Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education



First Advisor

Janet Johnson


Cambodians and Guatemalans have a similar history of forced migration to the United States to escape state-supported violence, genocide, starvation, and poverty (Smith-Hefner, 1993; Menjívar, 2008), yet the U.S. Government has treated each group differently, granting refugee status to Cambodians, but forcing most Guatemalans to enter the U.S. without proper documentation (Feuerherm & Ramanathan, 2016). Although Guatemalan and Cambodian youth make up a significant portion of the Eagle City Public Schools (ECPS) population, their linguistic and social strengths and concerns often go unrecognized due to the essentializing (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001) of the two groups into the aggregate racial categories of “Hispanic or Latino” and “Asian,” respectively. The limited scholarly research on these two groups suggest that both groups are criminalized as gang members (Ngo & Lee, 2007; Chhuon, 2014) or as “illegal” immigrants (UNHCR, 2014); and assumed to be non-American based on phenotype, name, or language (Ngo & Lee, 2007; Ek, 2009). The current focus on accountability in schools with testing conducted only in English further marginalizes the languages and experiences of these groups and legitimizes the deficit view of bilingualism, despite the wide recognition of the social, cognitive, emotional, and economic benefits of bilingualism.

This study was designed to provide a counterstory to this deficit view of Cambodian and Guatemalan youth, and to instead draw out the community cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005) found in their respective communities. Using a critical race theory (CRT) framework (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001) and Photovoice methodology (Wang & Burris, 1997; Wang, 2006), I engaged Cambodian and Guatemalan youth as co-researchers using photography and discussion to critically analyze the linguistic and social practices in their home and community and to make education policy recommendations to create more valuable learning experiences in school. I conducted these as two parallel studies in Eagle City, a medium-sized urban New England school district: one with second generation Cambodian American youth (born in the U.S. to refugee parents) in a youth-led community organization, and the other with Guatemalan youth, who arrived as part of the wave of unaccompanied youth in 2014 (UNHCR, 2014) to reunite with family, in a school setting outside of the traditional school day. Upon conclusion of the two studies, the two groups held a joint photo gallery walk at City Hall, where youth engaged in discussion regarding their photos and presented their educational recommendations to the mayor, education officials, and the general public.

Through the discussion of their photos, the youth demonstrated a richness of untapped community cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005), which includes aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational, and resistant capital, and what Pérez-Huber (2009) calls spiritual capital. The findings suggest that a variety of demographic and contextual factors affect the development of the various forms of capital, and of resistant capital, in particular. In their recommendations, the Cambodian youth call for Ethnic Studies classes that include the real history of the American war in Southeast Asia, Khmer language classes, and language access for families. The Guatemalan youth, call for smaller class sizes, bilingual teachers in the content areas, healthier meals in school, cleaner school facilities, more adequate transportation, and a school location and schedule that allow a better balance between school and work.



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