The Meaning of Roots: How a Migrant Farmworker Student Developed a Bilingual-Bicultural Identity Through Change


  • Robin L Danzak Sacred Heart University


Bilingualism, Language and Identity, Migrant Student, Migrant Farmworker


Thousands of children and teens labor as migrant farmworkers across the United States. These youngsters, many who are immigrants, face challenges in completing their education and breaking the cycle of agricultural work. Such barriers are influenced by geographic instability, poverty, and sociocultural marginalization. Beyond these factors, and the focus of this article, is the challenge of bilingual-bicultural identity negotiation experienced by young farmworkers in and out of the educational context. This question is explored through the case study of Manuel (a pseudonym), a teen farmworker in Florida. Manuel emigrated from Mexico at the age of 12, and is a speaker of Spanish, Otomi (an indigenous language), and English. Although he recently completed high school, he struggled to adjust to life in the U.S. and acquire English. Manuel provided interviews and autobiographical writing in 2008, when he was age 14 (grade 8), and again in 2012, when he was 18 (grade 11). His parents, also migrant farmworkers, contributed an interview in 2012. A qualitative, thematic analysis was applied to the data. Themes that emerged included: resistance and acceptance of personal and cultural-linguistic change, the need to acostumbrarse (get used to it) with respect to these changes, the desire to salir adelante (get ahead) and the pathways to do so (e.g., finish school, learn English), and ManuelΓÇÖs developing bilingualism and his shifting attitudes towards it. Overall, ManuelΓÇÖs story offers deep insights into the realities in which the bilingual-bicultural social identity of a migrant farmworker student develops and interacts in and out of school settings.

Author Biography

Robin L Danzak, Sacred Heart University

Robin DanzakΓÇÖs research focuses on bilingual language and literacy, especially writing of adolescent English learners. Framed by a sociocultural perspective, her work aims to integrate studentsΓÇÖ languages, cultures, and identities with classroom literacy practices. She is an assistant professor of Speech-Language Pathology at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.