|Abstract or Summary
- The purpose of the study is to explore the life experiences, identities, and self-esteem of a group of
Mexican women who attend Even Start, a family literacy program. The study also focuses on the effect
that the program has on the women's self-identities. I chose qualitative research considering I was
interested in their phenomenological experience. In order to gather data I interviewed ten women,
conducted a focus group with the women who were not interviewed, and did participant observation while
the women were in class.
The Mexican women I interviewed came to this country hoping to improve their socioeconomic
status. Most of them had relatives in the US and the support that they gave them made it easier for them to
come and get established. As a result of being away from their people and their culture, they had a hard
time, particularly at the beginning. Their illegal status and the fact that they didn't speak English
complicated things even more. In spite of the many difficulties they had to face, their experiences in
this country have allowed them to improve their socioeconomic situation and to achieve greater levels of
In regards to their self-esteem, most of my informants have positive self-images. The few that
have lower levels of self-esteem were often mistreated by caregivers and their families were dysfunctional
in some way. Even though a few have lower levels of self-esteem, all my informants felt loved by their
parents and other family members. Because of this and because they were raised in social environments
that fostered interdependence, my informants have generally developed into responsible and reliable people
who work towards their goals. Their identities mirror their society and in particular their social network.
At the core of 'who they are' are traits of the identities of caregivers that through active choices (Blumstein 1991) they came to internalize.
Even Start plays a crucial role in their self-identities for two main reasons. First, in the program
the women are taught English which is the basic tool they need in order to communicate and move around
in this country. Second, the women are around people from their country. By feeling they belong to a
larger community, the women feel supported and find strategies to cope with their reality. At the same
time, being around other Mexicans strengthens their Hispanic identity.
The following are recommendations that could be used by Even Start to enhance the women's
self-esteem. (1) Incorporate more one-on-one activities to enable students to learn at their own pace and to
help participants with special needs to work without feeling a sense of pressure. (2) Provide the women
with the opportunity to improve their literacy skills in Spanish and to strengthen their knowledge in basic
areas. (3) Include activities that would allow the participants to release stress and thus to improve their
ability to concentrate. (4) Provide the students with skills that will enable them to find jobs or get
Although the literature on self-identities was useful to conducting this research, the fact that
scholars have approached the topic mainly from an intellectual perspective has resulted in an understanding
of the self often disconnected from reality. Among the main contributions of this research is the realization
that adult experiences such as migration and participation in a literacy program play a crucial role in
people's self-esteem and identities.