Theses Doctoral

Testimonio as Pedagogy of Disruption: Central American Teachers Engagement with Youth Testimonios about Immigration and the Effects of American Empire

Blanco, Martha Yianella

Central Americans now represent the third largest Latinx demographic in the United States and the number is growing (Noe-Bustamante, Flores & Shah, 2019). Central America and those of the Central American diaspora are frequently featured in policy discussions, the media, and even Hollywood, but Central Americans themselves are often absent from such discussions and representations. Further, little of this work highlights the history of American imperialism in the region and how such actions have contributed to the instability and corruption now experienced in many Central American countries (Chomsky, 2015; Frank, 2019). The effects of such intervention and exploitation contributes directly to the displacement and northern migration of many from the isthmus to the United States, who then are confronted with xenophobic rhetoric and policies (Garcia, 2006). Still, despite the close and often intertwined histories between the United States and Central America, as well as their position as one of the largest immigrant groups entering the United States, little social studies research has focused on the teaching of their histories and experiences (Alvarenga, 2019; Bermudez, 2020). Few have used the study of the relationship between Central America and the United States as an opportunity to reconceptualize immigration, especially those from historically exploited countries, as inherently linked to American empire and imperialism.

This qualitative research project, grounded in Latina/Chicana epistemologies and LatCrit, fuses together elements of narrative inquiry, through pláticas and testimonios, with participatory 3 action research. It explores how Central American teachers engage with testimonios, both as a process as testimonistas and as listeners of testimonios by reading collectively a set of testimonios written by Central American migrant youth. Through a series of pláticas and curriculum dreaming and building encuentros, our aim was to explore how testimonio could serve a disruptive pedagogical and curricular practice for the teaching of immigration, empire and Central America. The results demonstrate that the impact of American empire and imperialism in Central America has long-lasting and far-reaching implications for Central Americans living both within and outside of the Isthmus, which manifests in silences in both our homes and in our schools and which drastically affect Central Americans’ sense of belonging in our schools. Despite these silences, the teachers in this study, all of Central American descent, reveal how they grew to claim and be proud of their Central American identity. Further, this study illuminates how these experiences with empire-induced migration and displacement then affects who they are as educators, as well as their pedagogical and curricular decision-making.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Teaching of Social Studies
Thesis Advisors
Baron, Christine
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2022