Sampling an inner DJ with Hip Hop hopes: (re)writing immigrant identities for English language learners in classroom third spaces.

Author:Hafner, Andrew Habana


I made the trip to America alone [which] was scary. It took me one month and fifteen days from El Castillo, Provincia Norte, El Salvador to Springtown, Virginia. I was 12 years old when I made my journey to the U.S.A. Raul was a ninth grader in my intermediate English Language Learner (ELL) writing class when he wrote his immigration narrative of coming to America as an unaccompanied minor journeying north from El Salvador. He moved around the East Coast to stay with different families in the two years before I met him, resulting in interruptions in his schooling, prolonged absences, and only partial identification of his learning needs. During this first year at Cuttersville High School (pseudonym), these struggles continued as he negotiated a schedule of ELL, Special Education (SpEd) and mainstream classes. Raul dwelled on the social margins, often observed to be sitting alone in the cafeteria, sometimes skipping lunch entirely for the refuge of a quieter space in the library, computer lab, or even the safety of the ELL homebase Room L2.

I recall one day after releasing my class to go to second lunch, I found him sitting quietly on the floor in the dark side hallway across from the ELL classroom L2 that lead to the ELL department office. He was hiding beneath his XXL hoodie sweatshirt, hanging barely baggy on his robust frame, listening to reggaeton artist Don Omar on his iPod. After the ritual exchanges of "what's up?" I asked him why he was not in the first half of class. With a familiar blank expression on his round face, over-stubbled to hide his adolescence, he admitted that he got confused about the rotating lunch schedule and went to first lunch by mistake. I invited him to hang out with me in the classroom, which was an opportunity to check in and maybe get some of his overdue work completed. We spent this quiet time listening to music, while he worked on finishing his draft about his "American Dream" of becoming a famous Hip Hop DJ. Although that Hip Hop dream may still be materializing, Raul eventually graduated high school into the reality of the immigrant struggles of work and living in the United States.

This paper interrogates some of the tensions that immigrant ELL students like Raul navigate between their multiple social and cultural identities in school spaces. I argue in this paper that inviting Raul's "inner DJ" (karimi, 2006) and his investment in hip hop culture served to (re)negotiate his school identities in ways that produced transformative third spaces (Gutierrez, Rhymes & Larson, 1995; Gutierrez, 2008) that supported his academic writing and a developing critical consciousness (Freire, 1970). This perspective rests in a foundational critical pedagogy that recognizes immigrant ELL students' resistance to dominant discourses of schooling and mainstream American society, and contends that these lived experiences offer productive opportunities for academic development.

In his essay "how I found my inner DJ" robert karimi (sic) (2006) proposes the notion of a "sampled consciousness" as a Hip Hop construct that recasts Hip Hop's fifth element, knowledge of self. karimi argues for this hybrid intersection of Hip Hop literacies and critical literacies in "sampling', which refers to the DJ's artisitry of remixing parts of other songs, beats, lyrics, soundbites, etc. to create new mosaics of sonic art and discursive meaning through a new multilayered aesthetic, karimi explains that a sampled consciousness "is understood to have the power to transform reality"; it is:

a state of (self) being created by the act of sampling different experiences: education, stories, interactions, and observations. The individual takes these experiences, knowingly or unknowingly, and makes them part of their worldview, the way they create/interact. The consciousness is constantly in flux, alternating, adding, subtracting, choosing. Self (being) is being negotiated. We sample, blend, fade in and fade out the various experiences, remixing the self in service to its goal: zeroness. (p. 323) As such, this third space study investigates the role of a critical pedagogy that engages the spatial practices of Raul's inner DJ by "sampling the words and sampling the worlds" of his immigrant narrative and Hip Hop hopes for a brighter future. Understanding and embracing Raul's inner DJ involves a remixing of his multiple institutional identities and (re)negotiation of his marginalization in schools. Along this line of inquiry, the principal research question explored in this paper is: How do immigrant ELL students (re)negotiate meanings and identities through hip hop discourses to produce third spaces in the secondary writing classroom? In addressing this question, this study aims to map the productive tensions of producing third spaces with students like Raul to co-construct glimpses of his hopeful future, one that strengthens his Hip Hop dreams that are the American Dream, if there continues to be one.

It is an important time in U.S. history to bring together the research, politics and eduction policy of immigrant ELLs, Hip Hop as global youth culture, and critical pedagogy. In the post-911 surveillance and security era, immigrant students, and Latinos in particular, face the growing militarization of southwestern borders, persecution of the undocumented, detention and separation of families, and constitutional struggles over educational rights. Over the last decade, the conservative, well-funded campaigns promoting English-only linguicisms succeeded in eliminating bilingual education in California (1998), Arizona (2000), and Massachusetts (2002). The dismantling of the successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson, Arizona in 2011, despite years of dedicated community organizing and activism, and the constitutional battle in process, is a continued testament to the fierce political and ideological conflicts that play out in and through public education as a site of struggle. These current struggles reiterate that it is imperative to recognize how school spaces and institutionalized roles of teachers and students have the potential to both perpetuate and resist discourses of power that are represented in educational policy, institutional structures, and formal curricula. This study aims to contribute to better understanding and addressing these issues through production of third space for immmigrant ELL students of the Hip Hop Nation.

Hip Hop as third space for immigrant ELLs

This paper contributes to research on immigrnant ELLs through analysis of how Hip Hop culture promotes productive oral and written comunication supported by engaging youth experiences of oppression in academic literacy development. I foreground the critical construct of third space as taken up in one strand of critical language and litearcy research (Gutierrez, Rhymes & Larson, 1995; Gutierrez & Baquedano-Lopez, 1997; Gutierrez, Baquedano-Lopez, & Turner, 1997; Gutierrez & Orellana, 2006) that is particularly important for immigrant students. With an attention to critical discourse analysis of oral and written texts of the ELL classroom (Bloome, Carter, Christian, Otto & Shuart-Faris, 2005; Bloome & Clark, 2006), this paper builds on Gutierrez's (2008) evolving notion of a "grammar of third space" which focuses on different grammatical, lexical and semantic qualities of discourses of "social dreaming" within a collective third space. Immigrant students are encouraged to think of themselves as "historical actors" to consider how their past experiences and future visions of 'social dreaming' are manifested discursively and textually in teaching and learning spaces of the classroom.

In this third space study, I also draw from critical studies of language and literacy (Leander, 2001, 2002; Leander & Rowe, 2006; Moje, Ciechanowski, Kramer, Ellis, Carrillo, & Callazo, 2004; Moje, 2004; Leander & Sheahy, 2004; Wilson, 2004; Wilson, Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000) that have incorporated cultural geographic perspectives on social space (Harvey, 1989; Lefebvre, 1974, 1991; Soja, 1996). In bridging education research on third space and Hip Hop culture, this study contributes in particular to better understanding how immigrant ELL students can identify with Hip Hop discourses (Ibrahim, 1999) and how teachers can draw on these non-school practices for developing academic literacy (Alexander-Smith, 2004; Dimitriadis, 2009; Duncan-Andrade, 2004; Kamberelis, 2001; Mahiri, 2004; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002; Hill, 2009; Alim, 2011; Osumare, 2001). Petchauer's (2009) literature review of "Hip-Hop Educational Research" categorizes the emerging field as Hip Hop-based education, Hip Hop meaning(s) and identities, and Hip Hop aesthetics. Irby and Hall (2011) also reviewed research literature on Hip Hop to indicate a need for more research that is not from teacher-researchers and by outsiders to Hip Hop culture. They pointed toward new research directions toward "more expansive, penetrative, methodologically diverse studies ... that capture how personal (e.g. race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, cultural disposition) and professional (teaching experience, educational background, grade level, subject area) identities shape the ways hip-hop pedagogies are implemented" (p. 234). While this is a teacher-researcher study, I contend that this paper still brings more diverse perspectives on Hip Hop culture in education research through new analytical methods and as I situate myself later on as an undocumented immigrant in the Hip Hop Nation.

Design & methods of a third space study

This paper is part of a larger ethnographic teacher-researcher study of a high school ELL writing class that aimed to redefine third space for immigrant ELL students (Hafner, 2012). This ethnographic case study employs methods of 'thick description' of the local research context (Geertz, 1973; Merriam, 1998), while also is guided by principles of critical...

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