Voicing Spanish Heritage Language Learners’ Identity through Writing

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  • Title: Voicing Spanish Heritage Language Learners’ Identity through Writing: An Activity Theory Conceptualization of Self-Representation and Cultural Belonging
  • Author(s): Laura Valentin Rivera
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Learner
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Learner Diversity and Identities
  • Keywords: Identity, Writing, Heritage Language, Spanish, Fund of Knowledge, Belonging, Activity Theory
  • Volume: 31
  • Issue: 2
  • Date: June 28, 2024
  • ISSN: 2327-0128 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-2627 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2327-0128/CGP/v31i02/59-80
  • Citation: Valentin Rivera, Laura. 2024. "Voicing Spanish Heritage Language Learners’ Identity through Writing: An Activity Theory Conceptualization of Self-Representation and Cultural Belonging." The International Journal of Learner Diversity and Identities 31 (2): 59-80. doi:10.18848/2327-0128/CGP/v31i02/59-80.
  • Extent: 22 pages

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Abstract

The present work draws on Activity Theory (AT)—a goal-oriented branch of Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory—to approach writing as a means of self-representation. The participants were ten first-generation college students (nine females and one male) between the ages of 19 and 21 who were Spanish heritage language learners (HLLs) of Mexican (80%) and Salvadorian descent (20%). Of the ten participants, eight (second-generation immigrants) had been born and had lived in the Midwest (Kansas and Nebraska), while the other two (first-generation immigrants) had moved to this geographical zone before the age of 6. Only three HLLs reported having received formal instruction (i.e., academic preparation) in Spanish before college, even when all the participants had been raised in predominantly Hispanic communities (>60%) in Kansas (i.e., Liberal and Dodge City). This made them feel like inadequate users and writers of Spanish, despite their ability to understand and communicate in Spanish and English through comparable linguistic skills. As such, this study incorporated writing as an empowering tool (as per AT standards) that enabled the participants’ use of the heritage language and access to their community funds of knowledge to construct a representative scenery of their identity and sense of cultural belonging. This was possible because writing was not incorporated as a mechanical ability to express thoughts on paper but rather as a social task that prompted a transformative dialogic process. This study aims to keep developing awareness of the impact that minority languages have (1) at the social level and (2) at the personal level for individuals to connect with their family members and community. Additionally, it offers some pedagogical pointers for language instructors.