Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #4: Digital Literacies

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the fourth 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.

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“Mi hija, la mayor ahorita [usa el internet] para las tareas. Los muchachos…el otro niño también busca información ahí para las tareas también, y pues a veces como todo muchacho, verdad, pues se ponen ahí a platicar por, con medio de sus amigos…pero más que nada también para eso. [My daughter, the oldest, right now uses the internet for homework. The boys, the other boy also looks for information for homework and at time, like all children, you know, well, they begin to talk with all their friends. But more than anything it’s for homework.]” Sra. Puente

Digital literacies are increasing in importance as technology becomes more deeply embedded in daily life. While the families involved in this research are all working class or low income, parents recognize the importance of technology and digital literacies pervade family life. The families told us that they:

  • Paid bills online
  • Used computers at home or at the library
  • Made online purchases
  • Searched the internet to get ideas for home businesses
  • Used the internet for homework
  • Used social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace
  • Used chat programs to talk with friends
  • Played videogames online

 In the Llanas family the children used computers and the internet for homework:

“Ahí van [a la biblioteca] y hacen sus trabajos en la computadora. O antes, si tenían su computadora, y nada mas íbamos a imprimir. [They go to the library and do their homework on the computer. Or before, when they had their computer, we went only to print.]” Sra. Llanas

 Because the family didn’t always have internet access or the necessary technology at home, they also depended on being able to use computers at the public library in their town.

The mother of the Puente family described her major use of the home computer:

 “El internet; bueno, lo que pasa que yo lo, la uso más que nada para buscar, este, ideas como hacer arreglos florales porque me apasiona, me gusta mucho eso. Hago cualquier tipo de arreglo floral, tanto para arreglos para eventos, para piñatas, para baby showers, despedidas de solteros. Me apasiona, eso me gusta mucho también…y próximamente mi, mi meta, mi, mi proyecto es, este, poner negocio de eso. [The internet, well, what happens is that I use it more than anything to look for, well, ideas for floral arrangements because I love, I like that very much. I make any kind of floral arrangement, like arrangements for events, for piñatas, for baby showers, bridal showers. I love it, I enjoy it very much…and next my goal, my project is to set up a business for this.]” Sra. Puente

 As she prepared to open her own small business, the computer became necessary for both creative ideas and business information.

 Mr. Morales shared how the internet serves various purposes in his family:

 “Y utilizamos el internet para buscar esa pieza, la ordenamos, y la pagué, y pues yo diría que lo uso primordialmente nomás para, pues como para tipo research, como dirían. O también noticias, o de vez en cuando utilizar el facebook. [And we use the internet to look for this item, we order it and pay for it, well, I would say that I use it primarily for some type of research, like I said. Or also news, or sometimes I use Facebook.]” Sr. Morales

 In the Morales family, use of the computer and the internet has been integrated throughout daily life, as a source for communication with friends and family, a way to keep up to date on the news, for shopping purposes, and to learn new information.

 What does this mean for schools and teachers? Not only do are children from these families experienced with traditional print texts, they are also experienced with digital texts. While they may be immigrants to the United States or the children of immigrants, in terms of digital literacies they are natives and likely know more about technology than their parents and teachers do. Schools should be building on this knowledge and helping students learn to use both traditional texts and digital texts in more sophisticated ways.

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