Mexican-origin girls as researchers: exploring identity and difference in a participatory action research project

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Martinez, Leticia Raquel

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The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine and understand the ways in which a group of five sixth-grade girls of Mexican-origin constructed their identities within the context of a participatory action research (PAR) project focused on Latina teen pregnancy. This semester-long study employed ethnographic methods of data collection, including interviews, participant observations, and weekly focus group meetings. Additionally, PAR was purposefully used as a perspective and method aimed at inquiring about contributions and limitations of activist educational research with youth. Sociocultural theories of language and literacy (Bakhtin, 1981, Gee, 1996; Street, 1995) and anthropological theories of identity formation (Holland, Lachiotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998) were used to inform analysis of how the participants interacted with various kinds of texts shared in the PAR project as catalysts to talk about elements of their identities. Study findings suggest that given an opportunity to study issues of relevance to participants’ experiences through the PAR framework, adolescent girls acquired new literacies and identities as researchers. However, drawing on their knowledges, the girls also took up racialized and other cultural discourses to develop figured aspects of their identities. As they researched Latina teen pregnancy, these girls explained how they viewed racial stratifications acrosss their social worlds, as well as revealed their understandings of how they were being positioned by others as less than. Through PAR, the girls engaged in transformative practices, such as counter-storytelling, as a way to challenge debilitating identity constructions of them and their families. This study offers insight into the possibilities of PAR with youth, and argues that they far outweigh the limitations.