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


  • Steven Alvarez University of Kentucky



emergent bilingualism, immigration, translanguaging, translingual literacies



     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. 

Author Biography

Steven Alvarez, University of Kentucky

Steven Alvarez is Assistant Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies (WRD). He recently completed a book manuscript entitled "Translanguaging Tareas: Language Broker Literacies in Mexican Immigrant Families." The project is an ethnographic study about how English language acquisition and literacy transformed family relations and structured educational ambitions within a specific Spanish-dominant urban immigrant mentoring program in New York City. The program cultivated a sense of community and academic participation closely allied to ethnic identity, encouraging a sense of value for bilingualism as a political tool for—and the everyday reality of—immigrant families. 

In his second book Confidence in Communities (National Council of Teachers of English), Dr. Alvarez explores K-12 afterschool programs and how to connect educators with communities in meaningful and reciprocal ways. This community literacy research builds on Dr. Alvarez's research in New York City with research in Kentucky. This project is part of a larger conversation about community literacy research and scholarly engagement that Dr. Alvarez has cultivated at UK. He has also edited two collections of student writing in a self-published venture entitled Living Out Loud. Forty students and community members collaborated on the project which collected the creative writing of local students to build a book to be distributed in the community. He has published two novels in verse, The Pocho Codex and The Xicano Genome.  



How to Cite

Alvarez, S. (2015). Brokering the Immigrant Bargain: Second-Generation Immigrant Youth Negotiating Transnational Orientations to Literacy. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(3), 25-47.