Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


There are significant numbers of Spanish-speaking background students in Australian secondary schools, but as a linguistic cohort their experiences have generally been underrepresented in educational research. This study was undertaken to explore the ways in which one group of secondary school Spanish-speaking background students from three different countries negotiated their cultural identity in classrooms, at school and at home.

In any nation where the majority of its inhabitants has a migrant history, there are socio-economic, political, cultural and educational issues that specifically affect immigrants and the children of immigrants. This study deals with concepts of cultural identity and their relationships to education, immigration, language, multiculturalism and racism. Much of the literature does not speak for the subordinated "other" in society, particularly when looking within a multicultural society, as opposed to say, oppressed people in "other" countries. The literature tends to be about the relationships from the dominant society's viewpoints, or about the minority group's material gains and failures, and there is little in the literature which explains the richness of culture and identity of the "other" when seen from within that group.

This qualitative, multiple case study of twenty two students has allowed the participants the opportunity to tell their own stories about their lives and about their school experiences. The conceptual framework of the present study can be defined as an attempt to investigate the formation of identity in the context of those places where it is likely to be formed; that is to say the family, the school and the spaces in between.

The study was designed to be carried out in two phases. First, the students and their parents were interviewed about their experiences as immigrants or children of immigrants in Australia. Second, the students were observed when participating in Science, Mathematics and English lessons, so that critical incidents and interactions could be recorded. These data were checked with the students, and where possible their teachers were also interviewed either before or after the classes. The data were analysed to throw light upon those factors which both at home and at school appeared o play a crucial part in helping the students to define themselves in terms of their own subjectivities and their possible futures, as well as in relation to their family members, their peers, and other significant people in their lives.

It was found that these students move in an out of two different worlds, the one maintained mainly by their parents at home and the other of the wider society, mirrored in the school. It was also found that the complexities, puzzles and potential conflicts of the spaces in between these worlds were individually constructed, yet at the same time driven by the specific context in which the students found themselves — a context encompassing a particular political/ideological era (which favours certain, sometimes negative, altitudes towards notions of difference), the family's economic and educational background, the expectations of the parents, and the students' own age, experience, hopes and desires. Unlike their parents who appear caught in a cultural bubble, possibly because of their perceived deficiencies in the English language, the students are much freer to construct different, mulit-faceted identities, while generally appreciating their place in the family's heritage.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.