Brokering the Immigrant Bargain: Second-Generation Immigrant Youth Negotiating Transnational Orientations to Literacy

Steven Alvarez



     This article explores how the children of immigrants queried and enacted the immigrant bargain narrative in their orientations to literacy and schooling at an afterschool program in New York City. The Mexican American elementary school students in this study expressed a common “immigrant bargain” narrative, a working-class immigrant family story of parents’ past and present sacrifices redeemed and validated through their children’s future academic merits (Louie 23; Smith 123). Language differences, transnational movements, and family histories affect how the children of immigrants imagine their parents’ migrations and their own transnational identities and literacies. Their identities as students, for example, compelled them to perceive their academic work ethic as repayment for their parents’ sacrifices, doubled with sometimes unreasonably high academic expectations for literacy achievement measured by merit. Literacy mentors and educators unfamiliar with the immigrant bargain should be attuned to its power for autobiographical writing, expressing both what motivates and constrains family migrations and second-generation students in their own academic goals. Afterschool program organizers, youth mentors, and school counselors especially should consider how the narrative builds confianza, or trust, and offers space for encouraging a transnational orientation to literacy in dialogue with immigrant families’ academic motives, goals, and preferences. 


emergent bilingualism; immigration; translanguaging; translingual literacies

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