Border Literacies and the Plazas Comunitarias Program


  • Lorena Sánchez Tyson


Border literacies, Biliteracy, adult education, adult literacy


In this column, I hope to contribute to the wider discussion on this topic by highlighting a specific binational adult literacy program called Plazas Comunitarias to illustrate how some adults are developing Spanish literacy on the border and explore to what extent a model like Plazas could act as a bridge to both Spanish and English literacy learning. Among its many features, learners enrolled in Plazas can also work towards earning official certificates for primaria and secundaria (the equivalent to elementary and middle school) issued directly from the Ministry of Education in Mexico.  At the same time, I take a look at the ways in which the local organizations that help implement the Plazas program play a role in overall community engagement and have the potential to be a valuable resource for Latinx families on the border and beyond, particularly for those with children enrolled in the school system. Therefore, K-12 educators working with Latinx families may well find programs such as Plazas to be a valuable community resource for parents by opening up avenues to literacy learning that could support both their and their children’s development.


Brandt, D. (2001). Literacy in American lives. Cambridge University Press.

Condelli, L., Wrigley, H., & Yoon, K. S. (2009). “What works” for adult students of English as a second language. In S. Reder & J. Bynner (Eds.), Tracking adult literacy and numeracy skills: Findings from longitudinal research (pp. 132–159). New York: Routledge.

Délano Alonso, A. (2018). Integration through Ventanillas de Salud and Plazas Comunitarias. In From here and there: Diaspora policies, integration, and social rights beyond borders.

Hanemann, U. (2016). Plazas Comunitarias, United States of America. Retrieved from

Hanemann, U., & Scarpino, C. (2016). Literacy in multilingual and multicultural contexts: Effective approaches to adult learning and education. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

INEA. (2015). Evaluación del desempeño Plazas Comunitarias en Estados Unidos. Dirección de Concertación y Alianzas Estratégicas Subdirección de Asuntos Internacionales.

INEA. (2020). Plazas por estado. Retrieved from

Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior. (2020). Educación básica a distancia: Plazas Comunitarias. Retrieved from

Levitt, P. (2009). Roots and routes: Understanding the lives of the second generation transnationally. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35(7), 1225–1242.

Lukes, M. (2011). “I understand English but can’t write it”: The power of native language instruction for adult English learners. International Multilingual Research Journal, 5(1), 19–38.

Sánchez Tyson, L. (2020). Literacy and oracy across the U.S.-Mexico border: A look at the Plazas Comunitarias programme. Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 27(1), 91–99.

First page of Sánchez Tyson Biliteracy Column





Invited Column: Biliteracy in Texas