Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #3: Religious Literacies

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the third post in a series that shares results from a year-long research project exploring family literacy in the Rio Grande Valley. This research was funded by the UTPA C. Bascom Slemp Fellowship.


“Los ponen a hacer trabajos, los ponen a leer también algunos pasajes de la Biblia, y en base a esos hacen trabajos, y le gusta mucho también ir. [They give her work to do, they have her read passages from the Bible and based on these they do work, and she really likes to go there.]”

The Gomez parents discussing the literacy in their daughter’s Sunday School

Prayer written in notebook

While some people claim that Spanish-speaking, low-income families in the Rio Grande Valley lack experience with literacy, during our year-long study of family literacies family after family shared the various literacies that they participated in. These families didn’t lack literacy—they were immersed in it. In this post we will discuss some of the religious-based literacies that the families shared with us.

 Every family we spoke with participated in some form of literacy based in religious practice. For most of these families, religion was extremely important and their church played a central role in their family life. Families told us that they:

  • Read the Bible in church and at home
  • Discussed, questioned, and constructed meaning from Bible readings
  • Memorized and recited prayers
  • Sang hymns in church
  • Read religious magazines
  • Listened to religious radio stations
  • Used study guides when reading the Bible
  • Prepared lessons and taught Sunday School classes
  • Took notes as they read the Bible

 The Llanas family participates in church activities at least three times a week. In their family it is common and expected to read the Bible at home and at church:

 “Sí, tienen sus Biblias. Todas sus Biblias…Leo mi Biblia, todos los días leo mi Biblia. Escribo, tengo apuntes.[Yes, they have Bibles. Everyone has a Bible. I read my Bible, every day I read my Bible. I write, I take notes.]” Sra. Llanas

 This family values reading the Bible so much that they own multiple copies, one for each member of the family. Sra. Llanes also participates in a Bible study group that involves reading, discussion, and note-taking.

Mrs. Puente sharing a religious magazine.

 The Puente family describes the multiple literacies that they access to express their religious beliefs:

“Recibo también por correo una revista verdad, este, pues, que se llama En Contacto, es una revista cristiana…. Supe de ella por medio de la radio cristiana. Radio Manantial, si, y ahí fue donde yo la ordené. Entre, verdad, a la página de internet, lo busque y le dije a mi hijo, verdad, porque no tengo mucha habilidad con la computadora, pero le dije a mi hijo que me ayudara a inscribirme. [I also receive a magazine through the mail, this, well, it’s In Contact, it’s a Christian magazine. I learned about it through a Christian radio station. Radio Manantial, that was where I ordered it. On an internet page, I looked for it and told my son, well, because I don’t have much ability with the computer, but I told my son to help me subscribe to it.]”  Sra. Puente

 This family reads religious magazines, listens to religious radio, and uses the internet to access religious material. Later in the interview, Sra. Puente also discussed how she shares the information and advice in the magazine articles with her children and friends.

If children and families are immersed in literacies based on religious beliefs, what, then, does this mean for schools and teachers? It means that children are entering school with deep experience and knowledge of various religious texts. From these experiences, children know that reading is important and purposeful, that printed text holds meaning, and that it can sometimes take work to understand a text but such work is worthwhile. It means that children have experience with difficult texts and vocabulary. It means that children know that the act of reading and understanding a text is often social.

 Schools need to recognize the knowledge that their students bring with them. Schools also need to acknowledge that children are willing and able to tackle difficult text—the Bible is hardly easy reading—when there is a clear purpose and a strong motivation to do so.


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