Latino/Hispanic Immigrant Youth in the U.S


Immigrant youth experiences are all different. They vary according to a manifold of individual and structural factors. However, all immigrant youth confront several challenges related to the process of assimilation to a new country. Adjusting to new social norms, incorporating to a new institutional environment, adapting to a new community, and often learning a new language affect the well-being of youth and are causes of psychological stress. (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco, 2001; Rumbaut, 1995, 1994; Olsen, 2000) For Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth, in particular, the challenges can become even more complicated because their ethnic group is in the wrong side of many structural divides. In contemporary USA context, where disparities in educational attainment, income, health, occupation, and technology, have become pervasive, the Latino/Hispanic group systematically appears at the bottom of the scales according to official quantitative data. Such problematic position, have made this population the center of academic research on low educational attainment (Rivera-Batiz, 2008; Smith, 2002; Romo & Falbo, 1996), lack of employment opportunities (Kochhar, 2012; Perez, 1992), children poverty (Massey, 1993), teen pregnancy (Fry and Passel, 2009), lack of social capital (Noguera, 2004; Fernandez-Kelly and Shauffler, 1996), and poor health status (Hayes-Bautista, 2002).

In contemporary U.S. advanced capitalist society, ethnicity/race interlaces with social class and access to opportunity structures. Opportunities of social mobility have become scant in an “hourglass” economy “with knowledge-intensive, high paying jobs at one end and labor-intense, lowing paying jobs at the other.” (Zhou 1997) Not surprisingly, in such context of systemic inequalities, Hispanic/Latino youth often have to confront negative stereotyping and discrimination. (Edwards & Romero, 2008; Lee & Ahn, 2012) Mexican immigrants, in particular, because their numerous size, labour reasons of immigration, language, the financial resources and level of education that most of them bring along, among other factors, are accused of causing several social ills in the USA. For instance, they are accused to cause joblessness, degrade neighborhood values, drive down educational standards, contribute to poverty, and have cultural habits that undervalue mainstream White middle-class norms and values. (Fernandez-Kelly and Shacuffler, Salidvar, 1997; Suares-Orozco M., 1998; Vila, 2000) Within the US, as Cintia Bejarano stated, “the Mexican immigrant is blamed for substandard impositions on people’s idyllic, yet inaccurate, perceptions of American life.” (13) Such discrimination and negative stereotyping becomes detrimental to the developmental and assimilation of Mexican immigrant youth through a process that Carola Suarez-Orozco (2000) has conceptualized as “social mirroring.”

However, although in the reproduction of historical structures of privilege in the USA Hispanic/Latino immigrant youth from Mexican origin are in a position of disadvantage, they experiences of assimilation vary according to individual and familial factors, and the characteristics of the receiving local contexts. Despite what quantitative research can reveal about this population at the macro level it is also necessary to look at the diversity of the experiences on the ground as well as to consider their inter-generational trajectories. Not all Mexican immigrant youth starts their assimilation process with the same social, human, and financial resources, nor arrive to the same cities and neighborhoods. Although many are settling in highly segregated inner city neighborhoods of deep poverty, others are arriving to middle-class suburbs or to diverse working class and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. While many arrive with working-class parents who have low levels of educational attainment, others come with middle-class parents who hold professional degrees. Contrary to the popular mainstream believe, Mexican immigrants, as well as other Latin American and Caribbean ones -the ones who are labeled in the USA with the pan-ethnic category of Latinos/Hispanics-, are socioeconomically and culturally diverse and their experiences are heterogeneous.

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