Building Bridges of Black and Brown Solidarity

Principal investigator

Claudia Cervantes Soon

Direct sponsor

National Academy of Education

Award start date


Award end date


The challenge

Two-way dual language learning programs, known as TWI, use two languages for literacy and content instruction for all students, not only those learning to use English. The partner languages (often English and Spanish) are used over an extended period of time to present the same academic content and address the same standards as other educational programs. TWIs are regarded as one of the most effective ways of promoting biliteracy. But despite the inclusiveness inherent in TWIs, recent research shows that inequities still exist, says principal investigator Claudia Cervantes-Soon. She points to stark differences in social status and access to power and privilege between working-class, Hispanic, immigrant English learners and affluent, white English speakers. Her study attempts to move beyond this duality and explore possibilities that may emerge when children of color share their languages and culture with each other.

The approach

Cervantes-Soon employs a critical ethnographic, multiple-case-study design to investigate the attitudes, experiences and cross-cultural relationships that emerge across time among four black and four Hispanic families in a largely segregated, working-class urban community in Texas. The children in the families participate in TWI programs in their school. The study documents the context of the school — its pedagogical approaches and the perspectives of teachers and students. But it goes farther, following the eight families’ journeys and learning from the parents as their children enter prekindergarten and continue into elementary school. The study aims to illuminate complications in the implementation of TWI programs and potential sources of knowledge to address them. It also seeks to offer a nuanced analysis of how children construct multilingual and multicultural identities, and the role that TWI programs may play in the development of cross-cultural solidarity beyond the classroom. Cervantes-Soon proposes that bilingual education for children from two historically marginalized groups may not only help them become bilingual and biliterate, but also encourage friendships that foster meaningful cross-cultural interactions between parents — an empowering opportunity, given that these communities often live side by side in highly segregated cities, facing similar issues of social inequality and racism.

Findings and impact

Cervantes-Soon says preliminary analysis of the first of two years of data reveal issues that can significantly affect the quality of the experiences of students, teachers and families in the program, such as the economic impact of gentrification on schools. It also reveals that pervasive racialized expectations and ideologies, and lack of attention to the hidden curriculum, can hamper the potential to provide enriching experiences to students. However, the study has also shown the crucial role of strong teachers in fostering cross-cultural relations and the power of the program to bring diverse families together to advocate in innovative and culturally sustaining ways for their children. The data also reveal that families from historically marginalized groups are beginning to break down stereotypes about those who are different from them, and they share a desire to foster bilingualism for humanizing purposes rather than simply for market-based goals.