each student described her or his own identity and the forces that influenced this identity formation. I created a framework that described each student's analysis and then developed a larger framework that not only included each of the students' analyses at a given site but also looked at every student from the point of view of every other student, in order to understand the relationships among their analyses and how a particular student helps us better understand all of his or her peers. Finally, I pulled out excerpts from interviews that served as models of students' experiences and analyses.

East Los Angeles

Students volunteered to participate in the study after I made presentations explaining the project in their classes during the winter of 1996. The total sample surveyed included 158 Mexican-descent students (37 from a four-year university, 37 from a community college, 32 high school seniors, and 52 high school freshmen).

The four-year university is a major research institution, and at the time of the study 13.01 percent of its student population was Chicana/o, and 58.8 percent was white. At the university, I recruited participants through the Chicana/o Studies classes being offered, attending all of the larger classes in Chicana/o Studies (ten in all), and I also sought participants in three non-Chicana/o Studies classes that had significant numbers of Chicana/o students. These classes were an education course and a sociology course, both of which dealt with minority issues, and a Spanish class for native speakers. The Chicana/o Studies classes were about 90 percent Chicana/o, while the non-Chicana/o Studies courses averaged about 30 percent Chicana/o. Later discussions with participants indicated that the students in Chicana/o Studies courses included Chicana/o Studies majors, students interested in Chicana/o issues, as well as students who were uninterested in Chicana/o Studies but needed to fulfill a diversity requirement. The participants in non-Chicana/o Studies classes similarly indicated diverse reasons for enrolling in these classes.

The community college is at the edge of a large Chicana/o barrio, and at the time of the study 59.6 percent of the student population was Chicana/o (another 16 percent were non-Chicana/o Latinas/os), and 3 percent were white. At the community college, I recruited students through six Chicana/o Studies classes and three non-Chicana/o Studies history classes. Chicana/o Studies classes were about 99 percent Latina/o, and history classes were about 95 percent Latina/o. Discussions with participants indicated that the students also had a wide variety of interests and reasons for being in the classes from which they were recruited. Few students in Chicana/o Studies courses, however, had an interest in pursuing the subject as a major field of study, and most were interested in training for specific careers in business.

The high school is in the middle of a Chicana/o barrio (the same one served by the community college), and at the time of the study 99.1 percent of the student population was "Hispanic." At the high school, I recruited ninth and twelfth graders through mandatory English classes (five classes for each grade level). The response rates of these two groups were affected by the teacher's decision to give freshmen class time and credit for completing the survey, whereas none of the seniors were formally given class time to participate in the survey, and only two of the senior classes were offered any type of credit.

After completing the surveys, students volunteered to participate in the interviews. Four individuals from each site were randomly selected from subgroups of the sample. A male student and a female student who were recruited through Chicana/o Studies classes, as well as a male and a female who were recruited through non-Chicana/o Studies classes, were selected from the college and university samples, respectively (one additional university student was also interviewed, because this was the only graduate student who had participated in the project). At the high school, a male and a female were selected from the ninth grade and from the twelfth grade. Six of these students—a male and a female at each site—were selected for second interviews. The interview sample was crucial because the interview data were exceptionally detailed and rich and are the heart of the project.

In terms of general demographics, it seems that the East Los Angeles sample is fairly representative of the larger Chicana/o population, given that most of the students are working-class (75 percent are working-class, and 16 percent are middle-class; the remaining participants were unable to provide this information) with limited education (63 percent of fathers and 66 percent of mothers did not attain the equivalent of a high school education, and 18 percent and 19 percent, respectively, went only as far as a high school diploma). Additionally, the participants are mostly second-generation (63 percent), with a significant first-generation immigrant population (24 percent) and a smaller third-generation group (13 percent). Gender distribution in the sample reflected that in the classes sampled (the number of females tended to be slightly higher in these classes, and 60 percent of the participants were female).

Acoma, Washington

Acoma is in the midst of rapid demographic transformation, as this working-class Mexicana/o community has grown dramatically in recent years. Acoma is a small rural town in the heart of a large agricultural region that provides a great deal of wealth to the farm owners in the area. Despite the wealth that agriculture brings to the region, 21 percent of the population was living in poverty during the time of this study, and although an ethnic breakdown of the figure was not available, it is popularly understood that Mexicanas/os make up the vast majority of those in poverty.

The most recent census figures reported that Acoma had a population of 65,000, of which 78 percent were classified as white, and 16 percent Hispanic. The shift in the demographic makeup of the area can be seen when we look at the schools and find that, at that same time, 67 percent of the students were white and 26 percent were Hispanic. In the specific schools I worked in, during the time of the study 3 percent of the university students were Latina/o and 87 percent were white (with small percentages of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans). Although the vast majority of the Latina/o students attending the university are Chicanas/os from the Acoma Valley, it is important to note that their experience at the university is quite different from their lives at home. The university is in a small town where most residents are either students or employees of the university. This town is almost entirely populated by whites and has none of the ethnic-specific amenities found in the Chicana/o communities from which the students come. The community college and the high school are near each other, and both are near large Chicana/o communities. At the community college, 73 percent of the students were white and 19 percent were Latina/o (with small percentages of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans). The high school had the greatest racial balance: 51 percent of the students were white, and 40 percent were Latina/o (again with small percentages of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans).

As mentioned above, while the two projects had similarities, I never attempted to replicate the first study in Acoma. I chose to make changes in the research design to allow me to obtain information that might not have been accessed in the previous study. In Acoma, instead of recruiting students from classes, I obtained addresses from each of the schools and recruited students through the mail. I mailed surveys to a random sample of students at each site in 1997, and the total sample of survey respondents was 24 university students, 24 high school students, and 17 community college students.

All of the students who expressed interest in being interviewed were contacted for interviews. Because of the inability of some students to make interviews, additional students were selected for interviews at the high school and the community college. These additional students had interacted with my contacts (both of whom were counselors) at these sites. Four males and 4 females were interviewed at each site (with an extra female at the high school and 3 extra females at the university). After the interviews were transcribed and analyzed, all available students were included in second interviews (2 males and a female at the high school, 2 females and a male at the community college, and 2 males and 3 females at the university).

The Acoma sample exhibited an obvious diversity among the students. Sixty percent were females, a figure that seems to reflect the higher attrition rates of males. At least 40 percent of the students had been born in Mexico (most of these were in the high school and the community college, and most had migrated to the United States at a very young age). At least 52 percent of the students had been born in the United States, 32 percent reported that one parent had been born there, and 20 percent reported that a grandparent had been born here. Only 13 percent of students reported that their mothers had completed high school, and 17 percent reported that their fathers had diplomas. The economic impact of these educational outcomes is reflected in the students' socioeconomic status: only 11 percent of the students stated that their families were middle-class or higher (based on the employment of their parents). Although a number of students did not provide information on their parents' employment, these students tended to be the children of immigrants who had received little education. The students' responses as well as the demographics of the communities suggest that the vast majority of the students come from working-class families. Some groups of students were very similar at some of the sites, such as the four students at the community college who belonged to MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán), but they show some significant differences among themselves. Other students—and the emphasis I put on their counterstories—help us understand the diversity I have been discussing.


Without question, the greatest limitation of both projects is the difficulty of addressing the tremendous diversity of the Chicana/o population. While the popular media, politicians, and even some researchers tend to describe Chicanas/os (and Latinas/os for that matter) as a homogenous body, there is as much diversity within this population as there is outside it. Chicanas/os vary greatly with regard to a number of variables: generation, language ability, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, cultural practices, family dynamics, skin color, and a long list of other important characteristics. Although the samples include a broad spectrum of students across each of these variables, and the differences between Acoma and East Los Angeles add to this diversity, some pockets of the Chicana/o community may not be represented in these students' experiences.

This study is also limited in that it considered only the perspective of students. This limitation was important to the study, however, because the work attempts to understand the relationship between identity and school performance, with the goal of applying the lessons of successful students to the experiences of the struggling students. More important is that the project included only Chicana/o students who selected themselves for participation in the study. The concern here is that this factor might make it much less likely that the project would include students who were struggling, the logic being that struggling students would feel more marginal and thus would be less likely to volunteer to talk about their experiences. Interestingly, my research has found that this was not the case, for a broad range of students participated (with regard to their school performance). In fact, some failing students have said they were interested in the project because they were concerned about the problems that Chicana/o students face. This finding, then, presents another possible limitation: that the study would attract students who had a certain concern or commitment to helping Chicana/o students. Without question, that occurred. The issue that I have struggled with is determining to what degree this is truly a limitation. The students who express this interest in helping other Chicana/o students come from a wide range of experiences and have a number of perspectives on what it will take for students to succeed (from putting the responsibility on students themselves to blaming families and blaming schools). And a wide range of types of students participated in the study: from recent immigrants to students whose families had been in the United States for three or more generations; from students who struggled in English to students who did not know any Spanish; from students whose parents never attended school to those whose parents had advanced degrees; from students who return during breaks at school to help their families work in the fields to students whose parents are professionals; from Catholics to Baptists; from students who are thriving in school to those who rarely even attend; from those who see themselves as revolutionary activists to ROTC students; and from those who believe deeply in the importance of Chicana/o Studies classes to those who think they are a waste of time. These are only some of the most obvious differences in the students. The students who are discussed in this book were selected for no other reason than that they represented the diversity of the Chicana/o experience. The excerpts that are used from our conversations were chosen because, as the students explained, they reflected the most important experiences, concerns, and beliefs of the students. Perhaps more important than any other factor that may have influenced the sample was the sociopolitical climate in California, which at the time of the study was charged with an anti-Mexican sentiment that dominated much of daily life (see Lechuga 1997 for one example).

Of significant importance to researchers are the limits of self-report data. The focus of this project, however, is on how Chicana/o students understand themselves and how we can understand their experiences and identity formation. A number of potential avenues are available for attempting to acquire this information, but none is more effective than engaging the students themselves in the analysis. My work in the schools has shown me that school staff are typically unable to understand the complexity of Chicana/o students and their experiences. Furthermore, in my work with students, I ask that they frame their responses within their experiences and that they provide examples whenever possible. I also challenge them to consider alternate views as conveyed by other students, teachers, and parents. In all this work, the students have shown their intelligence and commitment to providing "truthful" answers, and their intellectual abilities in many ways leave arguments against self-report data smacking of condescension. There is not a more effective way to understand the lives and identities of Chicana/o students than to ask them to discuss these things.

In the end, as is always the case, the findings of this research project are specific to the sites and individuals discussed herein. Still, the students make a strong argument for applying this work to other contexts, as we will see.

Finally, several years have passed since the first interviews were conducted. It is important to note the changes in the social and educational landscape since the work was conducted, as well as new insights on the work overall. In California, Washington State, and the United States, much has changed since I last spoke with the students in this study. The U.S. school system now operates under the No Child Left Behind Act. Latinas/os are now the largest "minority" in the United States, and along with that shift has come increasing attention from politicians. There have been Latin Explosions in which the country has fallen in love with certain Latina/o cultural icons. At the same time, there is little effective representation of Latina/o issues by either of the major political parties, and Latina/o portrayals by the media have increased slightly but are still very few and most often caricatures. Racial profiling by law enforcement personnel continues, and the reality is that many Latinas/os are being left behind by the No Child Left Behind Act. Racial segregation in schools is greater now than it ever has been. The gaps between Latina/o and white students in terms of access to resources and school outcomes have remained the same and in many cases have widened. Finally, the racialization and profiling of Chicanas/os in schools are as common as ever. In short, our context is always shifting, and the manifestations of racialization are always shifting as well, but the power of racial hegemony as a defining force in the United States and its schools has remained unchanged. Beyond the statistics, my own work in today's schools, including talking with youth and coordinating workshops for teachers and youth workers, has made this clear.


The remainder of the book is divided into three parts. The first describes the East Los Angeles project. The second considers the Acoma project. The final part brings both sets of analyses into an overall framework and focuses on developing strategies for addressing the needs of Chicana/o students. Although my interests in looking at East Los Angeles and Acoma are similar, as I have explained, the projects are not identical and the analyses are quite different. The differences reflect the evolution of my own thinking, as the analysis of Acoma shows increasing levels of complexity based on the work done in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles chapters are used to develop a framework, while the Acoma chapters are intended to flesh out that framework through extended analyses of students' multiple experiences. Furthermore, because of the lack of previous research with rural Chicana/o youth, more depth and detail are included in the Acoma chapters as the models developed in the section on Los Angeles are applied to the context of Washington. The final chapters consider all of these issues in detail as they look at an overarching model and proposals for interventions. In addition, throughout the book each chapter is slightly different in approach because I have attempted to tell the students' stories in multiple ways.

Chapter 1 provides a framework for explaining the evolution of identity, based on excerpts from individuals rather than case studies. The students' analyses of identity in Los Angeles fit tightly together and tell a single compelling story through the similarities and differences they described. This is the only chapter in which the preliminary survey data are used, for they help us begin to understand the students' beliefs. Chapter 2 is a series of case studies that analyze the influences on students' school lives. I found that a detailed analysis of individual experiences at each site was powerful and would help readers understand individuals and their complexities better. As in Chapter 1, the case studies are used as examples for constructing a framework that addresses the experiences of the entire group. Thus these two chapters provide an initial overall framework for understanding the forces that shape both identity and schooling for Chicana/o students and in particular for considering the detailed analyses of the experiences of the students in Acoma. Chapter 3 builds on this framework by focusing on one individual who was exceptionally introspective and insightful and who modeled a path for change that was applicable to the experiences of others.

Part 2 looks at identity, schooling, and lessons for empowerment in a much different way, by analyzing in detail the multiple arenas that influence students' lives in Acoma. Chapter 4 looks at each site and each issue that students raised to carefully depict the intricate connections among the different forces that shape students' lives and to also suggest the possible evolution of their analyses and thinking. Similarly, Chapter 5 examines the several themes that are common across the sites and compares them with the framework from Chapter 2. Chapters 4 and 5 are based on extensive excerpts from students' analyses, for several reasons. As the students themselves explain, they have an almost desperate need to have their voices heard. In addition, it is necessary for all of us to hear the multiple voices and experiences of students outside of case studies and for parents to be able to understand in vivid detail how their children's lives are influenced. Furthermore, so little research is available on the experiences of rural Chicana/o youth that it is critical to understand their lives in as much depth as possible. These two chapters form a natural transition into the more complex analyses that are the heart of Chapter 6. That chapter focuses on a few of the women at the community college because they describe very similar experiences in facing some of the most psychologically damaging struggles that were reported in either project. Their experiences are compared with those of two male students (one at the high school and one at the university). Together, these students point to one path for resistance that is empowering and is reflected in the interviews with many of their peers. This chapter is particularly important because it highlights the dramatic conflicts that many Chicana/o youth will face in the many emerging Mexican communities in rural areas across the United States.

The two chapters in Part 3 analyze the lessons of the first two parts of the book. Chapter 7 provides a framework for understanding both the school lives and the identity development of Chicana/o students, and Chapter 8 provides a model for addressing the needs of these students.



“By utilizing a multivocal narrative methodology, this book opens a new and important area of qualitative research that studies the racializing of school-age youth, complementing the work of researchers such as Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren.... The book is accessible to teachers who must daily grapple with the challenges of teaching cross-racial populations of students. Teachers (and students) often navigate these turbulent issues with minimal support and scarce resources. This book helps to fill that gap.”
Margaret E. Montoya, Professor of Law, University of New Mexico


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