Adult Literacy Among the Hispanic Population of Central Texas: Opportunities, Challenges and Outcomes
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Literacy, in the most basic sense of the word, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write.”(OED 2013) With respect to the immigrant populations in the United States, the term “literacy” is often used to describe a lack of ability to speak and comprehend the English language and is not necessarily restricted to actual reading level or ability. In the United States, the number of people who are unable to read or write in any language is believed to be around 1% (Central Intelligence Agency, n.d.). Given the presence of many undocumented and uncounted immigrants, this number could be higher. Whatever the true number is, the inability to read or write in any language can have catastrophic consequences both on individual and societal levels, including (but not limited to) socioeconomic vulnerability, social insertion problems, low employability, lesser upward mobility and lack of awareness of rights/duties (United Nations 2010, pg. 8). Additionally, Fishman cites a “lack of literacy or schooling” as one of the primary reasons that heritage languages such as Spanish do not get passed on from one generation to the next (5).
Some of these consequences manifest themselves quite quickly, through low employability and economic problems on an individual level; while others, such as language loss, is a longer-term and not as obvious outcome. As an adult, the decision to learn to read and write is not one that is taken lightly. It requires time and dedication, and usually requires some sort of transportation. Having a support system helps as well. One can discuss at length reasons why people do not read and write –whether they simply do not have access to appropriate resources, whether they don’t realize they have access to these resources, or why they simply may choose not to take advantage of them. What is seldom addressed, however, is the reason an adult chooses to begin the process of becoming literate or choosing to obtain a basic education. It is easy to assume that they want a better job, a higher salary, citizenship, etc. Until someone sits down to ask them, however, we are lingering in a world of assumptions and hypothetical situations.
In this case study, the goal was to determine the motivating factors that drive an adult belonging to the Spanish-speaking immigrant community to overcome their inability to read and write and embark on a new journey in education. Individual interviews were conducted because individual stories are important; it is imperative to understand where a person comes from, the situation they live in and the trajectory of their life in order to properly understand their individual reason for working toward literacy. Given the demographic with which I worked, I considered that their motivations for obtaining reading and writing skills may be different than those of the general population. For example, attaining citizenship or desiring to eventually learn English may be of concern to these students. The interviews were conducted at a non-profit organization that services this demographic in central Texas, and I explored the most common factors for pursuing a basic education once in the US and, when possible, understand the effects of doing so.