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Zines from the Borderlands: Chicanx/Latinx Pre-service Teacher Multimodal Critical Reflections

By Mónica González Ybarra and Idalia Nuñez


The hyper-visible ways the U.S.-Mexico border becomes part of political discourse often disregard the complex histories, communities, and cultural knowledge of the people who have and continue to inhabit these borderlands. Specifically, the borderlands are rarely recognized as sites for rich forms of knowledge, practices of teaching and learning, and language and literacy. Drawing on the intersections of border(lands) thinking and Chicanx/Latinx multimodal literacies, we look at the relationship between image and texts and how the curation of zines reflects the epistemologies and lived realities of Chicanx/Latinx Pre-Service Teachers (PST) living on the border. Three themes emerged from our analysis of the PST’s zines: (1) Borderlands artifacts, (2) Borderlands languaging, and (3) Borderlands identities and the borderline. We argue that zine creation is one way to deconstruct deficit narratives, reimagine pedagogical content, and highlight knowledge rooted in rich constructions of the borderlands. 


The hyper-visible ways the U.S.-Mexico border becomes part of political discourse often disregard the complex histories, communities, and cultural knowledge of the people who have and continue to inhabit these borderlands. Specifically, the borderlands are rarely recognized as sites for rich forms of knowledge, practices of teaching and learning, and language and literacy. Notably, as we contend with the tensions and trauma situated on the borderlands, we argue for a shift in the discussion of the borderlands and border-crossing identities to demonstrate how communities on the border push against, experience, exist, and create new ways of being beyond these discourses. 

Given the complexities of border discourses, we consider social justice in this work as self-identity formation and self-authorship in education for Latinx students in the borderlands, whose lived realities and experiential knowledge are often silenced and unseen in their K-20 classrooms (Yosso 70). While scholars have begun to highlight these possibilities at the border in dual language classrooms (Esquinca, Araujo, and De la Piedra 174), social justice and feminist education (Cervantes-Soon 280), and out-of-school learning (Del Hierro, Saenz, Gonzales, Durá, Medina-Jerez 26), there is still a need to expand these critical conversations and pedagogies to teacher education programs for those preparing to serve border communities. This manuscript focuses on a group of young people training to be elementary or pre-service teachers (PST) who have experienced their everyday lives and education in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Specifically, we demonstrate how the creation of zines, arts-based activist publications, allow Chicanx/Latinx PST to critically examine their educational realities and how the bilingual, bicultural, and binational border contexts shape them. To guide our inquiry, we asked: (1) How do Chicanx/Latinx PST draw on their lived experiences and everyday practices on the borderlands to create zines? And (2) how do the zines created by Chicanx/Latinx PST reveal and challenge dominant constructions of the borderlands? Drawing on the intersections of border(lands) thinking (Mignolo 50; Anzaldúa 60) and Chicanx/Latinx multimodal literacies, we look at the relationship between image and texts and how the curation of zines reflects the epistemologies and lived realities of Chicanx/Latinx PST living on the border. In doing so, we demonstrate how engaging in zine creation deconstructs deficit narratives, reimagines pedagogical content, and highlights knowledge rooted in rich constructions of the borderlands. 

Literature Review

Chicanx/Latinx Zines

The creation of zines has a long and rich history within Chicanx/Latinx communities. Since the 1960s, artists, activists, and other multimedia creators have contributed and preserved cultural productions and publications that reflect the experiences of Chicanx/Latinx people (Zapata 29). Zinster mujeres, in particular, have highlighted important raced-gendered knowledges and experiences through the creation of zines such as St. Sucia and Muchaca Fanzine. Guzetti’s study on Latinx women zine creators demonstrates the multimodal literacies of zines and how the sensibilities of Women of Color are central to their creation. In this study, zinesters emphasize the healing potential and centering of joy that zine publication brings. Importantly, zines have centered issues—like queerness and fatness and the intersections of gender, race, language, and culture—largely silenced in mainstream discourses and publications. As Licona discusses, zines cultivate a third space where a diverse and humanizing representation of bodies and sexualities can exist (194). Creating and preserving these publications is, thus, imperative work that has been taken under by zinesters who work alongside artists and community members to develop arts-based workshops, zine libraries (e.g., in San Antonio, TX and Urbana, IL ) as well as conferences and festivals (Zapata 29; Guzzetti 164). 

Zines have also served as pedagogical tools. For example, in Chicanx/Latinx young adult literature like Gaby, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero and The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez, Chicana/Latina youth protagonists amplify their voices and leverage their creative meaning-making practices through zines. Youth who read these texts in or outside their classrooms are introduced to the genre through the eyes of young Chicana/Latinas and can potentially be inspired to create their own zines. Within higher education, scholars have demonstrated the power of zines to support learning and self-reflection (Velasco, Faria, and Walenta 348 Cervantes-Soon 874). For example, in a geography course at the undergraduate level, Velasco et al. discuss how zines support an understanding of environmental injustice within historically Latinx neighborhoods in the Austin, TX, area. Their study highlights how zines can work as tools for researching environmental issues and supporting critical dialogues in the classroom. Similarly, Cervantes-Soon’s work with Spanish-English bilingual pre-service teachers in central Texas demonstrates the power of self-authoring and taking space to work through the complexities of identity, language, and ideas of social justice – which she argues is an “unconventional practice in higher education” (874). 

Perhaps most notable from the literature on zines is the importance of local geographical and political spaces, specifically how zines have emerged in the southwest and Texas. As such, this study draws on this work to situate our own survey on borderlands zines with Latinx bilingual pre-service teachers. 

Discourses of the Borderland

The U.S.-Mexico borderlands produce and challenge discourses of sociocultural, linguistic, political, and economic limitations established by the territorial and nationalistic ideological boundaries of what it means to belong to a particular geographical location. According to Aguirre and Simmers, the border and borderlands can take on multiple meanings and forms representing different cultures and practices, or the merging and hybrid nature where people’s practices and cultures are fluid (101). Velasco Ortiz and Contreras argue that the physical border and living on the borderlands can “also elicit rejection or cultural indifference, processes in which domination mechanisms operate, where certain cultural elements have a lower value in a symbolic hierarchy of a transnational order” (43-44). Borderlands discourses are immersed in asymmetrical relations of power that impact how the most vulnerable to border realities (immigrants, mixed-status families, transfronterizxs, etc.) read and experience the world on each side of the border.

Often these discourses reflect the flows of knowledge, production, materials, economic mobility, and other forms of capital typically associated with the US side of the border. As Ortiz and Contreras point out, nation-states control and regulate the policies and institutional practices that maintain inequitable discourses between the US and Mexico (102). Culturally, however, the borders have been experienced as more porous for border communities. Cultural practices such as language, literacy, pop culture, media, and traditions, among other practices, are fluid and transcend borders daily (Piedra, Araujo, and Esquinca 40). Moreover, these border-crossing discourses function to both disrupt and perpetuate the duality and in-betweenness inherent in the reality that these communities experience living in and across bordering countries since the institutionalization and militarization of the borderline (Nuñez and Urrieta 25). 

Borderlands’ Education

Education in the borderlands has been largely described as having low achievement and high dropout rates compared to the national average (Esparza and Donelson 49; Guerrero and Farrugio 554). These descriptions of education in this region are often rooted in assessments, policies, and academic standards that do not reflect the realities and knowledge of these communities. Instead, they continue to rationalize nationalistic narratives and colonial perspectives that have been central discourses in schooling. For example, language planning and policies have rendered idealized models of academic identities or appropriate-based definitions as the norm for bilingual students on the borderlands. In these definitions, language, literacies, and other forms of knowledge reflect those associated with white, middle-to-upper-class, English-speaking subjects (Flores and Rosa 151). This violent reality is revealed through Anzaldúa’s borderlands testimonio, where she documents how schools utilized corporal punishment and strict language policies to assimilate her border-crossing identity into the colonizers’ language (i.e., standard English) and culture (i.e., Americanization) (76). More recent research (Bach 241; Murillo and Schall 319; Nuñez 22; Saavedra 263) demonstrates how this violence continues to happen in schools on the borderlands producing generations of Chicanx/Latinx students and communities who internalize beliefs about their cultural identities and home and community epistemologies as valueless in US schools and society. 

As evident through the educational realities documented through research and community testimonio, the U.S.-Mexico borderland’s historical and sociopolitical context carries the open wound—“una herida abierta” (Anzaldúa 25)–of colonization and marginalization. As previous scholars have argued (e.g., Saavedra and Esquierdo 37), any discussion and analysis about the borderlands require a recognition of the harm and trauma that racialized people and of Chicanx/Latinx backgrounds have experienced in this border context. At the same time, these communities have resisted these hegemonic educational approaches to preserve their culture, language, and identity. For example, Degollado, Bell, and Harvey-Torres share the histories of the escuelitas found in Texas’ border communities (22). Their analysis suggests that local families and communities created their own escuelitas and curricula to teach Spanish literacy skills before bilingual education became available or implemented in the broader community. This community action responded to the linguistic and cultural erasures implemented in schools on the border and beyond. 

The authoritative curriculum of the borderlands has been, thus, one of silence and distortion—where most students move through their education without the opportunity to explicitly learn about the colonization and violence that border communities experience. As such, students lack of understanding of the unique borderlands culture and knowledge that can disrupt dominant discourses narrating the borderlands from a damaged-centered perspective and approaches to teaching and learning. As such, there is a dire need for opportunities for critical reflection in the borderlands. Students ought to learn from multiple and historical perspectives, position themselves as experts and “agents of change” by increasing their social and political awareness, and help “[reclaim] lost and stolen histories” (de los Rios, Lopez, and Morrell 93). This kind of curriculum can engage students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and support their sense of belonging, identity, and academic achievement. 

Teachers and Teacher education for the borderlands

In efforts to improve the education offered to students on the borderlands and to decenter deficit views and approaches towards education on the borderlands, researchers (Guerrero and Farrugio 57; Musanti and Cavazos 56; Saavedra 262) have called attention to teacher education and professional development that transforms how the borderlands are perceived. This re-learning involves recognizing how the borderlands have been discursively dispossessed from their histories, knowledge production, hybridity, and bicultural ways of doing and being. Engaging critically in these areas is important to challenge and change the policies and practices that reproduce these same narratives within teaching and learning.

Teachers preparing to begin their careers teaching on the border need to understand the fluitidity and ever-shiftign politics of the nation-state boundary. As  Cline and Necochea argue, this must be a fundamental aspect of teacher training on the border (269). Their study found that teachers on the borderlands need dispositions that allow them to be open-minded and flexible; passionate about borderland education; continue ongoing professional development; are culturally sensitive; have pluralistic language ideologies; and embody a social justice orientation. These dispositions create opportunities for instructors teaching in border areas to enact pedagogical approaches that build on the borderland’s culture, histories, and practices. For example, Musanti and Cavazos engaged in translanguaging pedagogy—an approach to multilingual education that draws on a student’s linguistic repertoire—as teacher educators preparing their bilingual PSTs on the borderlands (51). Their purposeful translanguaging approach within the program was intended to support their PST teachers undo deficit views on their creative and dynamic language practices and utilize a similar pedagogy with their future bilingual students.

As the educational experiences of PSTs exist in the sociopolitical contexts described, personal reflections are critical within teacher preparation and one way to disrupt dominant discourses about marginalized communities and create new narratives, especially in the borderlands. Caldas brings attention to the need for racialized PSTs to deconstruct their own personal histories with education, language, and identity to develop political and ideological clarity as they become maestrxs serving their own communities (379). Nuñez et al. add that, through the process of critical reflections on the intersection of language, race, culture, and schooling, racialized PST can (re)claim and continue to build strong cultural and teacher identities and create similar opportunities for their future students (428). These studies highlight how these reflections can surface through a variety of modes such as written text (Nuñez et al. 424), physical movement (Caldas 376), language history map (Brochin 693), and oral testimonios (Lara 5). Furthermore, these approaches are ruptures that teacher educators can use to help PST teachers critically reflect, deconstruct, and (re)imagine what a just education on the borderlands should be like for these communities. 

Theoretical Framework 

To guide our analysis of the zines created by the PST in this study, we draw on theoretical frameworks that center multimodality and border epistemologies, or border(lands) thinking. Border(lands) thinking emerges from living within oppressive structures, conditions, and experiences that prompt a unique way of knowing useful for critiquing, resisting, surviving, and healing from Eurocentric ideologies (Mignolo 51). It is a way of being and a form of critical consciousness that those living on the margins of society, those who cross metaphorical and physical borders daily, cultivate (Anzaldúa 60). As Powell and Carillo describe, 

A borderland can be described as the physical and conceptual space between these socially constructed boundaries delineating physical land, self-concept, and personal belonging (Griest, 2008). Borderland identities include shared epistemic standpoints and individual knowledge that emerge from navigating the space between these boundaries.” (438) 

The borderlands, either physical or metaphorical, generate new ways of thinking, being, and living. As many scholars have pointed out, border(lands) theoretical frameworks are useful for discussing the in-between spaces marginalized communities are forced to navigate (Saavedra 262; Cervantes-Soon and Carillo 282). Our research context also lends itself to studying the unique ways that geopolitics of physical and militarized borders impact the epistemologies of those situated in proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border as well as how border(lands) thinking is re-shaped by those living within this context (Nuñez and Urrieta 25). Specifically, we draw on borderlands frameworks to look at the unique identities, knowledge, languages, and multimodal expressions that emerge when Chicanx/Latinx PST educators create texts about themselves and their lives. 

We also draw on border(lands) thinking to expand ideas of multimodality as they relate to Chicanx/Latinx communities, especially to document the ingenuity, creativity, and embodied ways of reading, writing, and engaging involved in the textual productions of those living on the border. A multimodal orientation in the analysis within this context acknowledges the ways in which people bring together unique modalities to create and convey meaning and knowledge (Vasudevan 50; Literat et al. 5, Low and Pandya 6). For Chicanx/Latinx communities, multimodality engagement with the world is grounded in inter-generational knowledge of border-crossing and knowledge that is co-created through practices of teaching and learning that exist within the home and where mothers, grandmothers, and other family members are educators (González Ybarra 233; de los Rios 8;  Nuñez 11). The everyday multimodality of Chicanx/Latinx communities is also lived and cultivated from the ways of knowing that come from surviving and resisting white supremacist hetero-patriarchal societal contexts. As such, these multimodal meaning-making practices are shaped by human experience, sociopolitical contexts, and relationships with others who also live these realities. 

For the Chicanx/Latinx PST in this study, the borderlands were a space through which their lived realities and knowledge took shape. This experiential knowledge also impacted their ability to use a variety of creative practices to design multimodal texts like zines to document and demonstrate their linguistic and cultural practices. As such, our analysis requires an intersectional lens that looks at the borderlands as a metaphorical, physical, and geopolitical space where cultures clash, overlap, as well as depart from each other, creating opportunities to understand how people draw on multiple forms of meaning to express themselves. In this study, we draw on these theoretical frameworks to better understand these meaning-making practices, where they are situated within the nexus of borderland knowledge and experience, and what they tell us about the role of borders in conversations and race, ethnicity, language, and citizenship. 


Research Context 

This study took place at a small 4-year university located on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, classified as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). 83% of the student population is considered Hispanic/Latinx, and the university is a local college choice for students from both sides of the border as well as cities and small towns in the neighboring state of New Mexico. The university serves a transnational community. Many students live in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, México, and commute daily to attend classes and work on campus. This commute includes waking up early to beat the long traffic lines at the border checkpoints throughout the line separating El Paso from Juarez. This navigation of border life was exacerbated by intense militarization and focus on the El Paso border during the Trump presidency. A commute that could be as quick as 40 minutes turned into 3-4 hours, compelling students to stay in El Paso during the week. For other students whose lives were primarily in El Paso, the university was a place that was close to generations of family members, jobs at local restaurants, bars, and clinics, or close to the military base where their spouses worked. 

Data Collection 

Data Collection for this study took place during the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters in an elementary literacy methods course taught by Mónica during her visiting assistant professorship at the university. The focus of this course was writing instruction, and Mónica taught it coupled with critical literacy and language perspectives guided by a Chicana/Latina feminist pedagogical approach. Mónica taught two sections of the course in both semesters. After a few weeks of building relationships with students, Mónica would talk with them about participating in a study that focused on the language and literacy practices of Chicanx/Latinx PST teachers. She required no extra work from the students, and the data collected consisted of all their written work, assignments, and informal pláticas. In the fall semester, 39 students participated in the study. In the spring semester, 28 students participated in the study.

My Literacies Zine Project

The My Literacies zine project was a focal assignment of the course that required students to create zines centered on their lives. Inspired by Cervantes-Soon’s (874) work with bilingual PST zines, this assignment provided students with a space to author authentic texts documenting important aspects of their lives. Whereas the parameter of social change guided students in Cervantes-soon’s project, this course highlighted how their literacies were situated within the context of culture, language, community, personal history, and identity. Since the course was a writing methods course for elementary teachers, the goal of the assignment was to introduce the students to a diverse range of genres and for them to see themselves as writers. As such, each zine required at least three genres: Narrative, poem, and comic strip. In both semesters, students wrote a poem about home (defined broadly) and a comic strip documenting the pedagogies of their home (Delgado Bernal 624). During the fall semester, students wrote narratives about their names, and in the spring, students wrote narratives about their language. Students drafted these pieces of writing throughout the semester and were encouraged to include any other pieces of writing (journal reflections from class, writing from other classes, personal writing, etc.), photos, drawings, or multimodal creations to accompany their work. Additionally, each student was required to submit a short reflective essay about the project where they would reflect on their creative process and the pieces of writing included in their zine. In the middle of the semester, students displayed their zines in a class gallery where they each read and responded to each other’s projects.


This manuscript focuses on the zines of nine students selected at random from the larger data set. The students had various experiences related to the border ranging from those who lived in Mexico and crossed the border for their education to those whose families completely stopped crossing the border due to an extended period of border violence in the early 2000s. All the students in this study identified as Chicanx/Latinx and were on track to becoming elementary school teachers. 

Table 1. Participant Information

Pre-service teacher’s name (all pseudonyms) Semester Enrolled
Casia Fall 2018
Charlie Fall 2018
Daniela Fall 2018
Holly Fall 2018
Adriana Fall 2018
Guillermo Spring 2019
Luna Spring 2019
Liliana Spring 2019
Adamaris Spring 2019

Data Analysis 

To analyze the zines, we took a critical multimodal approach (Campano, Nichols, & Player, 140) theoretically driven by Chicanx/Latinx conceptualizations of multimodality and border(lands) thinking. We first analyzed the perceptual elements of each text (Serafini 4) to understand the visual pieces and design elements of each project. We then examined the ideo-structural features (Griffin 12), which supported us in gaining a deeper understanding of how the PST’s sociopolitical contexts shape each zine. This approach allowed us to consider the multimodal process, environment, culture, location, and positionalities that informed each zine (Gonzales 33). In other words, rather than analyzing zines for their separate modes, we took a broader view of the text to identify the meanings generated and how Chicanx/Latinx PSTs understand the world (Campano et al. 139). 

After each round of analysis, we engaged in pláticas (Fierros and Delgado Bernal 98)—the Chicana/Latina feminist method of processing and sharing knowledge through dialogue. Each plática consisted of us reviewing the data and making sense of each zine based on our various experiences and expertise. For example, after each round of coding separately, we discussed the codes we had created, decided what to merge, and then grouped them to develop initial findings. We then worked individually to conduct an in-depth analysis and come back to our pláticas. We did this a total of three times. 


Mónica and Idalia identify as Chicana feminist scholars in education who draw on their lived experiences to facilitate data collection and make sense of data in analysis. Mónica grew up in a bilingual, multi-generational immigrant family with roots from the border region, specifically San Jose de Aura, Coahuila, México and Cotulla, Texas. Her family’s experiences and knowledge as migrants from the border region to the Midwest shaped her understanding of the world, culture, and identity. This understanding was further transformed by her time teaching and living in El Paso, Texas, where she learned about students’ transnational lives and experiences on both sides of the border. Idalia is a first-generation immigrant raised as a transfronteriza, crossing the Texas-Tamaulipas borderlands daily. Her experiences as a bilingual, bicultural, and border-crosser, as well as her experience as a former bilingual education teacher, have informed her understanding of what it means to teach and learn with and alongside students of Chicanx/Latinx and immigrant backgrounds. Together, our lived experiences and perspectives have guided our analysis and interpretation of the zines created by Chicanx/Latinx PST on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. 


Borderlands ARTifacts

The zines created by the Chicanx/Latinx PST in this study incorporated borderlands artifacts and multimodal representations of culture that revealed how the teachers view and represent everyday life. Their visual representations included the presence of pop culture, symbols, and practices as significant to their everyday life on the borderlands. Further, students incorporated these images to emphsaize their ideas about language, identity constructs, and ways of being within the borderland context. For example, the images of borderland pop culture were largely influenced by the media and cultural practices accessible to the border community. Because of the proximity between the bordering countries, the Chicanx/Latinx PST had access to both US and Mexico’s media. They incorporated images that included popular television shows or telenovelas, music artists, movies, cultural icons, games, and modern fashion to represent who they were and their border-crossing community. Some examples were: Sábado Gigante, Saturday Night Life, WWE, Selena, Captain America, Cantinflas, El Chapulin Colorado, folklórico dance, Loteria, Bingo, clothing, and nails, among others.

For example, the artistic representations produced in the zines were also about family and community practices on the borderlands. Some zines had typical food, community events, games, and more that reflected the everyday practices found on the El Paso-Juarez borderlands. 

Figure 1, Two images - Loteria & Bingo
Figure 1, Two images – Loteria & Bingo

Guillermo’s zine, for instance, included an image of La Loteria and the game BINGO (see Figure 1). Both examples are board games commonly played in homes. La Loteria is a common game played in the Mexican community, and Bingo is an American game, both relying on the luck of the items (Mexican pop culture images or numbers) drawn to determine winners. Guillermo used these images next to each other to demonstrate his biculturalism or, as he phrases, “el licuado de cultura” (a blended culture) that he experiences alongside other images representing his border-crossing identity as having connections to both, American and Mexican-based cultural practices. 

Many zines reflected this blend of cultures, though not always limited to national ideas of culture (i.e., Mexican or American). Many PST also used specific artifacts that reflected their generational and local community culture. Adamaris, for example, uses the updated rendition of Loteria, Millennial Loteria, to capture her job as a nail technician and creator (see Figure 2 below).  

Figure 2, Nail Arte
Figure 2, Nail Arte

Here, Adamaris strategically uses a Loteria game card with the local border language description “El Nail Art,” which traverses linguistic boundaries between named national languages. Next to the card image, she has a picture of her embodied fashion—her nails. The images include a caption describing her work of creating nail art. She viewed this as a creative and gendered process where she helped women “feel more beautiful one [nail] set at a time.” She playfully uses written language alongside the loteria card and the image of her nails to highlight a popular fashion art that she sees as representative of the borderlands and her millennial identity. 

The Chicanx/Latinx PST in this study also feature artifacts to symbolize how nations were impacted by each other at the border. For example, many zines used specific symbols associated with both the US and Mexico or the intersection of a binational-bicultural identity such as calaveras (Mexican skulls), nopales (cacti), next to national flags, geographic markers of El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, to illustrate the geo-cultural context. To illustrate further, we provide here one of Daniela’s images. In her zine, she adds the image of a flag (see Figure 3 below), representing the intersection of her connection to the US and Mexico; thus, her binational, bicultural identity. 

Figure 3, Mexican American Flag  
Figure 3, Mexican American Flag

In Figure 3, the flag has a Mexican sarape texture and color representations instead of the typical red and white stripes, and it incorporates the white stars of the American flag. This symbol exemplifies how intertwined the US and Mexican cultures are for the borderland community. Additionally, the line of a sarape is a cultural representation of Mexico, and the stars are a national symbol of the US. In short, the image is not simply about nationality but demonstrates that culture exists even across the U.S.-Mexico borderline. This image is a creative example of borderland representations, or what Vélez-Ibáñez notes as “syncretic [cultural] forms that emerge in transborder and hybrid ways” (12). Daniela creatively ties this binational-bicultural flag to her family, which also reveals how her family is from a border-crossing community not defined by the boundaries of either country.

Through illustrative examples of practices, pop culture, and symbols, the Chicanx/Latinx PST effectively depicts the culture and identity of those, like themselves, who live in the U.S.-Mexico/El Paso-Juarez borderlands. Instead of representing one culture, identity, or country over the other, these visuals epitomize their border(lands) thinking (Mignolo 51) and, more importantly, their intersectional and complex border-crossing identities and ways of being. In other words, the zines capture the unique creativity and ingenuity of those living in the borderlands rather than simply adhering to cultural hierarchies produced by neighboring countries. Specifically, the images and symbols included in the zines reflect how everyday practices, cultural symbols, and hybrid representations can be showcased as borderlands artifacts. Furthermore, based on their illustrations, it was evident that for this group of PST, binationality, biculturalism, and bilingualism were the everyday norm and the epicenter of life on the borderlands.

Borderlands Languaging 

The borderlands’ linguistic beauty, tensions, and experiences are featured across many zines, even though only students in the spring semester were required to write a narrative of their language. Through creative reflections, students highlighted their complex linguistic journeys and, in many ways, legitimize Spanglish as a way of languaging reflective of living in a border region – where their linguistic and cultural worlds are literally and metaphorically divided and shaped by a geopolitical line. Many students in this study chose to document their border tongue through their writing and the creative titles across their zines to draw attention to their cultural practice of blending the features of their linguistic repertoires. For example, in her zine, Luna titled the poem about home “Jome.” 

Figure 4, Jome
Figure 4, Jome

With letters in the color of both the Mexican and American flags, Luna’s title features sticker letters that pull together a phonetic reading and understanding of two national named languages, English and Spanish. As a speaker, reader, and writer of Spanglish, she chooses to replace the “H” in “home” with a “J,” which in Spanish the phoneme is pronounced /h/ in English (see figure 4). This title reflects the creative and complex languaging practices of those whose linguistic repertoires transcend the boundaries of national languages and how their linguistic ingenuity produces new ways of communicating, specifically for those within their linguistic community. Similarly, Guillermo draws on this linguistic, creative strategy in the titles of pieces of writing in his zine. For example, his poem about home is titled “Home Sweet Hogar.”

Figure 5, Home Sweet Hogar
Figure 5, Home Sweet Hogar

In a Spanglish spin-off of the White American English phrase, “Home Sweet Home,” Guillermo replaces the last mention of home with the Spanish word “hogar” (see Figure 5). Luna and Guillermo’s titles reflect the linguistic reality of their homes and broader communities, imprinted by English and Spanish vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. In the titles of their poems, they chose to draw on the linguistic features of both national languages to demonstrate the fluidity of their bilingualism and how these national languages interact with each other regularly. These linguistic practices are deeply connected to the cultural, familial, and schooling practices of the borderlands. These intersections all come together to create what Guillermo titles later in his zine, “My Beautiful Realidad”– a zone, site, and space where those who live on the border transcend linguistic and cultural boundaries to create something new to navigate and survive what has been intended to be rigid and painful lines of separation. 

Although historically conceptualized in a largely deficit way across multiple fields (García and Wei 41), Chicanx/Latinx multilinguals have reclaimed Spanglish and created new forms of meaning-making marked by being part of Spanish-speaking communities within a larger White English supremacist context. Highlighting these practices, Luna states, “I am bilingual. I speak English and Spanish. Every day I talk both languages. I can talk only in Spanish, only in English, or I can combine both languages. I do this a lot, all [the] time” (3). This communicative practice, as highlighted above, is Spanglish. Like the titles of Luna and Guillermo, students use Spanglish to document and story their lived realities throughout their zines creatively. For example, in a narrative she titles “Mi Lenguaje,” Adamaris challenges dominant, deficit conceptions of Spanglish. She uses Chicanx/Latinx pop culture memes and stickers to further accentuate her points about the validity and power of her language. In the introduction of her narrative, she writes, “My language and the way I express myself with words is extremely unique, it makes me who I am, a Chicana.” Just below that sentence, in the corner of the page, she places a sticker of bold black letters which read, “SE HABLA SPANGLISH” (see figure 6 below). 

Figure 6, “Mi Lenguaje” excerpt
Figure 6, “Mi Lenguaje” excerpt

 Adamaris’s narrative writing and multimodal texts complement each other, connecting her identity and communicative experiences. In doing so, she creates space to validate Spanglish as a named language and herself as a speaker of that language. 

Similarly, Adriana uses her poem about home to talk about the connections between borders, place, and language to demonstrate the feeling of navigating and celebrating the in-between space both physically and metaphorically. The title of her poem is “Spanglish” (see Appendix A). She sets the first few stanzas of the poem up in two columns with subtitles, on the left titled “El Paso, Texas” and on the right titled “Juarez, Chihuahua.” Each stanza is una etapa of her life, documenting special moments, trips, and experiences in both cities written in Spanglish. She finishes her poem with a stanza written in the middle of the stanzas of the poem:

Figure 7, Stanza of a poem titled “Spanglish”
Figure 7, Stanza of a poem titled “Spanglish”

Throughout the poem, Adriana gives the reader glimpses of life, places, and people on both sides of the border through her experiences as a child, teenager, and adult. In the final stanza (see Figure 7), she plays with text placement to reveal where these lived realities come together through her Mexican-American and Spanglish speaker identity. As she describes, this identity comes from being a part of these two worlds– El Paso and Juarez– and yet also being from the in-between, drawing on the cultural and linguistic practices of both. Like in many of the zines, Adriana ends this poem with the phrase, “Spanglish y que!” This ending emphasizes a cultural and linguistic pride that comes from the creative fusion of languages in the borderlands and resisting deficit messages that view Spanglish speakers as lacking linguistic knowledge in both languages rather than highlighting their ability to make meaning and communicate by drawing on their bilingual experiences in the world. 

Borderlands Identities and the Borderline 

The multimodal zines produced by the Chicanx/Latinx PST highlight the various ways of being, speaking, and meaning-making that transcend these rigid borders. While we agree these practices should be celebrated and showcased to emphasize the resilience and creativity of Chicanx/Latinx communities on the border, it is also important to recognize how the borderlands often still function in dichotomous ways. In this finding, we reveal how PST teachers’ zines reveal their awareness of the fluidity of language, culture, food, entertainment, etc. but also are very cognizant of the existing binaries and walls. 

While the Chicanx/Latinx PST teachers demonstrate their unique cultural and linguistic sensibilities related to being in borderland spaces, many also document the violent borders that were put in place for them early in their lives and how they impacted their identities. Across many of the zines, in both semesters, stories of names representing the intersection of personal identities, sense of belonging, language, and schooling emerged. The cultural and linguistic dichotomies upheld in US schools deeply impacted students understanding of these issues. For example, in his narrative piece, Guillermo describes his experience in school as taking on a new identity of “William.” His narrative, “Yo y William,” is written in the third person to demonstrate the differences between William, his name at school, and Guillermo, his familial and cultural name. In the narrative, Guillermo shares an exchange between himself and his mother. As he proudly shows her his report card, Guillermo’s mom notices William is written in print at the top of the page, “Mom, mira lo que saque.” 

Figure 8, Yo and William 
Figure 8, Yo and William

 To his surprise, Guillermo’s mother does not comment on the good grades, instead angrily asks, “Porque dice William? Quien es William?” To which he replies, “Well that’s what they call me in class, eso le pongo a mis papeles, es clase de ingles ama.” As Guillermo describes in his narrative, this identity and experience en la clase de ingles were new for him. He states, “Years prior, he was in Spanish-speaking classes until someone labeled him “capable of excelling in monolingual classes.” Like for so many racialized children, especially those with racialized names, the classroom is a site where non-English names are often violently changed, impacting students’ learning and cultural identities (Kholia and Solórzano 11). Like Guillermo, Adriana writes in her zine, “No teacher ever bothered asking if I wanted to be called Adriana in Spanish or English. They just assumed Adriana, the English version, was fine with me.” While Adriana also states that she enjoys hearing her name in English and Spanish, it is important to acknowledge that name changes often occur without any conversation or permission from students or their families. These practices contribute to Chicanx/Latinx bilingual children continuously feeling a dichotomous split between their home/community worlds and school. Despite their resistance against those boundaries, young people are often forced to leave pieces of their most authentic selves at the door once they enter their classrooms. Further, while we often think about the border as a multilingual fusion of cultures, the narratives documented in the zines demonstrated how English supremacy continues to function within schools on the US side of the border. 

Some PST teachers also wrote about their identity as two in one, whereas others documented a new identity transcending national boundaries. For example, Guillermo writes about this dual identity through his schooling experiences highlighted above and on a page highlighting quotes from the classic Chicano film Blood In, Blood Out. Although the film takes place in East L.A., Guillermo compares it to the U.S.-Mexican border region, using numbered stickers of his zip code and written text that spins off the quote from the film to capture his identity as a Mexican American. 

Figure 9, Blood In, Blood Out
Figure 9, Blood In, Blood Out

The text on the page reveals a common sentiment among many Mexican Americans who face marginalization and discrimination on both sides of the border, especially 2nd or 3rd generation children of immigrants whose culture, language, and way of being is often marked by experiences living in the US yet deeply shaped by the historical and cultural contexts of their Mexican immigrant family members. Guillermo highlights the notion of being “two in one” and yet not being claimed by either nation. 

The use of national flags, documenting what it means to be a Mexican American, and emphasis on the “bi” in bicultural as it relates to national identities were common themes throughout all the zines. Daniela complexifies this relationship to both nations in her zine titled with the text, “I am both of them,” against a backdrop of a self-portrait and colorful images of pineapples, calacas, sacred hearts, and flowers. Daniela captures this binational belonging a few pages later through geographic and national symbols. On the left page, she places an image of the Mexican and American flags overlapping and held together by a heart. The text below reads, “Two countries, one heart.” 

Figure 10, Two countries, one heart
Figure 10, Two countries, one heart

Daniela is a daily border-crosser who lives a transnational life on both sides, traveling for school and visiting family. She connects her notions of culture and her relationships to the broader nation through which she experiences aspects of her life in both places every day. While the complex constructions of identities are not unique to the borderlands, this experience reflects particular dichotomous discourses and constant negotiation brought about by the relationship between bordering nation-states like the United States and Mexico. Across the zines, the Chicanx/Latinx PST teachers in the study demonstrate how, despite the attempt to create fluid notions of identity and language that are outside of the bounds of borders and nations, these aspects of living on the borderlands were also profoundly shaped by these nationalistic realities through the presence of a hyper-surveilled and militarized border that reifies hierarchies based on national origin, immigration status, class, race, and gender. These reflected the complexities of living and being on the borderlands. 


In this study, multimodal zines served as a tool and a creative opening for Chicanx/Latinx PST to reflect critically on what it means to live on the borderlands. Drawing upon their border epistemologies, the PST bring attention to the cultural practices and symbols of their lived experiences by documenting borderlands artifacts. Through carefully selecting images to curate a window into their lives, the PST captured various places, foods, entertainment, games, and art to demonstrate their borderlands culture. These depictions emphasize the beauty and complex representations that exist because of the unique context. Combined with this, PST also used these zines as spaces to activate their agency to the dominant deficit discourses circulated about the borderlands. Most of the zines, for example, featured multimodal representations that aimed to speak back to language delegitimization that centers on white-speaking subjects (Flores and Rosa 151). PST revealed the distinct everyday languaging practices of the borderlands by strategically incorporating multimodal, fluid writing in and about Spanglish, positioning it as a legitimate border tongue. In doing so, the PSTs demonstrated their critical awareness of how languages are both attached to nations yet simultaneously reflective of the blurry linguistic space of the borderlands where varying ways of meaning come into contact and sometimes clash. Understanding how language is historically, politically, institutionally, and culturally positioned is essential to recognizing and disrupting linguistic hierarchies and providing bilingual, border-crossing communities with anti-racist education (Caldas 370). As such, the My Literacies zine project became their anchor and platform to share their critical awareness of the world(s) they experience on the borderlands.

While most of the PST teachers, except for Holly and Charlie, did not mention their future goals as educators in their zines, it was evident that the zine assignment was a way for PST to creatively reflect and actively bring their cultural and linguistic identities to their academic work and teacher preparation. For many Chicanx/Latinx students, this experience is scarce in mainstream classrooms where Eurocentric curricula continue to silence the histories and identities of racialized communities (de los Rios, Lopez, and Morrell 85). In fact, many students wrote in their essay reflections that the zine project was the first time they had the opportunity to write in whatever language they wanted to, including Spanglish. Further, many students had not had the opportunity to consider how the borderlands context and discourses shaped their experiences and identities. In line with what research has demonstrated around the importance of reflection and Chicanx/Latinx PST teachers (Caldas 379; Guerrero and Farrugio 57; Nuñez et al. 428), we argue that these practices support PST teachers in developing the tools and agency for creating similar learning experiences for their future students. 

The constructions of the borderlands, as reflected in the work of PST, reflect territorial borderlines that perpetuate notions of fluidity and rigidity. For some, the border represented their ability to cross borders, while for others, it reminded them of the exclusion and separation they experienced in their identities and schooling experiences. Some PST used zines to share family histories of border crossing and memories they had on either side of the border due to varying immigration status. For others, it was clear that even when their lives were solely on the US side of the border, they were still shaped by México’s influences on borderlands culture. Unlike the dominant discourses about the border region, these constructions of border life can serve as springboards to expand discussions about the lived experiences of immigrants, border-crossing communities, and histories within curricula, media, and other forms of knowledge production. With the experience of contributing to these discussions through zine making, the PST in this study can potentially engage border-crossing youth in their classrooms with a critical and meaningful curriculum relevant to their everyday lives.

Conclusion and Implications

Teacher preparation programs continue to center on white, middle-class understandings of teaching and learning. In doing so, racialized PST often do not get their needs met or feel prepared to be the educators they strive to be within their own communities. Learning experiences that lack critical analysis and discussions about language, culture, and identity within socio-and-geopolitical contexts contribute to colonizing curriculum and pedagogical approaches. PST are often the recipients of these forms of curriculum and, thus, are at risk of perpetuating teaching and learning practices that exclude the histories, realities, and epistemologies of K-12 racialized youth. As such, for those raised on the border and experienced school within this context, their teacher preparation must include opportunities to critically reflect and consider ways to use their stories and pedagogical tools like zines to engage their future students with meaningful borderlands content. We call on teacher educators and teacher preparation programs to include pedagogical opportunities that empower PST who will serve and work alongside border-crossing communities, as well as other racialized communities, to engage in multimodal work that can unsettle deficit discourse, white-centric curriculum, and monolingual-monocultural national practices and ideologies. Reimaging and (re)constructing borderlands education and discourses require approaches centered on future advocacy and activism through Chicanx/Latinx critical border-crossing epistemologies and pedagogy.

Zine pedagogies, however, are not limited to pre-service teacher education. Much like other scholars who have used zines as a pedagogical tool (Cervantes-Soon and geography one), we encourage university educators to consider how zines might be useful within their specific disciplines to support students in researching local community issues, examining their own transnational or intersectional identities, and exploring important course content through a social justice lens. We also call on university educators who teach and work closely with immigrant and border-crossing/transnational students in geographic locations away from the U.S.-Mexico border where there has been a steady increase in Latinx populations, including the Midwest and Nuevo South (Alvarez & Alvarez 405). How might university educators in these contexts support students in considering the unique borders they navigate, both physical and metaphorical, as well as their relationship to the militarized border and how it shapes (or not) their immigrant experiences? How might university educators support students in contributing to the long history of zine-making and cultural productions in and outside the classroom? We believe these questions are essential in supporting undergraduates, especially Chicanx/Latinx students, across a variety of higher education settings. 


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Appendix A

Appendix A

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