In this dissertation I have investigated the new media practices and skills that a group of five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths growing up in Austin, Texas, developed through their activities in the contexts of family/home, after-school, and social media networked spaces. In my analysis I have tried to understand whether these practices and skills contributed to the process of assimilation into the United States. As second- and 1.5-generation immigrants, Gabriela, Inara, Sergio, Antonio, and Miguel were involved in a process of incorporation into a new country that started with their parents’ decision to move to the U.S. in search of better economic opportunities (labor migration). In the dawn of the twenty-first century, the U.S. was characterized by a context of rapid socio- technical change, socioeconomic stratification, demographic transformation, networked communication, and systemic inequalities. Although structural and individual factors have shaped the outcomes of the assimilation process, I sought to reveal the agency exercised by five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth as they navigated multiple settings, made their own choices, and participated in a range of mediated activities. In this conclusion I focus specifically on four key findings from my analysis of the case studies discussed in previous chapters:
- 1) The five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths were assimilating into the United States and digital tools were being leveraged in that process.
- 2) New media practices and skills accelerate the process of cultural and linguistic adaptation of second- and 1.5-generation Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth.
- 3) Although the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths gained new media skills that helped them to advance in their process of assimilation, their skills were not developed to high levels of expertise.
- 4) Digital inequalities and participation gaps persist and continue to evolve in complex ways.
In the pages that follow I discuss each of these findings and briefly review their evidentiary support. Next, I elaborate upon some recommendations for parents, educators, learning designers, researchers, and policy makers working with Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth. Finally, I offer an update on the outcomes of the process of assimilation of the five youth by looking at the trajectories that they followed after we left the field in 2012.
1) The five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths were assimilating to the United States and digital tools were being leveraged in that process.
Drawing on contemporary sociological theories I have conceptualized assimilation as a complex process that is uneven and multidimensional. Assimilation is a long-term process that unfolds over at least three generations but is not inevitable. It may or may not happen according to different individual and structural factors. In this process, immigrants and their children adapt and incorporate into the culture, economy, education, and other social domains of the host country in diverse ways. Hence, assimilation is, at its core, a problem of social inclusion. It is a process about immigrants’ participation in several dimensions of the host country, socioeconomic mobility, and access to opportunities. The evidence I have found and discussed in the previous chapters proves that Inara, Gabriela, Antonio, Sergio, and Miguel are advancing in their process of U.S. incorporation, mainly in linguistic, cultural, educational, and social dimensions.
Contrary to the anti-immigration arguments developed around the non- incorporation of the “new immigrants” to the U.S., particularly those persons with Mexican origins and Latino/Hispanic ethnicity-race, the five kids from this study and their families were adapting with different speeds according to the resources they had brought to various dimensions of the host country. All of the five youth, for instance, had made progress in their education and completed several years of U.S. public school. Although only Gabriela was enrolled in the advanced curriculum track and was a high achiever, the other four were able to successfully pass their grades and complete their years in school. Inara, Antonio, and Sergio actually graduated from high school at the end of our fieldwork in summer 2012. The opportunity to participate, for free, in the educational dimension of the host country was crucial for the five kids and shaped many of the mediated activities that they developed across the contexts of home/family, after- school, and social media networked spaces. As discussed in the previous chapters, several of the media practices developed across these contexts were related in various ways to the educational experience that these youth had in the host country. Doing homework in a networked way at their family houses, collaborating with peers in the production of digital videos at the CAP after-school program, and hanging out on Facebook with their friends from school, for instance, were media practices related to the U.S. schooling experience.
Language proficiency determined the youths’ assimilation trajectories. English was the language of choice for the new media practices they developed in the family/home, after-school, and social media networked spaces. From status updates to comments to video productions, all the media content they created and re-circulated on social media was in English. With the exception of Inara, who listened to Latin music and exchanged Facebook private messages in Spanish with her cousins in Mexico, all the other youth used English as their main language of communication on social media networked spaces. Even at the CAP after-school program where the Mexican and Latino/Hispanic cultural resources were valued and participants could speak Spanish with some of their peers and adult supervisors, English was the main language spoken and the only one used in all the videos, blog posts, and other transmedia content they produced. Additional evidence of their linguistic assimilation was the availability of both languages at the family/home context, and the possibility of using both for communication among family members, especially among the youth. The brokering activities that these kids developed as they translated content and tried to help their parents learn English reveals the existence of a family/home context that was not isolated linguistically. On the contrary, it was a context open to bilingualism, where languages were juxtaposed, and where media content in both languages could be accessed both individually and communally. Hence, despite the panic of the anti-immigration discourse about the linguistic threat of Spanish speaking immigrants from south of the Rio Grande, evidence from this study reveals that Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth with Mexican origins are becoming proficient in English.
All five youth were also adapting to the U.S. cultural dimensions. Specifically, they were able to participate, with different degrees of engagement, in a hyper-mediated popular youth culture that they could access, many times for free, using digital tools and networks. The youth culture these working class immigrant youths were involved with was not one of the street, the neighborhood, or the mall, but instead a technologically mediated one they could consume, produce, explore, and re-circulate using new media technologies. Accessing personal computers, game consoles, cameras, mobile devices, and media production gear in the family/home and after-school contexts, these youths managed to adapt to a vibrant U.S. popular culture that they and their peers from school were passionate about.
Evidence of cultural assimilation can be found by looking at the cultural resources these kids used for their interactions on social media networked spaces, the media content they preferred to consume at home, and even the media products they created at the CAP after-school program. By recognizing the Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths’ adaptation to the U.S. popular culture I do not imply that these youths were losing their connections with their parents’ culture of origin. That connection still existed but was usually not maintained through the new media practices I have analyzed. Instead, it relied more in family rituals, foods, and oral culture at the family/home context that were beyond the limits of my research project. With the exception of the music consumption practice of Inara, Gabriela, and Sergio, who had an eclectic taste that included different genres of Latino music, the Mexican culture rarely appeared in their new media practices.
I also found evidence of the social adaptation of the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth. In this dimension of the assimilation process, disparities appeared the social resources and support systems that these youths and their families could access. Although all of them were assimilating socially to the U.S. working class, they did it with different directions and speeds. While Gabriela and her family experienced fast mobility and were trying to become incorporated into the middle class, the other youths and their families were moving slower and adapting to the working class. The media practices immigrant youth developed in each of the activity contexts are evidence of their participation in social exchanges among their peer networks. Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths leveraged media technology to socialize with their peers. Despite the low quality of access to technology that they had in the family/home context (with the exception of Gabriela), all were actively using computer-mediated communication and social software to stay in touch and hang out with their friends.
However, because those friends came mainly from the regular classes, and after- school programs where minority, working class, and low-income youth participated, their networks were characterized by homophily. Particularly for youths that were not enrolled in advanced placement classes or were part of the school teams or bands, their networks of friends tended to be resource-poor and homogenous.47 However, even for youth like Antonio and Sergio who were on the regular track, the opportunity to participate in the CAP after-school program provided them with opportunities to diversify their social networks with new peers and mentors and to create new bonds. The CAP connections at times allowed them to experience some economic assimilation as they found temporary video production jobs at local studios with the help of Mr. Lopez, the after-school program supervisor who acted as a social and cultural broker for them.
Finally, I also found evidence of some youths’ adaptation to the civic dimension of the U.S., at least during specific periods of time. By being in flow with streams of information from Social Network Sites (SNSs) and Media Sharing Sties (MSSs), 47 As a result of the homophily of their networks, some of these Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths had less access to adult social support and guidance, and restricted access to useful information (e.g. college application, creative career jobs, and higher education financial aid).
Latino/Hispanic youths became aware of U.S. current affairs at specific moments of time. That awareness, however, came from non-traditional news sources such as visual memes and amateur YouTube videos. For instance, during the last phase of the anti-SOPA/PIPA civic campaign in December 2011 and January 2012, Miguel and Sergio actively participated by circulating related content through their social networks and trying to create awareness among their friends. Curiously, the two 1.5-generation immigrant boys were more engaged in a civic campaign than the youths who were born in the U.S. They were the ones who actively tried to protect the Internet from censorship and openly supported the free access to information and knowledge. As explained in chapter four, these two youths were also the ones who were engaged in gaming and visual meme new media cultures, and through their participation, they found a pathway of incorporation into the civic dimension of the host country.
2) New media practices and skills can accelerate the process of cultural and linguistic adaptation of second- and 1.5-generation Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth.
Digital media technologies have become essential tools for the immigrant experience in the twenty-first century and they can support a rapid incorporation into the linguistic and cultural dimensions of the United States. Despite differences in quality and quantity of technological access, each of the five Latino/Hispanic working class immigrant youths grew up using personal computers, game consoles, mobile devices, and the Internet, and were in flow with rich streams of U.S. media content since an early age. Digital tools and networks were part of their everyday life in the host country. Second- and 1.5-generation immigrant youth exercised their agency while using media technologies not only as consumers and re-circulators of U.S. popular culture, but also as producers of English language media texts. Evidence presented in the previous chapters reveals that the new media practices and skills that Latino/Hispanic youth developed with these tools across the contexts of after-school, family/home, and social media networked spaces helped them to rapidly adapt to the linguistic and cultural dimensions of the United States. As the evidence reveals, compared to the process of assimilation that their parents developed, Latino/Hispanic youths were way more advanced in their adaptation to the U.S. popular culture and the English language of the host country.
The analysis of the family/home context, particularly, revealed that labor immigrant parents from Mexico were investing economic resources into new media technologies and believed that these tools supported the education of their children in the United States. Despite their low socioeconomic status and levels of education, all of the immigrant parents from this study made efforts to build domestic media environments that were connected to the Internet (Wi-Fi and DSL), had at least one personal computer, several game consoles, satellite/cable television, mobile devices, and multiple TV screens. Moreover, parents who could afford to provided access to smartphones with networked capabilities and anytime/anywhere connectivity. By equipping their households with new media technology and connecting them to the Internet, immigrant parents, regardless of their parenting style, helped to configure networked domestic media environments that were porous to the culture and language of the host country. The family/home contexts where the five youths grew up, therefore, were not isolated from U.S. popular culture and the English language. Instead, they were more open and flexible to the cultural and linguistic juxtapositions that could be created while different family members used digital media devices. As a result, each of the five kids actively consumed and re-circulated U.S. popular culture at home, and also were able to maintain communication and social exchanges, in English, with their school peers. By using digital tools and connecting to digital networks at home, the five Latino/Hispanic youths had the opportunity to become more engaged in their assimilation into the U.S. cultural and linguistic dimensions. Furthermore, some of these youths, especially the ones with lower quality and quantity of technology access, were able to creatively and resourcefully make media assemblages at home in order to be able to access U.S. cultural products such as music and movies.
The everyday frequency of the activities developed in the multi-context of social media networked spaces also supported fast adaptation to the linguistic and cultural dimensions of the U.S. The language that the five youth chose for computer-mediated communication, the cultural resources they interacted with, and the streams of media in which they flowed, were mostly from the host country. As these youths developed hanging out and messing around practices on SNSs and MSSs, they rapidly adapted to a vibrant U.S. youth popular culture. This culture was diverse, a mixture of: commercial mainstream media produced by professionals and corporations, and DIY alternative media produced by amateurs and grassroots communities. The abundance of media content these youths could access, for free, on the social media networked spaces they visited facilitated a messing around practice in which they constantly explored media streams, discovered music and videos, and re-circulated them with their peers. All were rapidly adapting to the cultural dimension of the U.S. as active consumers and as a networked audience. They leveraged the affordances of digital media to not only access the U.S. media content they liked but also re-circulate it among their social networks. Furthermore, some of these youths, with different degrees of engagement, were also positioned as producers of culture and published their media texts, in English, on MSSs such as Flickr, YouTube, and Cheezburger. Hence, it could be said that all five youth leveraged, in different ways according to the resources they had the affordances of the contemporary networked communication environment and managed to participate, even from the periphery, in a vibrant and diverse U.S. popular culture.
As a media production “figured world,” the context of the CAP after-school program was also very important for supporting a rapid incorporation into the cultural and linguistic dimensions of the United States. By participating in the CAP, Antonio and Sergio were able to collaborate with ethnically and socially diverse U.S. youth from Freeway High and other two local schools in the making of several digital media products. These creative works were all in English and consisted of their stories about life in the United States. From their self-created webisodes to the short narrative film to the biographies that both Antonio and Sergio wrote for the CAP website. Being able to produce those English media texts and publish them online with the help of an adult mentor, positioned Antonio and Sergio as youth authors and media producers in the host country. Interestingly, although the context of the CAP recognized several symbolic resources of Latino/Hispanic culture, including the Spanish language, and several of their participants were second-generation immigrants with Mexican origins, all the creative media works they produced and most of their interpersonal communications were done in English. The fact that even in a context of activity that valued biculturalism, Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth chose to communicate, socialize, and create in the English language, can be interpreted as evidence of their rapid incorporation into the linguistic and cultural dimensions of the United States.
3) Although the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths gained new media skills that helped them to advance in their process of assimilation, in most of the cases their skills were not developed to high levels of expertise.
Through the media practices that Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth developed in the contexts of family/home, after school, and social media networked spaces, they gained a range of new media literacy skills that helped them to advance in their process of incorporation into the United States. Using their new media skills, they exercised their agency and found opportunities of participation, with different degrees of engagement, in society, culture, and education, and (sometimes) even in civics and the economy. New media skills helped these youths navigate the different contexts encountered while growing up in the United States: from the distribution cognition skill acquired when doing homework in the domestic networked environment; to the transmedia navigation ability gained while producing multimodal media texts in the CAP after school program; to the networking skill obtained when re-circulating media among their peers on Facebook; to the appropriation competency learned when sampling visual memes in computer-mediated conversations. However, development of new media skills was uneven among the five Latino/Hispanic youth and constrained by the different kinds of resources and social supports they could access at their contexts of activity. As analyzed in the previous chapters, although they were able to obtain basic abilities in networking, transmedia navigation, distributed cognition, and appropriation, none of them consistently developed a high level of expertise in any of these new media skills. Furthermore, none of them was able to acquire important new media literacy skills such as collective intelligence and simulation. 
In most of the cases, new media skills remained at basic and middle levels due to a complex interaction between structural and individual factors. The five kids developed skills according to the interplay among their individual motivations, social supports, and the cultural, economic, social, human, and technological resources they could access at the different contexts of activity.49 For instance, it was common for all five youth to gain new media skills while hanging out on Facebook and messing around on MSSs. Friendship-driven genres of participation were important for them because a major motivation of using new media technologies was socialization and communication with their peers from school. One of their major motivations was maintaining connection with their peers and bonding with them. Given the characteristics of Freeway High School as a minority-majority, economically disadvantaged, and low performing school, the peer networks that these youths interacted with were homogenous in terms of socioeconomic status and ethnicity-race, and low in terms of educational attainment. Their school peers tended to have similar tastes, academic orientation, and social class. Hence, their social networks were characterized by homophily. As a result, the purposes these youth had when developing friendship-driven practices online usually did not involve high achieving and complex academic tasks that could bring their skills to higher levels of expertise. For instance, the synthesis of new knowledge that was part of the networking skill remained underdeveloped as these youths were more motivated by the re-circulation of content produced by others and by searching media bites in vast repositories of information.
A big motivation that influenced the media practices and skill acquisition of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth online was the possibility of accessing, for free, rich information flows and streams of U.S. media content that could be used for doing homework, entertainment, and informal learning. When doing so, their motivations were related to getting homework done; consuming, discovering, and re-circulating U.S. youth popular culture (e.g. music, memes, videos); and learning about their particular interests (e.g. photography, fashion, videogames, videography, filmmaking). Despite diverse purposes, these motivations rarely lead to a sustained development of a new media skill over a long period of time. As I have discussed in the previous chapters, a common pattern in the acquisition of the new media skills by the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths was that these abilities were usually acquired without any guidance and scaffolding beyond support encountered among their peers. Their lack of access to social support, adult mentorship, and more diverse and resource-rich peer networks at their contexts of activity limited the kind of tasks they did and the level of expertise they gained.
In the absence of high achievers among their peer networks and lack of interaction with adult mentors in the SNSs and MSSs they visited, they tended to develop simple and low-risk activities with new media. The purposes for which they used technology did not address complex real world problems, and usually were not connected to a broader understanding of the social, cultural, and economic systems. For example, deployment of the distributed cognition skill was limited to their abilities to search the web using Google in a basic way; and the youths missed the opportunity to tap into social institutions and experts that could help them augment their cognition and access specialized knowledge.
However, some of the Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth were able to hone their new media skills to a higher level of expertise, at least during short periods of time, and at particular contexts of activity. Gabriela’s development of the networking skill through the publishing of her own photographs in Flickr and video montages in YouTube; Antonio’s gaining of the transmedia ability through the making of webisodes for the CAP; and Sergio’s honing of the appropriation skill through the remixing of visual memes in Cheezburger, for instance, reveal that some of these youths were able to experiment, to a certain degree and during specific periods of time, “geeking out” media practices. That is, practices characterized by an intensive use of media technologies and a commitment to specific media proprieties, production activities, and subcultural identities. When “geeking out” these youths were able to acquire high levels of expertise, increased their participation in culture, and moved closer to the center of specialized knowledge communities. Although gaining higher levels of expertise was usually not sustainable in a long period of time, they were able to experience it at least temporarily.
Sometimes, “geeking out” was conditioned by a greater access to technological resources and social support in a specific context of activity. For instance, Antonio stepped up his transmedia navigation (at the level of rhetoric) skill during the year he participated at the CAP after school program, but he could not sustain its development once he graduated from high school. After he lost access to CAP’s social support and video production gear, Antonio was not able to figure out how to continue producing transmedia narratives. Even though he was motivated to pursue a career in filmmaking and wanted to tell stories across media, his motivation was not enough to overcome the barriers of a lack of access to social support, adult mentorship, and technical resources. Moreover, it seemed that his dependence on using professional production gear limited his explorations of other means of media production he could access such as the camera of his mobile smartphone, and the use of found footage and visuals from Internet repositories.
In other cases, even in the presence of technological resources and social support, some of these youths were not able to sustain a “geeking out” practice that could bring their skills to a higher level of expertise. That was the case for Gabriela and her acquisition of the networking skill, specifically at the level of dissemination and the tapping of social networks to disperse media products. Although Gabriela was the youth with higher quality and quantity of technological and social resources and the one who published more content on MSSs, several years after she had started posting photos on Flickr, she still believed she couldn't “figure out how to work” it. That is, she could not take her networking skill to a level of expertise where she could effectively connect with other social networks and a potential audience. In her case, the barrier was more a matter of the personal motivation she had when publishing content on MSSs (e.g. using a platform just for hosting media production and building a personal portfolio) than an issue of lack of access to technical and social resources.
Likewise, in the case of Sergio’s development of the appropriation skill, it was his personal motivation what shaped his visual meme practice and most of his interactions on the Cheezburger MSS. Although at certain moments of time he was able to demonstrate a high level of technical and cultural expertise in remixing and creating visual memes, he did not sustain his practice during a long period of time. Such inconsistent development of the appropriation skill was related to the way in which he interacted with the visual meme online community. Because his motivation seemed to be more personal than directly connected to the Cheezburger community, he did not try to enrich and diversify his social network online or to acquire a higher status and reputation. Such lack of social connectivity and interaction within the Cheezburger community limited the visual meme practice of Sergio and the sustained development of expertise in the appropriation skill.
4) Digital inequalities and participation gaps persist and continue to evolve in complex ways.
In a context of rapid technological change, growing socioeconomic disparities, and increasing ethnic-racial diversity, digital inequalities and participation gaps in the United States continue to evolve in complex ways. Despite the widespread use of computers, smartphones, and the Internet among the U.S. youth population, disparities in skills, social supports, individual purposes, parenting styles, and access to digital technology persist. The interplay between these factors, as well as their relationship to structural inequalities in education, occupation, and income, continue to shape how young people participate in culture and society. In the case of the five Latino/Hispanic working-class immigrant youths, my analysis reveals the paradox of being simultaneously networked and disconnected. The analysis of new media practices among Latino/Hispanic working-class immigrant youth illustrates some of the contradictions that appear when less advantaged youth become connected to digital networks but lack the social supports, and scaffolding to fully participate.
Despite being children of Mexican immigrants with few resources and low levels of educational attainment, the five Latino/Hispanic youths grew up surrounded by a networked communication environment that they accessed, with different frequencies and qualities, in their everyday life. Although these youths have been able to leverage this environment to advance their incorporation into multiple dimensions of the host society, they have not fully become participants in new media cultures. Their participation has been characterized by peripherality. That is, by an ambiguous position in which they, as newcomers, can have casual access to new media practices and participate in the culture by undertaking simple and “low-risk” activities such as web searches, media re- circulation on Facebook, camera operation, and digital video editing.
Their peripheral participation was the result of the complex interaction between their skills, individual purposes, social supports, and the quality of access to technology. While the lack of high- quality access to digital tools at times limited their opportunities to become full participants, at other times, their purposes and personal motivations determined the low quality of their engagement. Still, at other times, the underdevelopment of new media skills and limited access to social support in the context of activity kept their participation in the periphery.
For instance, despite his motivation to fully participate in the YouTube community of game commentators, Miguel could not produce and upload his own videos. The barrier to participation was clearly shaped by the low-quality access to technology he had at home. However, he still found ways to connect to the community of game commentators and, with great social motivation, was able to engage in conversations with them. In contrast, when Antonio developed his music production practice at home, the barrier to full participation in MSSs emerged more from a combination of the simplicity of his individual purposes, lack of entitlement as a producer, and limited social support. In this case, Antonio was able to produce music with the technology he could access at home and was able to download music software by following the conversations of music producers online. However, he did not publish content on the SoundCloud platform nor did he engage in conversations with community members. Neither at home nor at the MSSs was he able to find the social supports that would act as scaffolding for more engaged participation. The interplay between limited social support and the desired outcomes that he identified when composing music (he rarely finished a single track he felt he could publish) kept Antonio on the periphery of the digital music culture (particularly that of dubstep producers). Likewise, Sergio and Antonio’s participation in Vimeo’s filmmaking communities remained peripheral due to a combination of low motivation to publish (e.g. lack of confidence and entitlement), little scaffolding, and the low quality of access to technology (e.g. loss of digital files).
Social supports have emerged as one of the most critical dimensions of the digital inequalities confronted by Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth in the United States. Specifically, the social supports that youths can access in the context of the family/home – those shaped by different parenting styles – turn out to be crucial for the development of new media practices, skills, and the quality of participation across multiple contexts. Evidence presented in previous chapters reveals that the “accomplishment of natural growth” parenting style, as compared to that of “concerted cultivation,” constrained skill acquisition and new media practices of production and distribution. It was clear from the analysis of the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant families that the Garcia family, which was experiencing rapid social mobility and was en route to middle-class assimilation, was able to provide more social support than the others.
Gabriela’s parents developed a version of the middle-class “concerted cultivation” parenting style. They structured and monitored the activities of Gabriela and pushed her to achieve academically; they engaged in joint new media practices with her and actively mobilized social and economic resources to support her new media practices (e.g. digital photography). In contrast, having fewer resources and less social mobility, parents from the other four working-class families developed versions of the “accomplishment of natural growth” parenting style. They could not provide as much guidance and scaffolding for their children, and could not mobilize as many social and economic resources. With the exception of brokering practices (media and language brokering) wherein youths helped their parents to learn English and taught them how to use digital technology, these four families rarely engaged in joint new media activities. As a result, Inara, Antonio, Miguel, and Sergio, had more difficulty accessing social supports at home and ultimately did not develop a sense of entitlement that could have helped them to more effectively manage social interactions across various sociocultural contexts.
Previously considered evidence revealed that Gabriela had a sort of “digital home advantage” that allowed her to more fully participate in media production and distribution (although still from the periphery) than the other four youths in the context of family/home. Feeling confident in the digital content she created with high-quality technology (SLR camera, laptop computer, and iPhone) that her dad had bought her, she was able, for instance, to publish photographs and videos on MSSs like Flickr and YouTube. Although she did not engage in conversations online, try to connect with an audience, or network with other young creators, she at least felt entitled to publish her own media creations online and share links to that content with her peers from high school and members of her family.
The complex interaction between inequalities in skills, purpose, social supports, and access to technology has shaped the participation of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths in new media cultures. Although they were not able to fully bridge the participation gap that emerged from the interplay of their lower socioeconomic resources, the low quality of their education, and their lower position in the U.S. social hierarchy, they were able to navigate the evolving contours of those gaps and found ways to be connected from the periphery. They became aware of media practices while being connected to digital networks. They also found opportunities to develop these practices in a meaningful way and gained new media skills at a basic level. Their major disconnection, however, was not technology. Although the low quality and quantity of technology access limited some of their practices, the major obstacles to full participation came from their limited access to social supports and scaffolding, their individual purposes, and the homogeneity of their social networks (homophily). This fact reveals how digital inequalities and participation gaps have evolved in paradoxical ways. While a diversity of young people are connecting to a networked communication environment and starting to leverage the affordances of digital technologies, participation gaps emerge in relation to youths’ position of power in the social hierarchy, their access to social supports, the richness of their social networks, and their level of expertise in new media skills.
This study and its main findings open opportunities for further investigation on Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth use of new media technologies and on their process of incorporation into several dimensions of the United States. Moreover, the analyses also open possibilities for media and learning design, and policy and educational interventions in the city of Austin and the state of Texas that could support processes of social inclusion of the children of labor immigrants from Mexico and other Latin-American countries who usually hold a position of disadvantage. I would like to conclude with a set of recommendations for researchers, educators, media designers, parents and policy makers.
1) Second- and 1.5-generation Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth are a transformational force in the U.S. and are reshaping the future of the country. Although they can quickly adapt to the host country leveraging new media technologies, their potential as full participants in society, culture, and economy, requires of a more robust system of support that goes beyond public school and after-school programs. Setting up inter-institutional collaborations that can provide scaffolding and social support to Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth can help to boost their potential as transformative agents in the U.S. There is a need for spaces and programs, such as community and civic organizations, that could facilitate the access to more diverse and richer social networks, adult mentors, and other kind of social supports that could help scaffold a more fully participation in culture, economy, civics, and society.
2) The context of the Latino/Hispanic immigrant family emerges as an important site for leveraging the networked communication environment and opens a range of possibilities for intergenerational learning. There is a need for learning materials and experiences, in both English and Spanish, that support the cultural and language adaptation for all members of the family and encourage intergenerational and communal activities at the family/home context. These learning materials and experiences can help parents to bridge the acculturation gap in relation to new media skills while they participate in communal activities with their children at home. This kind of new media engagement can help to create a more robust system of social support within the Latino/Hispanic family.
3) There is an urgent need to strengthen the sustainable development of new media literacy skills and encourage higher levels of expertise among Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth. For doing so it is crucial that educators actively incorporate these skills in formal schooling, foster their development across the curriculum, and connect them with other (non-school) contexts of activity. Given the affordances of the networked communication environment and the ability of Latino/Hispanic youth to leverage them, providing higher quality education, complex and meaningful challenges, and robust social support can improve the development of higher levels of expertise in new media skills. Furthermore, it is necessary that educators cultivate the acquisition of some of the new media skills (particularly collective intelligence) that remain underdeveloped among Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth.
4) Researchers working with Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth need to put more attention to the juxtaposition of languages and cultures that digital tools and networks are allowing across contexts, especially at home. Studying the complex ways in which such layering of practices, languages, and cultures occurs can help us to better understand some of the creative, innovative, and resourceful ways in which Latino/Hispanic youth are navigating their process of incorporation into the United States. Such knowledge, furthermore, can be useful for fostering multicultural dialogue in an increasingly diverse nation.
5) Alternative theories of assimilation benefit from the study of media practices and digital inequalities. Researchers building the theory of segmented assimilation need to incorporate the study of immigrant youths’ new media practices in their research endeavors in order to develop a better understanding of the unevenness and messiness of the process of incorporation across multiple dimensions. For instance, instead of considering only two possible trajectories of acculturation, the model would benefit from considering more pathways, and different speeds in the trajectories of immigrant generations. Given the acceleration the possibility of greater juxtaposition of cultures and languages in a networked communication environment, considering more trajectories could help to better understand the complexity of the assimilation process and the greater agency of immigrant youths in the twenty-first century.
6) In the complex evolution of digital inequalities and participation gaps, Latino/Hispanic working class immigrant parents have played an important role providing access, with different qualities and quantities, to digital tools and networks. However, many of them have little knowledge about new media technology beyond their belief that they are good for education and schooling. Latino/Hispanic parents, especially the ones with low educational attainment and non-proficient in English, need more information in Spanish language about digital tools, new media skills, and the Internet, so they can provide greater support to their children. Given Latino/Hispanic immigrant parents’ interest in supporting education through investments in new media technology, there is an urgent need of high quality learning materials and programs, in both Spanish and English, for this population. Latino/Hispanic parents, as much as children and youth, need to develop some level of social and cultural abilities to participate in digital culture. Only in this way, they would be able to provide greater social support for their children and youth.
- The new media skill of collective intelligence refers to the “ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others towards a common goal” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 39). The absence of this skill among Latino/Hispanic youths was in direct relation to the lack of diversity of their social networks and the lack of access to mentors, adults, and teachers who could introduce them to the collaborative production of knowledge. The skill of simulation consists in “the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 39). Because this skill requires system-based thinking, high achieving purposes, and usually the knowledge of programing languages, it is not surprising that given the lack of engagement in complex academic tasks none of the five youths had opportunities to develop it at the contexts of activity I have analyzed.