Generaciones' Narratives

John Scenters‐Zapico

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CCDP Project Editor: Stephanie Vie (Fort Lewis College)


Teachers, students, and administrators interested in traditional literacy, electronic literacy, bilingualism, Latino/a studies, and media literacies showcasing the rise of technological literacies across generations and within the marginalized population on the U.S.-Mexico border will better understand literacy experiences in niche locations.

From over a hundred surveys and interviews and a final focus on over 40 participants, Generaciones’ Narratives reveals how terms like sponsor and gateway become nuanced in significant ways, and how both refined and new terminology useful for niche studies comes into play.

The book is presented in a manner allowing readers and listeners to envision multiple paths toward literacy. Generaciones’ Narratives’ participants themselves argue their own cases for the validity and value inherent in these paths through story-based responses and video interviews. New literacy terminology, born from the research, is shared and discussed, such as Micro-Tear Zone, Cubbyhole Gateway, Direct and Indirect Sponsorship. From Generaciones’ Narratives, literacies become defined as a set of experiences, and as a complex of recombinant actions with unpredictable results.



What we find with Generaciones is that there will be a way, economics notwithstanding, that folks do find a way to the things they value. And that like all people, Latinos, Mexican-Americans, Mexican immigrants, value education, and recognize that the key to education, there is no education without acquiring literacy, and that literacy itself has changed, that what began in 1966 or 1967 for me, and 1993 for most of us with the connection to the Web, does not define the limits of this new technological literacy: people will find a way, will find a way to the technology that is literacy itself, will find a way to the technology which is a different media with which we can express our literacy practices.

We are confused as our stereotypes go out the window, and we are delighted to discover that stereotypes are only stereotypes, and that finally is what this book is about: this is a book about stereotypes, about breaking apart stereotypes, about learning something about who our neighbors are in this time of mass-hysteria about immigrants invading. It’s an important book. It’s an important time for this book. And it’s also important in the ways it explores the various media with which we come to understand literacy.

-- Victor Villanueva for the Foreword to Generaciones

Generaciones will become a core text for graduate courses in literacy; it may well become a must-read for researchers in Education as well; certainly it will make its mark among the qualitative research people. It will be a major text for latino/a rhet/comp people and may possibly appear in teaching practica—not only in the southwest borderlands but in the burgeoning number of places where Spanish is spoken by a wide range of school children. It contributes to studies in media literacies by showcasing the rise of technological literacies across generations and within a marginalized population. John does a careful job of positioning his work in relation to scholarly work on traditional and media literacies, paying homage before going on to enrich this extant work. He argues the case that ecology matters (something many would agree with), then takes giant leaps in perfecting the arts of qualitative research, by embodying the polyvocal practice he advocates and augmenting our conceptual vocabulary. The result will be that his methodology will serve those not interested in border ecologies. Yet even if he had not made all of these contributions to generalist qualitative research, his decision to study latino/a populations and border literacies is more than timely—it’s urgent.

John situates himself, his co-authors, and his participants all within the literacy scenes he describes (e.g., he models sponsorship and sponsors co-authoring). He argues tacitly that literacies rising to standard levels of “competency” are not necessarily controllable by educators, not usually measured by educators, and not really seen by educators. He then presents his study in a manner that allows readers to envision multiple paths toward literacy. He allows participants themselves to argue their own cases for the validity and value inherent in these paths. Literacy is thus defined as a set of experiences and as a complex of recombinant actions with unpredictable results. The random path of literacy learning notwithstanding, John inserts an ethical component that calls readers to sponsorship and to appreciation for sponsorship (I found myself reviewing my missed sponsorship opportunities and acknowledging kinds of sponsorship that I’d not noticed before). This ethical call is loud and clear. He’s given us a rich image of a major population that complicates the term “literacy” by its actions.

Two conceptual innovations stand out: 1. cubby holes—which surface in unpredictable ways—and 2. MTZs, this latter a really brilliant conception that I imagine will move into standard parlance. And as John points out in the introduction, the role of extended family members as literacy educators and sponsors is hugely expanded in this study. In short, what researchers and public has dismissed as “impoverished literacy environments” turn out to be rich, diverse and effective.

-- Susan Romano