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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Spring 2008
Vol. 35 No. 2


Latino/a Participation and Engagement in Community Events,
in Churches, and in Educational Settings

Xaé Alicia Reyes

“My mother would take me to parish council meetings when I was young. She would share with me her perspective, but she wouldn't articulate it in the meeting. I was very struck by this: Why was she so quiet?"1

Introduction

Close to a thousand people assembled in the High School cafeteria for the Fiesta de Reyes-2006, where over three hundred families had diligently registered their children up to receive gifts from the “Three Kings.” The majority of the families have been participating for years, and the town and school authorities have supported the event recognizing the need for the predominantly Puerto Rican population to honor their traditions. Teachers in the elementary and middle school facilitated the process and some, mostly those of Latino descent, were also in attendance. The parents defied all notions of non-participation that are often present in school discussions. The patterns of strong involvement and participation are powerful and frequent in other events such as: the bilingual concerts at the dual language school and at their open houses; family nights in the Even Start program; and the annual folkloric dance night at the middle school. Parents and extended families attend, prepare meals, help with organization, provide transportation for items that need to be delivered, and participate as musicians, servers and many other ways. In observing these patterns over time, the question is: what strategies are working to obtain this massive commitment for these types of events? And more importantly: how can they be replicated in areas that impact academic achievement? The answer might be found in probing interactions such as the one depicted in Pineda-Madrid’s recollection of her mother’s inability to share her views at parish meetings.2 If a person feels intimidated in a certain context or discouraged from participating or expressing opinions, we must analyze the elements that may encourage participation vis a vis those that alienate certain participants.

In this inquiry, qualitative methods are employed because of the rich data that are drawn from longitudinal interviews and observations3 and because years of participation and connectedness to the communities have evolved into long-standing trust and rapport.4 These circumstances lend themselves to a deeper analysis and potential for findings that may result in positive developments for the communities involved.


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