Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

G. Sue Kasun, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jennifer Esposito, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Gholnecsar Muhammad, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Michelle Zoss, Ph.D.


The pervasive deficit lens of multilingual language learners (MLLs) in U.S. education dehumanizes and fragments students in ways that disconnect them from their cultural and linguistic identities (CLI). MLLs are first and foremost humans with rich linguistic heritages, complex cultural backgrounds, and multiple and non-mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing (de los Ríos & Molina, 2020; Kasun, 2016). The deficit lens is a legacy of colonization that persists in our schools. Colonial education saw Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) transnationals as savage and backwards with cultures and languages that needed to be erased in order for them to assimilate into dominant, mainstream U.S. culture. These colonial legacies persist in our schools today. The intent of this critical ethnographic, arts-based, youth participatory action research (YPAR) study was to explore the experiences of MLLs as they learned about and made sense of their CLI in the context of a critical multimodal, multiliteracies, ethnic studies, arts-based summer collaborative called Nuestra Escuelita. The study was framed overall by a decolonizing framework through which the researcher sought to address the persisting colonial legacies in schools and their fragmenting and dehumanizing effects on MLL students. The participants were fourteen high school, bilingual, Latinx MLLs. The overarching assertion is that the students experienced a decolonial journey towards healing, wholeness, and humanity. Specifically, this journey is reflected in the four findings: 1) feeling connections of community and care; 2) reweaving the tapestries of their identities and heritage; 3) activating critical consciousness through historical learnings, shadow work and shifts toward power; and 4) feeling inspiration for change and imagining a decolonial vision for new educational futures. These findings represent the students’ experiences, and their journey mirrored the seven stages of Anzaldúa’s (2015) conocimiento. Implications include centering MLLs’ CLI in curriculum and the need for implementing ethnic studies programs for the New Latinx/Global South youth.


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