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date: 08 December 2023

Latinx Curriculum Theorizingfree

Latinx Curriculum Theorizingfree

  • Ganiva ReyesGaniva ReyesMiami University


Latinx curriculum theorizing is a constellation of curriculum scholarship rooted in the histories, knowledges, and everyday lives of peoples from across the Latin American diaspora. It is a framework that pushes back against demonizing stereotypes, caricatures, and colonial generalizations of an entire diaspora. Born out of resistance and liberation, it comes from the histories and practices of Latinx peoples in creating counternarratives, education reform, and activism. Specifically, Latinx curriculum theorizing includes the following: (a) Latinidad as a collective point of entry, (b) Latinx as a term, (c) history and circumstance as curricular knowledge, (d) counternarratives and testimonio as curriculum theorizing, (e) cultural knowledges of Latinx students and community as theory, (f) cultural knowledges of Latinx teachers, and (g) Latinx communities generating critical pedagogies and education initiatives.

Latinx curriculum theorizing draws from a variety of Latinx philosophical traditions, including critical race theory, Latina feminist philosophy, Latinx and Chicanx studies, and various strands of Latin American, Continental, Caribbean, and Africana philosophy. While scholars who do Latinx curriculum theorizing are trained in theories such as critical race theory, feminist theory, and post- and decolonial theories, because of the subject matter and the people, this framework is the next step up in putting such foundational theories into conversation with one another. It is therefore a newly emerging framework, in the early 21st century, because it draws upon all these perspectives to account for a very transitionary, contradictory, and messy Latinx experience.

What makes something distinctly Latinx curriculum is an engagement with a state of transition and liminal spaces, both pedagogically and epistemologically, with the varied and multilayered trajectories of Latin American-origin realities. Far from being a monolithic and static framework, Latinx curriculum theorizing is itself malleable, contested, and in transition. Just as Latinx itself is a contested term within academic and activist spaces, Latinx curriculum theorizing is a point of contestation that makes it a framework with porous boundaries that can explain and even redefine the Latinx educational experience. As such, Latinx curriculum lends itself to nuanced analysis and praxis for issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, language, migration, racial hierarchies, and colonial legacies. This type of curriculum theorizing also points to power structures from multiple social locations and offers pathways for social change and liberation.


  • Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities
  • Education, Health, and Social Services
  • Educational Theories and Philosophies
  • Education and Society
  • Education, Gender, and Sexualities


As the field of curriculum has diversified, scholars of color have found momentum to revise curriculum theory from the situated knowledges and experiences of historically marginalized people (Au et al., 2016; Erevelles, 2005; Taliaferro-Baszile, 2009). Through this movement, the contributions of scholars of color are positioned as equally significant as the already recognized contributions of white, male scholars (Brown & Au, 2014; Grande, 2004; Grant et al., 2016). Scholars have called for “browning the curriculum” to include voices of color in curriculum history and theorizing and to disrupt “the colonial project of heteropatriarchal White supremacy” (Gaztambide-Fernández & Murad, 2011, p. 15).

And yet, before the publication of Latinx Curriculum Theorizing (Berry et al., 2019), there had not been a text that specifically looked at Latinx curriculum theorizing in a focused and collective sense.1 According to Berry et al. (2019), “no single work addresses curriculum from multiple perspectives specifically for/by/about Latinx students” (p. xxi). That said, there is an important backstory that led to the development of this edited book. After teaching graduate curriculum courses, Berry (2019) was made aware by her students that the presence of Chicanx/Latinx voices is limited in the curriculum canon. With the exception of Valenzuela’s chapter in The Curriculum Studies Reader (Valenzuela, 2012), a chapter on the Mexican American experience in the Southwest in Reclaiming the Multicultural Roots of U.S. Curriculum (Au et al., 2016), and Enrique Aleman’s documentary film Stolen Education (Luna, 2013), Berry calls attention to a lack of Latinx curriculum theory scholarship in the field, that is, scholarship that is connected to the racial, sociopolitical, cultural, and historical realities and knowledges of Latin American origin communities.

Through her teaching experiences, Berry realized that her Latinx/Chicanx students knew little about the history of curriculum from their own communities. After confirming her observations with her colleague Rodriguez, Berry decided that a concerted effort was needed to bring together Latinx voices and scholarship into one volume. Thus, Latinx Curriculum Theorizing (Berry et al., 2019) came to fruition. This edited book is a critical contribution to the field of education because it highlights the significance of curricular knowledges from the Latinx diaspora (including but not limited to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Panama) and how this work connects to larger understandings of curriculum theory. It also accomplishes the difficult task of organizing chapters into themes that show how people of the Latinx diaspora have been excluded from and misrepresented in education and schooling, yet their lived realties and cultural roots have, nonetheless, informed curriculum.

This story serves as an important point of departure for an encyclopedia article that also recognizes the contributions of Latinx knowledges to curriculum. However, the article takes things further by discussing key texts, studies, and conversations among Latinx scholars to map out Latinx curriculum theorizing and conceptualize exactly what this framework entails. To start, the article defines Latinx curriculum theorizing as a constellation of curriculum scholarship rooted in the histories, knowledges, and everyday lives of peoples from across the Latin American diaspora. What makes something distinctly Latinx curriculum is an engagement with a state of transition and liminal spaces, both pedagogically and epistemologically, with the varied and multilayered trajectories of Latinx realities. Far from being a monolithic and static framework, Latinx curriculum theorizing is itself malleable, contested, and in transition. It is a point of contestation that, just as Latinx itself is a contested term in the early 21st century (as explained in the section “Latinx as a Term”), makes Latinx curriculum theorizing a framework with porous boundaries that can explain and even redefine the Latinx educational experience. As such, Latinx curriculum lends itself to nuanced analysis and praxis for issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, language, migration, racial hierarchies, and colonial legacies. This type of curriculum theorizing also points to power structures from multiple social locations and offers pathways for social change and liberation.

With this definition in mind, the following questions frame the article. What are the historical, sociocultural, and structural circumstances that have developed the curricular knowledges and scholarship of Latinx peoples? What exactly is the term Latinx in Latinx curriculum theorizing, which includes diverse experiences of Latin American peoples across race, skin color, class, gender, sexuality, language, ethnicity, and immigration status? And finally, how does Latinx curriculum theorizing shape curriculum theory as a whole? In responding to these questions, the article provides guideposts for a trajectory of work that has existed but has not necessarily been named and recognized in a cohesive way within the curriculum field. Thus, the article is divided into seven sections corresponding to thematic contributions of Latinx curriculum theorizing to the education field and curriculum studies. These seven themes include (a) Latinidad as a collective point of entry, (b) Latinx as a term, (c) history and circumstance as curricular knowledge, (d) counternarratives and testimonio as curriculum theorizing, (e) cultural knowledges of Latinx students and community as theory, (f) cultural knowledges of Latinx teachers, and (g) Latinx communities generating critical pedagogies and education initiatives.

Latinidad as a Collective Point of Entry

For Berry et al. (2019), the “Latinx collective curriculum experience embodies the values, beliefs, customs, and traditions of a people that incorporate the knowledge” (p. xxi) necessary to address the social inequities people face, as well as the strengths to overcome them. However, the telling of a “collective” experience for people of Latin American origin, particularly within the United States, is a complicated endeavor. One useful point of entry that sheds light on the historical discourses, depictions, and portrayals of Latinx populations is the social phenomenon of Latinidad. To start, “Latinidad” arose as a concept to understand how the rising visibility of Latina/o bodies in the 1990s was being negotiated by the media, the economy, curriculum, American culture and politics, and other power structures in the United States. Latinidad is not a self-defined identity for people perceived to be of Latin American origin but rather a “cultural and commercial iconization” of Latina bodies and cultures (Paredez, 2009, p. 5). It is also a “process of being and/or becoming Latina/o” (Valdivia, 2010) that is heavily mediated by the media through the commodification of Latinx bodies and cultures. In this way, Latinxs have been artificially grouped together, fetishized and commodified as a market to be capitalized on (Dávila, 2012) by selling them what the imagined Latinx body is and desires. Thus, Latinidad encapsulates the way the broader (white) American culture has come to understand and accept brown bodies in our cultural landscape, by hierarchizing those bodies below the cultural and political legitimacy of white bodies and culture, and by reducing them to a market and voting bloc.

For example, a Latina body “[evokes] a set of predictable responses (‘she’ is hot-blooded, tempestuous, hypersexual, and in current manifestations has a big butt)” (Mendible, 2007, p. 1). Because the visibility of Latinx bodies and cultures threatens white cultural/political dominancy by legitimizing Latinx culture and people as legitimate Americans, these bodies must be safely contained, particularly in gendered ways, through stereotypes that can be conquered (Mendible, 2007; Molina-Guzman, 2010). This is especially apparent with the discourse of the “browning of America” (Chavez, 2008). Latinidad is a creation of the media and the market, yet it teaches the larger American public how to interpret and interact with brown bodies. Yosso writes that “racism, as well as gender- and class-based oppression, in the United States is perpetuated in the form of entertainment media (film, advertising, television, and magazines)” (Yosso, 2002a, p. 52). Furthermore, “both schools and media teach to a mass audience, using curriculum informed by racism, sexism, and classism” (Yosso, 2002a, p. 53). In an education system that is extremely segregated and where white teachers may not live in the communities where they teach, Latinidad is the only exposure or curriculum they have to understand and connect with their Latinx students. Because it is a warped lens that depends on stereotypes, people, particularly white people, in positions of power (such as in teaching and curriculum development) can have disproportionate leverage on defining who is or isn’t authentically Latinx.

Thus, Latinidad is a lens through which mainstream culture has come to reluctantly accept brown bodies in the United States. This has been done by creating taken-for-granted stereotypes that are deeply race, class, and gender based. Moreover, mainstream depictions of Latinx sexuality as “hot-blooded” and excessive make Latinidad a caricature (Molina-Guzman, 2010). Hypersexualized and heteronormative caricatures make Latinxs objects of desire that are able to be conquered and safely contained as nonthreatening to white, middle-class, heterosexual culture (Mendible, 2007). It is part of a broader strategy to contain race, cultural, and gender difference. While mainstream depictions of Latinidad rest on caricatures of excessive heterosexuality and hyperfertility (Gutiérrez, 2008), there are queer Latinx individuals and experiences that do not fit this mold. For example, the influential role of Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican and Venezuelan transwoman, is often overlooked in the gay rights movement and within Latinx activism (Gonzalez, 2019). Furthermore, the skewed media coverage of the 2016 Orlando shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub glossed over the reality that many victims were queer Latinxs of Puerto Rican descent (Bugarín Quezada, 2017). The experiences of LGBTQIA+ Latinxs within the larger diaspora are limited or missing altogether.

In general, Latinidad is an essentialized label in which a plethora of voices, histories, languages, and ethnicities are silenced. While other collective identity terms are being used in education and the curriculum field (i.e., Latinx, Latina/o, Hispanic), such terms and whose voices are included in defining the landscape of what it means to be part of a Latin American diaspora is a complicated project (Salinas, 2020). Scholars have pointed out that in the quest to represent an entire diaspora, especially with the purpose of addressing social injustice in the United States, it is crucial to recognize the realities of Indigenous (Calderon & Urrieta, 2019) and Afro-Latin@ experiences (Torres-Saillant, 2007), as well as the multilingual diversity and particular colonial and slave trade legacies that have differentially impacted Latinx people across the Americas (Adams & Busey, 2017).

Machado-Casas (2009) uses the term oculto, or hidden/unseen/ignored, to describe the current status of Latinx immigrants who are members of Indigenous tribes. Indigenous immigrant communities are rarely, if ever, mentioned in Latinx discourses, much less is their linguistic diversity acknowledged (Machado-Casas, 2012). For example, Menjivar (2002) points out a distinction between non-Indigenous Guatemalans (referred to as Ladinos or Ladinas) who speak Spanish and wear Western clothing, and Indigenous Guatemalans who typically wear traditional garments (which vary by region) and “speak one (or more) of 21 Mayan languages” (p. 533). Indigenous Guatemalans are more likely to be poor and not have access to education and healthcare compared with their Ladina/o counterparts. Indigenous Guatemalans are also associated with low social status compared with Ladina/os who are culturally Hispanicized and of mestizo and European descent (Menjivar, 2002).

In terms of Afro-Latin@s (a term used in the literature), an estimated 130–150 Latinx populations of African descent live throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (Adams & Busey, 2017; Vargas & Kuhl, 2008). Yet Afro-Latin@s have been erased or sidelined in mainstream media, the political sphere, and school curriculum. The conceptualization of Afro-Latinidad is elusive, especially because mainstream audiences (including white and African American communities in the United States) consider “Afro” and “Latin@” as two distinct ethnoracial identifiers (Adams & Busey, 2017). Torres-Saillant (2007) suggests that Afro-Latinidad can be thought of as the combination of “blackness (Afro), as a racial designation that stretches across numerous ethnicities, and Hispanicity (Latina/o), as an ethnic category that encompasses multiple races” (p. 363). Dismissing Indigenous Latinx and Afro-Latin@ communities in the United States and Latin American countries perpetuates the colonization and stereotypes that are associated with a collective identity such as Latinidad (Adams & Busey, 2017; Fox, 2006).

Latinx as a Term

How does Latinidad connect to the rise of the term Latinx? The term Latinx, like other terms before it (e.g., Latin@), is a response to stereotypes and oversimplifications perpetuated by Latinidad. Guzmán (2018) explains that Latinx emerged in the early 21st century to “demarcate those afflicted under the sign of latinidad” (p. 144). However, it is “challenging to trace the lineage of the ‘x’ in the term Latinx” (Salinas, 2020). The term came into being through queer blogospheres among younger queer communities of color to legitimize queerness and gender fluidity. According to a review of literature by Salinas (2020), Latinx is an ideological term that emerged out of higher education and activist settings. While there is little consistency in the literature, Salinas’s research claims that the “x” was first introduced in a “Puerto Rican psychological periodical to challenge the gender binaries encoded in the Spanish language” (p. 3). The first noticeable usage of the “x” in Latinx was in a gender-inclusive student organization at Columbia University that changed its name from Chicano Caucus to Chicanx Caucus; they also changed Latino to Latinx Heritage Month. Within a special issue entitled Las Américas Quarterly, Gómez-Barris and Fiol-Matta (2014) encouraged the use of the Latinx term in Latin America and in the United States (Salinas, 2020). In 2017, the special issue Theorizing LatinX (Milian, 2017) highlighted the dissemination of the term through the contributors’ reflective and intellectual thoughts about its usage (Salinas, 2020). Latinx has also established a presence in journalism and mainstream media (R. Contreras, 2017).

While Latinx has been embraced in academic and activist spaces, the question of whether there is overt recognition of the diverse genders, bodies, histories, cultures, and languages within the Latin American diaspora is questionable (Salinas, 2020). For example, Salinas and Lozano (2019) wrote an article that traced the usage of the term and found that, while the term is often used in papers and presentations, it is usually deployed as a demographic categorization with no definition or explanation of its use. In addition to Latinx, several other terms are also used in academia (i.e., Latino, Latina, Latina/o, Latin@, Latin American, and Hispanic); thus Salinas (2020) notes that in 2018, the editor of Latino Studies encouraged writers to be consistent with their use of terminology and provide a footnote for readers.

It is important for scholars to explain their use of Latinx because the terms contains multiple layers and histories. There are three major threads to the rationale behind the creation and usage of Latinx: (a) it seeks to include LGBTQ identities and realities across the diaspora (Avilés, 2017; Vidal-Ortiz & Martínez, 2018), (b) the “x” is used as a marker of indigeneity (S.M. Contreras, 2017; Salinas, 2020), and (c) it challenges gender binaries encoded in the Spanish language (Guzmán, 2018). Vidal-Ortiz and Martinez (2018) posit that Latinx is an encompassing term that captures the plurality of experiences within the Latin American diaspora and names a collective identity that is not rooted in either a gender binary (i.e., Latina/o) or an androcentric gendered hierarchy (i.e., Latino). Guzmán (2018) also adds that the “x” in Latinx marks the “material losses in resources, money, care, housing, land, community, country, political representation, representation, sovereignty, justice, and so on” (p. 144) of the people it aims to make visible. Additionally, Latinx, Latin@, and Latina/o are used to challenge androcentrism and the gender binary (Guzmán, 2018). The term “Chicanx” has also been deployed to recognize the intersecting dimensions of power around race, class, gender, and sexuality, as well as the Indigenous roots of the diaspora (S.M. Contreras, 2017). For example, Cherrie Moraga resists symbolic violence and oppression through the spelling of “Xicana” (Moraga, 2011).

Although Latinx has been accepted in many academic and activist settings, there are also critiques of the term. For example, one common critique is that the “x” in Latinx is an imperial opposition and construction from the United States (Lazo, 2018). Yet Vidal-Ortiz and Martínez (2018) highlight that this history is not unique to the United States. Other Spanish-speaking communities have also searched for ways to create more inclusive language. For example, activists in Latin America have used the grammatical loophole of “e” as a gender-neutral suffix (e.g., estudiante to denote male or female student) to construct greetings such as “Bienvenidos, bienvenidas, and bienvenides!” (Vidal-Ortiz & Martínez, 2018). Another common argument is that the “x” is an English language imposition that disrupts Spanish grammar and phonology (Lazo, 2018; Vidal-Ortiz & Martínez, 2018). While there is validity to this claim, Vidal-Ortiz and Martínez (2018) elaborate that the use of the “x” is not meant to denigrate or threaten the language, but rather it “signals its plasticity and health” (p. 392) because it shows the shifting of cultural and social norms. From this perspective, Latinx is about inclusion and challenging the discursive and linguistic shaping of whose struggles are recognized within the diaspora, especially for LGBTQIA+ individuals. While there are problems with the terms (Salinas, 2020), there are also possibilities for engagement about what it means to formulate a collective understanding of a diverse group of people across social identifiers, histories, and contexts (Vidal-Ortiz & Martínez, 2018).

History and Circumstance as Curricular Knowledge

As discussed in the section “Latinidad as Collective Point of Entry,” Latinidad is a caricature that demonizes and subjugates an entire group of people and safeguards white middle-classness from the threat of brown bodies (Molina Guzman, 2007). Through this lens comes a distorted set of curricular knowledges, histories, and current understandings about Latinx students, their families, and their communities (Yosso, 2002a). In addition to the hypervisibility of Latin American origin people as caricatures for social control, there are also omissions and other historical distortions about Latinx communities that exclude Latinx knowledges from being part of the curriculum history canon. According to Au et al. (2016), there are two broad types of curriculum absences in U.S. curriculum historical narratives: (a) the invisible narrative or stark absences of histories and theories, and (b) the visibility narrative or “a process by which select narratives are included” (p. 5). Both absences impede a fundamental integration of the Latinx experience into curriculum studies and school curriculum. Thus, Latinx curriculum theorizing is born out of the necessity to revise curriculum history not only to disrupt racist depictions of Latinx people that misinform the general public, but also to address the miseducation of Latinx students about their own history and community.

Critical race scholars have pointed out the systemic, institutional, curricular, and pedagogical ways that Latinx youth are marginalized and simultaneously blamed for their shortcomings (Bernal, 2002; Solorzano & Bernal, 2001; Solórzano & Yosso, 2002; Yosso, 2002a, 2002b, 2005; Yosso et al., 2009). Racist practices, school segregation, cultural marginalization, and linguistic elimination have made up the historical trajectory of U.S. schooling for Latinx populations (Antrop-González, 2011; Gándara & Contreras, 2009; Irizarry & Welton, 2015). In Texas, for example, Mexican-origin youth often attend schools that are highly segregated, overcrowded, poorly funded, and English-only (Valenzuela, 1999). Moreover, Latinx students and their families are typically perceived in “deficit ways” (Valencia, 2002) and not validated by school administration, teachers, and counselors (Machado-Casas, 2009). Due to stereotypes that depict Latinx parents as not caring about their children getting an education (Torrez, 2004), they are commonly positioned as culturally and morally deficient vis-à-vis white, middle-class families. More accurately, however, there is a lack of communication between schools and parents, so they are usually ill-informed about school processes such as tracking (Torrez, 2004), and they go through exclusion and negative experiences with teachers and school personnel (Lopez-Robertson, 2011). Recently arrived immigrant parents and students are especially badly mistreated due to their perceived “deficiency” in English and their positioning as outsiders (Villenas & Deyhle, 1999). There is little recognition of the transnational knowledge base, skills, and developing bilingualism/multilingualism that Latinx students and their parents possess (Machado-Casas, 2012). These cultural resources can be used to enrich the educational lives of Latinx students, yet these knowledges are devalued, resulting in what Valenzuela (1999) calls subtractive schooling—a schooling approach that “divest[s] youth of important social and cultural resources, leaving them progressively vulnerable to academic failure” (p. 3).

In response to this oppressive trajectory, scholars have used critical race theory (CRT) and LatCrit theory to center the experiences, stories, and knowledge of Latinx youth to further reveal curriculum, school structures, and discourses that miseducate and underserve them (Solorzano & Yosso, 2001). Yosso (2002b) asserts that school curriculum in classrooms and textbooks is filtered through a Eurocentric lens that normalizes white, middle-class ways of viewing the world. Social studies curriculum, in particular, carries the baggage of colonialism and white supremacy, catering to the white dominant culture, so that Latinx students have little opportunity to critically engage with historical narratives that exclude or stereotype them (Busey & Russell, 2016; Daniels, 2011). For instance, while a curricular unit in a history textbook may be dedicated to Mexican Americans, this history is told from a Eurocentric perspective of how whites encountered the “other,” thereby recentering the discussion back to a white, middle-class “standard” way of knowing (Bernal, 2002; Yosso, 2002a).

The history of schooling for Puerto Ricans on the island and in the United States has also included colonization and cultural/linguistic elimination. Antrop-González (2011) shows how English has been used as a tool for Americanization and vocational training for Puerto Ricans in the island’s schools. This approach has been used to “establish a ready labor force for those in the Diaspora and on the Island” (Antrop-González, 2011, p. 15). In the Southwest region of the United States, curricular discourse stems from multiple layers of nationalism and colonization including Spanish colonialism, the Mexican nation, and Anglo expansionism (Au et al., 2016). This colonialist/imperialist legacy has created a common saying among Texas locals, “we did not cross over the border, the border crossed us” (Mier et al., 2004, p. 16). Additionally, the use of eugenics, IQ testing, and segregation in the Southwest has perpetuated a deeply engrained racist logic in mainstream curriculum (Au et al., 2016). Such curriculum distorts and omits Latinx contributions to U.S. history and society and rationalizes discriminatory processes that reinforce inequality (Yosso, 2002a, 2002b). Examples of this include omissions such as the legacy of the influential educator and activist George I. Sánchez, or the landmark case of Mendez v. Westminster (1947) in which the segregation of Mexican American students was ruled to be unconstitutional for the first time (Au et al., 2016).

Immigration and xenophobic sentiments especially are at the forefront of discourses and curricular understandings of Latinx populations (Fernandez, 2016; Menjivar, 2002). Based on colonizing discourses and the safeguarding of whiteness, anti-immigrant sentiment and fears of the “browning of America” (Chavez, 2008) are built into caricature constructions of Latinidad. These narratives matter, especially given the discourse of a global immigration “crisis” during the early 21st century in which “the displaced are risking their lives to seek refuge abroad from war and violence, while receiving countries are escalating efforts to shut them out” (Pérez Huber, 2015, p. 22). For example, Pérez Huber (2015) highlights how DREAMers (an identity that emerged from undocumented Latin American origin college students) and Central American unaccompanied youth (most of whom are recently arrived immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) are impacted by U.S. imperialist policies and dehumanized through anti-immigrant narratives that characterize them as “threats” or “burdens” to the well-being of the United States. Tirado (2019) also discusses how the rhetoric and state process of “illegality” shapes the everyday lives and schooling experiences of undocumented youth in ways that foreclose educational opportunity.

In higher education, Cisneros (2018, 2019) looks at the intersectional experiences and meaning-making of LGBTQIA+ Latinxs who identify as “undocuqueer,” showing how gender, sexuality, and immigration status are interconnected systems and discourses of oppression. Afro-Latin@s also make up a significant portion of recently arrived immigrants, including in southeastern areas of the United States such as the North Carolina Piedmont Triad area, yet they are mostly ignored in immigration discourses (Vargas & Kuhl, 2008). In general, curricular discourses such as “illegality,” and narratives that vilify or exclude Latinx immigrant youth and their families, have severe consequences for undocumented youth in the United States, including the deportation of family members and students, family separations, and increased student fear of anti-immigrant consequences (Fernandez, 2016).

Counternarratives and Testimonio as Curriculum Theorizing

The stigmatizing histories, discourses, and current realities of Latinx populations makes counternarratives and testimonios a crucial project in Latinx curriculum theorizing as a form of resistance and social transformation. Drawing from Chicana feminist perspectives and critical race perspectives, Bernal (2002) discusses how “collective experiences and community memory” (p. 111) produce counterstories that challenge majoritarian perspectives. Counter-storytelling also creates a sense of community in which Latinx populations can develop tools and strategies for day-to-day survival (Solorzano & Bernal, 2001; Solorzano & Yosso, 2001). Generating curriculum and knowledge through counterstories has been used as a key political move to change oppressive schooling structures and racist practices (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). Testimonio is another Latin American storytelling tradition that reveals personal experiences and events about social injustice (Menchú & Burgos-Debray, 1984). Testimonio has also become a transformative venue in which Latinx people speak out about their experiences of oppression to point out injustice and produce knowledge about how our social world can be changed for the betterment of humanity (Latina Feminist Group, 2001). This storytelling practice and knowledge production, or “theory in the flesh” (Moraga & Anzaldua, 1983), implicates not only the storyteller but also the audience, who become witnesses of the narrative.

Through cuentos (storytelling), consejos (advice), corridos (folk songs), and other texts, Latinx students access counternarratives and testimonios as curriculum resources to confront barriers in PK–12 and higher education. For example, Reyes (2019) shows how regional Mexican music was used in a science classroom to promote community between the teacher and students in a school along the U.S.–Mexico border. In another study, DeNicolo et al. (2015) demonstrate how third-grade students use their own personal narratives/testimonios to form positive understandings of their own communities. Children’s literature written by Chicana feminists also provides powerful counternarratives that disrupt harmful tropes about the Latinx experience (Avilés, 2017). In a bilingual elementary classroom, students made personal connections to the book Friends From the Other Side/Amigos del Otro Lado by Gloria Anzaldua (Lopez-Robertson, 2011). The students saw themselves within the story and this enabled them to feel validated and heard. They were also able to engage with a humanizing story of immigration, providing a different curricular medium through which to make sense of a complicated topic. The children’s book My Colors, My World (2010), written by a self-identified “queer-focused, lesbian Chicana,” Maya C. Gonzalez (Avilés, 2017), offers alternative discourses for children to shape their identities in ways that do not box them into white-centric, binary gender expectations.

Testimonio and counternarratives have also been used as a source of knowledge for Latinx scholars to understand how mainstream school curriculum poorly encapsulates U.S. history and society as a whole. For example, testimonios from undocumented Latina college students (Perez Huber, 2010) show how racist, nativist, and deficit perspectives differentially shape the college experience for students of color. Integrating the embodied knowledges of gender-nonconforming Latinxs also reveals more complicated and nuanced perspectives of what it means to be Latinx. For example, the film Rebel: Loreta Velazquez, Secret Soldier of the American Civil War (Carter et al., 2013) educates audiences on the life of Cuban-born Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who fought in the U.S. Civil War (Avilés, 2017). Velazquez’s story serves as an example of the transformative impact Latinx stories have as curriculum, as it “offsets the patriarchal, black–white paradigm of society through which the United States envisions itself” (Avilés, 2017, p. 34). Hence, Latinx curriculum theorizing offers transformative viewpoints from which to deconstruct and reimagine dominant U.S. narratives.

Cultural Knowledges of Latinx Students and Community as Theory

To combat deficit perspectives among educators and the general public, Latinx curriculum theorizing has taken on the task of highlighting the knowledges and experiences of Latinx students and their communities as strengths and resources to transform curriculum, teaching, and schooling. This movement led to the construction of useful concepts and theories of teaching that are beneficial not only to Latinx students but to all historically marginalized students who have also been traditionally viewed in deficit ways by educators.

Moll et al. (1992) have argued for honoring the funds of knowledge that Latinx students bring in from their homes and communities. Funds of knowledge refers to “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household functioning and well-being” (Moll et al., 1992, p. 133) within Latinx communities. It also encompasses a positive view of Latinx households as containing essential cultural and cognitive resources that can be used in classroom instruction (Moll et al., 1992). In Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classrooms, González et al. (2006) further expand on this concept by bringing together a body of work from multiple scholars to highlight how educators can engage and learn from Latinx families, communities, and households to construct teaching practices that work for Latinx youth. By merging anthropology and education, this work shows how teachers can utilize anthropological methods within Latinx communities to home in on these cultural resources to develop curriculum and pedagogical practice.

In the publication Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth, Yosso (2005) constructs the concept of cultural wealth to highlight the cultural assets that Latinx communities possess but that are historically overlooked. Yosso first revisits Bourdieuian theory to remind readers of the skills, knowledges, and resources that have been traditionally valued from white Eurocentric points of view and hegemonic systems of power. She specifically focuses on the concept of capital, or what dominant society has positioned as the legitimate “know-how” and resources necessary to rise up the social ladder. Using critical race theory, Yosso reconceptualizes what is deemed valuable from the worldview and experiences of Latinx communities and offers a different understanding of capital. From this strengths-based approach, she constructed a six-part cultural model that accounts for the talents, resources, skills, and know-how of Latinx students and their communities. This model includes the following six types of capital: aspirational (hopes and dreams), linguistic (language and communication skills), familial (social and personal resources from family and community), social (peers and other social contacts), navigational (abilities to navigate institutions), and resistance (challenge norms and inequality). These forms of capital from the point of view of Latinx communities and histories make up the model of cultural wealth that has been an integral concept to Latinx curriculum theorizing.

Many education and curricular studies have drawn upon funds of knowledge and cultural wealth to discuss teaching, learning, and curriculum. Ramirez (2012) unpacks how history and social studies teachers can engage with funds of knowledge and cultural wealth to make their classrooms more relevant for Latinx students. Within higher education, Lara and Lara (2012) utilize Hispanic-Serving Institutions to examine how using students’ cultural wealth, affirming family and community, and developing grassroots partnerships with Latinx communities can improve the educational lives of Latinx students. Funds of knowledge has also been used in environmental education and community health initiatives. For example, Arreguin-Anderson and Kennedy (2013) integrate Latinx culture and the Spanish language into the curriculum development of a wildlife conservation and environmental education program for preservice bilingual teachers. Zanoni et al. (2011) also utilize funds of knowledge, in addition to community-based research and environmental justice, to design a community health initiative aimed at reducing asthma and obesity among the Latinx community. Rather than working from deficit perspectives, they emphasize the importance of community organizing and sharing knowledge and power across Latinx families so they can participate in curriculum development. Through this project, community funds of knowledge were not only validated but also created through the processes of compromiso (compromise), confianza (confidence), and colaboración (collaboration). These studies show how Latinx curriculum theorizing can lead to communal and more democratic processes of involving students, families, and communities in curriculum work.

Cultural resources, knowledges, and practices from Latinx immigrants, including those of Indigenous origin, have also been integrated into strengths-based curricular approaches. One case study of a Honduran immigrant family analyzes how they engage in literacy activities through communal practices and bilingualism (Baird et al., 2015). Menjivar (2002) uses a transnational framework to explore how Guatemalan immigrants maintain attachments to their home country while forging a sense of home in the United States. Similarly, in a three-year qualitative study in North Carolina, Machado-Casas (2012) examines how Mexican, Salvadorian, and Guatemalan recently arrived immigrants of Indigenous backgrounds use multilingualism, transnational skills, and survival strategies to “move across multiple identities” (p. 534) to maintain their cultures and thrive in U.S. society and schools. Drawing from participant data, along with a song entitled El Camaleón by the Mexican corrido band Los Altos de la Sierra, Machado-Casas (2012) identifies these survival strategies as the Pedagogy of the Chameleon—or a transitional and sociolinguistic practice based on fluid identities (see also Machado-Casas & Flores, 2010). Making sense of how recently arrived immigrant students and families maneuver through multiple worlds and maintain a positive sense of self creates concepts that are essential for Latinx curriculum theorizing. Such skills are not only essential for individual Latinx students, but also an important knowledge base from which educators and schools can construct relevant practices for Latinx youth. Furthermore, it is not enough to expect students to maintain such skills on their own; school curriculum and practice can also provide avenues and exercises to capitalize on this ability as well as share the responsibility of adapting to difference alongside students (Machado-Casas, 2009; Menjivar, 2002).

Cultural Knowledges of Latinx Teachers

In addition to the cultural resources and know-how of Latinx students and families, the cultural knowledges of Latinx educators is also central to Latinx curriculum theorizing. Through his theorization of transas, Luis Urrieta (2009) highlights the day-to-day strategies and tactics that Chicana/o activist educators engage in to maneuver against inequities and make “whitestream” educational spaces more equitable and just. Transas includes “calculated practices, moves, and plays that are sometimes strategic, situational, or improvisational” (Bernal & Alemán, 2017, p. 30) to disrupt racialized, gendered, and colonizing educational structures. Such maneuvers are complicated as activist educators straddle fine lines of maintaining/disrupting institutional structures and opening doors/functioning as gatekeepers. Nonetheless, the Chicana/o activist educators in Urrieta’s (2009) study believed that their everyday efforts “were embedded with the hope that their practices would lead to what some referred to as a ‘domino effect’ or a ‘ripple effect’ to bring about larger societal change” (p. 113).

The cultural knowledge and sociocultural awareness of teachers is critical in order for them to disrupt whitestream curriculum (Urrieta, 2009) and build curriculum from their own and students’ counternarratives (Rojas & Liou, 2018; Salinas & Castro, 2010; Salinas et al., 2016). For Latinx teachers it is especially important to utilize their own know-how and background to inform their teaching. According to Flores and Clark (2017), U.S. society, especially the education system, “perpetuates the ‘culture of forgetting’ in either mis-or-under-representing Latino identities, and at times treating us as if we are a non-existent or an invisible populace” (p. 3). Given this historical legacy and current complexities within diverse contexts, they present the framework of “Despertando el Ser” (awakening self) as a process to help in the personal and professional development of Latinx educators. Flores and Clark (2017) explain:

Despertando el Ser occurs when teachers examine and continue to explore how their own ethnic identity and consciousness affects their cultural teaching efficacy. Rather than approaching identity as a singular, fixed characteristic of the teacher, we assume an integrated holistic approach in which we examine the development of self, first as a cultural/ethnic being and then as an evolving teacher within the sociocultural context. (p. 3)

They further explain that awakening their multiple and intersecting identities enables educators not only to build consciousness and awareness of their place in society and the cultural resources and assets they possess, but also to learn how to appreciate the knowledges of others who are different from themselves. Antonia Darder (2017) further adds that despertando el ser is “a pedagogical thread, which weaves together the different ways in which Latino teachers come to an awakening of their cultural self-hood and communal understanding of political issues of inequality, which persist within the context of U.S. schooling and the larger society” (p. xi). For instance, Suárez (2019), a transgender Latinx educator, uses a process of self-reflection to tell his intersectional story as a curricular platform and pedagogical exercise for teachers to “deconstruct their own biases” (p. 137) about gender and gender identity. In Teaching, A Life’s Work: A Mother–Daughter Dialogue, Sonia Nieto and Alicia López (2019) use their cultural knowledges, teaching experiences with Latinx students, and mother–daughter conversations to craft important lessons learned that can help other educators in their own journeys.

Growing Critically Conscious Teachers: A Social Justice Curriculum for Educators of Latino/a Youth (Valenzuela, 2016) is an example of a collective body of work from critical Latinx education scholars, teacher educators, and advocates who use their Latinx diaspora-rooted orientations to construct a curriculum resource guide to improve teaching practices for Latinx youth. Aimed at Latinx educators and university faculty, and school/community partners, this handbook brings together histories, theories, strategies, curriculum, and resources to assist educators in learning more about the Latinx diaspora and construct practices that are relevant to Latinx students. Moreover, using a “grow your own” approach, the collective work provides strategies for teaching programs to bring more Latinx individuals into teaching and change the makeup of the teaching profession (Valenzuela, 2016).

The cultural knowledges of Latinx educators and the collective work of Latinx scholars’ curriculum reimagining not only serves the diverse needs of Latinx students but also has universal application in curriculum studies and theory. The skill to home in on one’s cultural and personal experiences can aid all teachers to look into their own knowledges and experiences for curricular development rather than privileging depersonalized, one-size-fits-all curriculum standards (Menken, 2008; Pandya, 2011; Santa Ana, 2002).

Latinx Communities Generating Critical Pedagogies and Education Initiatives

By homing in on their know-how from within their own communities and backgrounds, Latinx educators have crafted pedagogies and curriculum initiatives that directly work against hegemonic and colonizing curriculum and schooling. Latinx curriculum, then, critiques oppressive curriculum and instead recognizes the teacher as a critical actor.

In the late 1960s Brazilian educator Paulo Freire engaged in literacy education with sugarcane workers. His teaching practice evolved into his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 2000), which outlines a radical, liberation-focused approach to pedagogy. This critical pedagogical approach has been embraced by Latinx scholars to further theorize practices in which teachers can work with students to co-construct knowledge and curriculum. For example, in Par EntreMundos: A Pedagogy of the Américas, Ayala et al. (2018) showcase Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) as a pedagogical practice in which students conduct research to observe and make sense of social justice in their schools and surrounding communities. Students cogenerate knowledge stemming from their Latinx ways of knowing and everyday lives to produce projects with the potential to address inequities in their communities. Antrop-González (2011) discusses personalismo as personalized teacher–student interactions reminiscent of Latinx students’ home lives. Rascuache pedagogy (Mendoza, 2016) is based on Chicanx survival strategies, creativity, and sensibilities, centered on the everyday life experiences of Latinx students. According to Mendoza’s (2016) work, rascuache pedagogy opens up educational spaces for student-led discussions that connect to their interests and material realities including immigration/migration, poverty, sexuality, and grief. Critically compassionate intellectualism (Cammarota & Romero, 2006), and barrio pedagogy (Romero et al., 2009) also utilize the cultural assets of Latinx students to support their academic success while engaging them in critical perspectives and analysis of the world around them. These critical pedagogies of Latinx curriculum theorizing equip students to be active participants in equity and social change within their communities.

To address the realities and educational needs of Latinx students of Indigenous and African descent, education scholars and practitioners have undergone curriculum initiatives and theoretical movements to integrate the perspectives of Indigenous Latinx and Afro-Latin@ communities. Vargas and Kuhl (2008) describe curriculum development that promotes dialogue between Afro-Latin@s and African Americans living in the United States about their shared histories and differences. Their effort also affords the opportunity for future K–12 teachers to have knowledge about the history, culture, geography, and traditions of Afro-Latin@ students and communities. Adams and Busey (2017) also designed and implemented an integrated Afro-Latin@ curriculum for bilingual third-grade students. This curriculum development taps into Afro-centric knowledges to broaden students’ understanding of Latin American identities, media, politics, and social life. In regards to Indigenous perspectives, in a Latino Studies journal special issue Blackwell et al. (2017) propose Critical Latinx Indigeneities as an analytic framework “that reflects how indigeneity is defined and constructed across multiple countries and at times, across overlapping colonialities” (p. 126). Such an analytic lens allows for examining multiple racial and colonial structures that reshape indigeneity, while at same time offering new insights about the Latin American landscape and Latinx equity (Calderon & Urrieta, 2019).

Lastly, Antrop-González (2011) and Bernal & Alemán (2017) present two case studies of curriculum and program initiatives that center critical pedagogies and the Latinx community to address mainstream schooling’s failure to meet the educational needs of Latinx students. In Schools as Radical Sanctuaries, Antrop-González (2011) examines the school culture, teacher practices, and curriculum of the Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Chicago, a community-led school and revolutionary project founded in response to the colonial oppression of Puerto Ricans on the island and in the United States. Using the concept of schools as a radical sanctuary, he shows how the supportive, caring, and rigorous critical curriculum of the school provided an optimal educational experience for students. Similarly, Bernal and Alemán’s (2017) study in Transforming Educational Pathways for Chicana/o Students zooms out to the university–school–community partnership level of the Adelante effort. They formulate a “critical race feminista praxis” by integrating critical race theory, Chicana feminist theories, and Urrieta’s (2009) theory of transas to analyze lessons learned from the partnership.

What these critical pedagogies and educational initiatives offer is a curriculum in practice that integrates the cultural knowledges of multiple actors including teachers, parents, community members, university faculty, and students. In response to the racialized-gendered–colonial educational landscape that subjugates Latinx students and their communities, Latinx curriculum theorizing expands beyond classroom walls to construct community-led educational efforts and curriculum for the purpose of revolutionary change and liberation (Freire, 2000).

Conclusion and Future Directions

According to Valenzuela (2016), “our [Latinx] identities are overwhelmingly informed by a shared experience of oppression, a shared sense of fate, and a potentially deep connection to this continent, our ancestral home” (p. 7). However, scholars have also made it apparent that while we do have common urgency and fate to fight for our civil and human rights, the particularities of an imagined Latinx struggle differ in deeply entrenched ways (Blackwell et al., 2017; Fox, 2006; Torres-Saillant, 2007). The current realities Latinx people face across race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, language, and immigration status stem from a colonial legacy that takes on different track records for different groups of Latinx students and communities. Hence, to say Latinx is to invoke an extremely diverse group of people. What, then, is the purpose of collectivizing a wide array of Latinx knowledges and histories with multiple overlapping trajectories? At the risk of homogenizing and reproducing colonizing forces that erase legacies and lived realities, is there any use to a Latinx curriculum theorizing project? This article offers bodies of work that provide different answers, yet it is all brought together through a converging purpose to address multiple power structures and dynamics Latinx people face in education, curriculum understandings, and society at large.

Latinx curriculum theorizing, then, is born out of the necessity to push back against demonizing stereotypes, caricatures, and colonial generalizations of an entire diaspora. Emerging out of resistance and liberation, it comes from the histories and practices of Latinx peoples in creating counternarratives, education reform, and activism. Latinx curriculum theorizing also offers counterstories and revelations about the diversity of an imagined collective that comes out of dire circumstances. The diversity of language, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicities, phenotypes, and particularities of colonization is paramount in Latinx curriculum theorizing. It is crucial for this trajectory to continually evolve as more counterstories, testimonios, histories, and embodied experiences emerge to further highlight differences and common struggles that can build coalitions across differences within this diaspora. In this sense, what Latinx curriculum theorizing offers to curriculum theory as a whole is that every group of people and every diaspora, including white people of western European descent, should also look to their own intragroup diversity and check themselves on what voices, practices, and stories are missing in their own curricular histories.

Further Reading

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  • 1. Although this article is about Latinx curriculum theorizing, the term Latinx (which is later defined and contextualized in this piece) is used interchangeably at times with other terms such as Latin American origin, Latin American ancestry, Latina/o, and Latin@. This is done because of the varying terms that the literature uses at different points in time across Latin American related studies. Furthermore, while Latinx is meant to disrupt gender binaries linguistically, “Latina” and “Latino” are periodically used to refer to specific gender categories that may be the focal point of certain studies.