On the Saturday morning of June 8, 2012, at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center, a multipurpose arena near downtown Austin, Inara, Antonio, and Sergio, three Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths with Mexican origins, were awarded a U.S. high school diploma. Along with other senior students (402 in total), school officers, faculty and staff, the band, and an audience of family and friends (approximately 1,500), they participated in the commencement ceremony of Freeway High School, a public school located on the north urban fringe of Austin. Wearing the traditional European academic dress of gown and cap, they walked across the graduation stage while members of the audience cheered, applauded, raised written signs with congratulatory messages, and took pictures with smartphones and other digital mobile devices. Following the graduation ritual protocol, they sang the "The Star-Spangled Banner" national anthem and the school song, listened to the speeches given by school administration officers and counselors, and to the salutatorian and valedictorian addresses delivered by the top ranking graduates. The ceremony marked a life milestone for these immigrant youths, the end of their K-12 educational journey in the country where their parents migrated years before in search of opportunities.
Together with Alex, another researcher from the Digital Edge project , I arrived at the commencement just in time for the initial procession that hundreds of Freeway High seniors, along with the school band, performed at the ground floor. It was the first time in my life attending a high school graduation ceremony in the United States. It was also my first time inside "The Superdrum," as it was also known the Frank Erwin Special Events Center due to its shape and huge size (6,400 Sq. Ft.). Although I had seen the building many times and wondered about its retro-futuristic architecture style, I never had the opportunity to go to any of the rock concerts, basketball games, professional wrestling combats, and other kinds of events that take place there. Inside, the building looked like an entertainment venue, it had two levels of seats organized in rings, several video screens and electric signs arranged on the ceilings and walls, a ground floor, and several corridors with food vendors. Half of the ground floor was filled with rows of chairs for the graduates. They were organized in front of a graduation stage located at one of the sides, which had a long rectangular table, chairs for school officers, and the flags of Texas and the U.S. The lower ring of seats was almost full, consisting of a diverse and intergenerational audience of family members and friends that reflected the demographics of Freeway High. The majority of the student population was minorities. Almost half (47.5%) were Latino/Hispanic, 24.2% African American, 13.3% Asian, and 11.2% were White.
While at my seat at the lower ring, surrounded by a mix of Asians, African Americans, Latino/Hispanics, and Whites adults and children, I was reminded of the demographic transformation that has unfolded in the U.S. as a result of the last wave of large-scale immigration that has happened since 1965. The so-called "new immigrants" and their children were indeed changing the face of the United States and proof of this was the diversity of families and graduates present at the Freeway High School commencement ceremony. This mix of colors, ethnicities, and races, provided a glimpse of what social scientists have predicted for the future of U.S. population composition. The reality of the U.S. as a majority-minority country was perhaps arriving sooner than expected.
However, the past was also present at the commencement ceremony. During the presentation of the graduates by the superintendent of schools, I could not stop thinking about the longue durée historical processes that unfolded across Texas territories. More than a hundred of the graduates had Spanish names similar to the ones I could encounter in Latin America, Spain, or Colombia, my country of origin. Listening to first names like Alejandra, Maria, Gabriela, and Carlos, and last names like Martinez, Garcia, and Diaz, pronounced with an Anglo accent, reminded me of the history of the lands where the graduation ritual was taking place. Not that many years ago these territories were part of the Republic of Texas (1836-1846), the República de Mexico (1821-1836), and for almost two centuries, these lands belonged to Nueva España and the Spanish Empire (1690-1821). Before those multiple occupations, of course, these territories were the home of several Native Americans Indian tribes such as Comanches, Coahuiltecos, and Caddos. Spanish, however, was an European language that continued to be present in Texas not only in the names of rivers, towns, streets, foods, plants, and people, but also in the orality of many of its inhabitants. Among people grouped under the pan-ethnic term "Hispanic" or "Latino/a" in the U.S., Spanish was one of the languages they could use for communicating with each other, especially, intergenerationally.
"¡Felicitaciones mijo!" [Congratulations my son!] said Mr. Chapa to his son Antonio after the ceremony while walking through the open public space outside of the Erwin Center. Navigating through a crowd of parents, children, and recent graduates the five members of the Chapa family moved through the public space trying to find a spot for a picture. Minutes later, with a view of the Capitol building, Antonio, his old sister, younger brother, and dad, all dressed up in formal clothes, posed for a photograph that Ms. Chapa took with her smartphone. In the background, new buildings and construction cranes emerged as symbols of one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Twenty years before, Mr. and Ms. Chapa migrated from a small town in the state of San Luis Potosi, northern Mexico, escaping from extreme rural poverty. In the middle of one of the biggest economic crisis that affected agriculture in Mexico, Antonio's parents decided to move north of the Rio Grande in search of better opportunities. As many other immigrants from Mexico, they came to the U.S. in order to become part of the labor force. Given their low levels of formal education (none of them completed middle school) and few economic resources, Mr. and Ms. Chapa started to work in construction and housekeeping jobs. More than two decades later, posing with Antonio, the second child that had completed high school in the U.S., they had reason to celebrate and be proud of their accomplishments. Mr. Chapa had already become a U.S. citizen, Ms. Chapa was a U.S resident, they owned an old suburban house equipped with media technologies and Internet connectivity, had two sport utility vehicles, and both continued to have working class jobs. Although their income was low and their occupations low-skilled, they still were able to raise a family and send their children to public school. Antonio (17), for instance, was born in Austin, proficient in English, completed twelve grades of schooling, passed the Texas standardized tests, and was becoming a high school graduate. "Vamos a tener una comida de mole de olla y enchiladas potosinas esta tarde en nuestra casa" [We are going to have a dinner of mole de olla y enchiladas potosinas this afternoon in our house] Ms. Chapa told me when I asked her about their plans after the ceremony. Their dream of finding better opportunities in the U.S. seemed to be happening as they were able to participate in several social domains in their new country.
However, anti-immigrant discourse abounded at the dawn of the twenty-first century in the United States, and some opinion leaders, politicians, and scholars questioned the assimilation of the newcomers. Due to the sustained large-scale migration of immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America since 1965, and the rapid growth of the Latino/Hispanic population (they became the largest minority in the country in 2001), some sectors of the U.S. public expressed their anxieties about their incorporation into society. As the anti-immigration debate gained force, fears of the demographic shift became easier to propagate, especially given the changes in the economy, and the way in which racial and social stratification were interlaced in the U.S. Hence, Latino/Hispanics, and especially Mexicans as the dominant group (64.6% of the total share) (Lopez, Gonzalez-Barrera, Cuddington 2013), became the target of several concerns. Political scientist Samuel Huntington, for instance, articulated one of the most controversial arguments in "The Hispanic Challenge" (2004). In this essay Huntington claimed that Latino/Hispanics did not assimilate into U.S. mainstream culture but instead formed linguistic and political enclaves rejecting the white Anglo-Protestant values. Warning the public about the dangers of immigration, Huntington wrote, "the possibility of a de facto split between a predominantly Spanish-speaking United States and an English-speaking United States (…) is a major potential threat to the country's cultural and political integrity" (Huntington, 2004). Emphasizing cultural factors, and especially language and educational attainment, Huntington sketched an alarming picture of the U.S as divided by two cultures and two languages, complementing other anti-immigration arguments that focused on economic costs. According to Huntington, the Latino/Hispanics, and in particular the ones with Mexican origins, were becoming a threat to U.S. national identity.
Given the reality of a public school system in which Latino/Hispanic children became the majority in states such as in Texas and California, the problem of immigrant youth assimilation in the U.S. intrigued me. Many second- and third-generation Latino/Hispanic immigrant children were at the cusp of U.S. demographic shift and were the subject of moral concerns that could exacerbate negative stereotypes and disempower them. Were Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth really a threat to the national identity? Were they dividing the country into two cultures and two languages? After living in the U.S. for more than six years and having spent several months doing ethnographic work at Freeway High School as a member of the Digital Edge project, it was difficult for me to imagine such a split. In contrast, what I observed was that many Latino/Hispanics adults, particularly from Mexican origins, were working hard holding down multiple jobs, making efforts to earn a living and sustain their families. Meanwhile, their children were going to public schools, using digital media technologies, speaking English and sometimes, with less proficiency, Spanish. Some Latino/Hispanic youth were also enrolled in colleges, and I had the opportunity to meet, work, and befriend several of them at U.T., especially while working at the Division of Student Affairs. It troubled me that the presence of Latino/Hispanics generated so much anxiety especially in a state like Texas, which such deep cultural and historical ties to Spain and Mexico. Moreover, in the U.S. context of increasing socioeconomic inequalities and stratification, it was problematic to see the Latino/Hispanic population, with all its diversity, being positioned at the "wrong" side of many divides and many times studied from a perspective that emphasized a pathological narrative of social ill and cultural deficit. As a result, I became interested in researching Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth, and, particularly, how they were navigating their process of assimilation in the U.S while using digital tools and networks.
In this dissertation, my main objective is to investigate the assimilation process of five second- and 1.5-generation Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth growing up in Austin, Texas, in a context of networked communication, a hyper-mediated culture, and structural inequalities. The problem of immigrant assimilation, allows me to inquire from a rarely explored perspective, the critical issue of digital inequalities and youth agency. Immigrant youth are playing a more active role in the process of assimilation that their families undertake as they actively engage with digital tools and networks and develop new media practices that shape not only their adaptation to the U.S. but also the one of their parents. As an interdisciplinary researcher and designer working in the field of media studies, I am interested in understanding the characteristics of the new media practices and skills Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths are developing as they communicate and socialize in a networked communication environment. My analysis focuses on three particular contexts of everyday activity: the home, an after-school program, and the multi-setting of social media networked spaces. For each of these contexts, I intend to elaborate a series of case studies of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth in which I analyze how they exercise their agency, develop digitally mediated practices, and acquire new media skills. The main questions I try to answer are:
What are the new media practices and skills Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth develop in the contexts of family/home, after-school, and social media networked spaces? How do those practices and skills help them to navigate their assimilation process?
Understanding Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths as social actors and creative agents, I examine how their use of digital tools and networks can help them assimilate into multiple social domains. Particularly, I focus on how they assimilate into linguistic, cultural, educational, and social dimensions, but in some cases also into the economic and civic ones. Since according to U.S. official quantitative data the Latino/Hispanic population is situated on the "wrong" side of several structural divides (educational attainment, income, occupation, and health), analyzing the new media practices of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth is useful for revealing the diversity of these population and the complex ways in which digital inequalities and participation gaps are evolving. Although the position of these youths is one of disadvantage given the working class and immigrant status of their families, my approach tries to understand them in terms of their resilience and normative growth, their agency and creativity, and not in terms of their deficit or poverty. By doing so, I intend to untangle some of the paradoxes that appear as these youths, despite their fewer economic, social, and technological resources, can leverage the affordances of the new networked communication environment in a particular manner. Despite structural forces and inequalities, Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth exercise their agency and can shape the direction of their process of incorporation into the U.S., participating, or not, in multiple social domains. One of my goals in this dissertation is to demonstrate how the rapid evolution of the networked communication environment and the increasing structural inequalities determine different forms of participation and incorporation, with different qualities, and disparate outcomes.
In a nation of immigrants such as the United States, the term assimilation has been used to describe the process of incorporation of newcomers into the host country. Although the term is contested, it remains useful today for researching and understanding the experiences of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth and their families in the U.S. Drawing on contemporary sociological theories I conceptualize assimilation as a complex process that is uneven, segmented, and multidimensional. It may or may not happen according to different individual and structural factors. In this dissertation, I understand assimilation as the process of incorporation into the culture, economy, education, and other social domains that immigrants and their children undertake, at least during three generations, as they settle in a new country. Assimilation, therefore, is a multidimensional process closely related to social inclusion. It involves issues of participation, access to opportunity structures, and socioeconomic mobility.
In the twenty-first century, however, this process has become much more complex than the one that sociologists theorized about for previous generations in which there was a straight line trajectory into an Anglo and white mainstream middle class. U.S. society, on the one hand, is no longer as homogenous as it was once imagined. On the other hand, the relationships between different ethnic-racial groups have become considerably more complicated than what the melting pot metaphor and its harmonious ideal of common culture could describe. In the present context, with a society that is highly stratified and ethnically-racially heterogeneous; a post-industrial economy characterized by growing inequality and a bifurcated labor market; and a vibrant culture that is networked and hyper-mediated by information communication technologies, processes of assimilation in United States have disparate and uneven outcomes. For instance, not all immigrants in the U.S. are being incorporated into the same socioeconomic segments. As researchers from the segmented assimilation paradigm have argued, depending on individual and structural factors, immigrants may assimilate into the working class and not necessarily to a mainstream middle class. As a matter of fact, since the U.S. middle class has been shrinking consistently over the past half-century, assimilation into the working class has become part of the trajectory of many immigrants in this country. Especially for the labor immigrants with low levels of education, becoming part of the expanding U.S. working class of service and less-skilled workers has allowed them to adapt to the host country, gain some fair socioeconomic mobility, and participate in some of the social domains, although from a disadvantaged position of power.
In my analysis of the assimilation process of the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth, I draw on the segmented assimilation model that Alejandro Portes, Min Zhou, and Ruben Rumbaut have been elaborating and testing since the 1990s. Particularly, I rely on their understanding of assimilation trajectories as an intergenerational process of socioeconomic mobility, access to opportunity, and cultural adaptation. According to the segmented assimilation model, two trajectories are characterized by upward mobility and incorporation into the working and middle classes, while one follows a downward trajectory towards the underclass and exclusion. Each trajectory is correlated with a specific type of intergenerational cultural adaptation. While the upward mobility and integration into the middle class goes together with the consonant acculturation (parents and children adopt mainstream culture), the one of upward mobility and incorporation into the working class is correlated with selective acculturation (parents and children adopt certain mainstream cultural practices). In contrast, the downward socioeconomic trajectory is correlated to what researchers call "dissonant acculturation." That is, acculturation gaps between parents and children that create conflicts within the family, risky behaviors among youth, and marginalization (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). Although this model does not take into account all the messiness and unevenness of the assimilation process, and I do not completely agree with it, I found it useful for analyzing the intergenerational trajectories that immigrants follow in a highly stratified society.
Using the segmented assimilation model, I intend to describe the trajectories of the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths focusing on specific indicators of their process of adaptation such as language, education (school performance), media consumption/production/circulation (ethnic, U.S.), and cultural tastes. When analyzing the new media practices and skills in the contexts of family/home, after-school, and social media networked spaces, I focus on these indicators in order to measure the outcomes of the assimilation process and describe the trajectories that each of Latino/Hispanic youth are following. Although I recognize that this theoretical model has limitations, I found it useful for analyzing the incorporation of immigrant youth in culture, education, and other social domains. Recognizing the trajectories of assimilation allows me to reveal that in a highly stratified capitalist society, participation and inclusion may happen in a segmented way, and that socioeconomic mobility can still occur, even within the working class. By describing the immigrant trajectories of assimilation, I will try to answer some of the secondary questions of this dissertation project:
In which direction are their trajectories moving? In relation to their parents, are they adapting to the cultural, linguistic, and educational dimensions of the U.S.?
In the open public space outside of the Frank Erwin Center, I talked briefly with Antonio. He was one of the eighteen students from Freeway High that participated in the Digital Edge project, and was one of the two subjects I followed, interviewed, and observed for almost 8 months at the time of the commencement ceremony. "It is just a diploma," he told me after I congratulated him, looking at me through the dark lenses of the sunglasses he was wearing, and shrugging his shoulders like it was not a big deal. Antonio did not seem as excited about his graduation as his parents. Life after high school was not very clear for him and his future was uncertain. Although weeks before a school teacher encouraged him to apply to a community college, he was not sure about how a pathway of higher education would allow him to become a filmmaker, the career he wanted to follow. Furthermore, he also knew he needed to get a "real" job in "anything", start to earn money, and help his family. As the majority of the graduates from Freeway High School, Antonio took only regular curriculum classes of low educational quality that did not prepare him for college and high skilled jobs. Although he became alienated from school, he learned how to pass and get the grades he needed in order to advance in his education without being a high achiever and while actively leveraging digital media. Growing up with access to computers and Internet connectivity both at home and at school, he invested lots of time in searching information, browsing the Web, discovering music, downloading files, streaming videos, and also “messing around” with audio production software. Moreover, during his senior year at Freeway High, Antonio became passionate about filmmaking while taking a digital video elective class and participating in the Cinematic Arts Project (CAP) after-school program where he could access professional media production gear.
By the time of his graduation Antonio dreamed about becoming a filmmaker but confronted several challenges that he did not know how to overcome. He did not have a clear map of the road he could take in order to continue advancing the creative career that he started to discover through his new media practices and media production activities. Paradoxically, he seemed to be digitally networked and at the same time disconnected from the structures of opportunity. On the one hand, he grew up with access to digital tools and networks at both school and home, and developed several new media practices and skills in his everyday life. Although the quality of his technology access and skill levels were not high, he was able to experience a networked life in which he communicated and socialized with friends using computer-based software; searched, created, and circulated information; and was able to produce media texts and “mess around” with digital tools. On the other hand, he struggled with the lack of access to social supports, scaffolding, and high quality technology. Although he had been empowered by the access to digital media and the development of new media practices, his agency seemed to be limited as he finished high school and confronted the "real" world. At the end of his K-12 educational journey in the U.S. he faced the paradox of having been empowered by digital tools and networks, and at the same time not having access, for a variety of reasons, to the opportunity structures that would allow him to follow a creative career. Antonio situation revealed the complex evolution of digital inequalities and participation gaps.
In the context of rapid technological change, increasing socioeconomic stratification, a hyper-mediated culture, and a pervasive networked communication environment, understanding digital inequalities is a task that requires analyzing multiple factors. Although more young people in the U.S. are becoming connected to the Internet and are using computers, mobile devices, and other digital tools, disparities persist not only at the levels of quality and quantity of technology, but also among other dimensions of access. Differences in skills, social supports, motivations, and usages, add other layers of complexity to the dynamics of digital divides and participation gaps. Understanding the interplay among these multiple factors and their relationship with structural inequalities and the assimilation process is one of the objectives that I undertake in this dissertation. Looking at this problem through the case studies of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth and their process of assimilation opens a productive space for untangling the complexity of digital inequalities. By pursuing this task, I intend to not only elaborate a critique of structural and digital inequalities, but also to investigate the potential of digital networked technologies to support the social process of assimilation and youth agency. I recognize that as much as the networked communication environment intensifies and makes visible structural inequalities, it can also empower Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth as social, cultural, and creative agents. According to that, two of the secondary questions that I try to answer in this dissertation are:
How do disparities in multiple accesses, and their interplay, in the contexts of family/home, after-school, and social media networked spaces, determine the development of Latino/Hispanic youths’ new media practices and skills?
Do not Panic, I am Latino and Hispanic
An important ritual of passage for immigrants and temporary visitors in the U.S is to be classified according to racial-ethnic categories. For those coming south of the Rio Grande, we are usually categorized as "Hispanics" or "Latino/as" regardless of the color of our skin, our cultures, and our nationalities. As a person of Colombian origins and living in the U.S. as an international student, I have struggled with the meaning of those terms. Suddenly, by being in this country I became a "Hispanic" even if I was not from Spain. Both labels do not exist in the countries where we come from, and as a result they are difficult to embrace. Scholars, activists, and immigrants have constantly pointed out that pan-ethnic terms such as “Hispanic” or “Latino/a” homogenize a diverse population with a variety of national backgrounds, cultures, classes, and races (especially mixed races) (Hernandez 2012; Alzaldua 2012; Torres-Saillant 2002; Oboler 2005; Padilla 1985).
However, in this dissertation I use the hybrid term “Hispanic/Latino” when referring to the race-ethnicity of the second- and 1.5-generation immigrant youth with Mexican origins and their families. Despite the problems of homogenization that these labels create, I have decided to use them strategically. By choosing "Latino/Hispanic" I can, on the one hand, locate the experiences of these youth in the context of a big corpus of data that uses the category “Hispanic” (federal surveys, government forms such as school registrations, Census data previous to 2010, educational and health agencies). On the other, I can also recognize the grass-roots political meaning and situational conciseness of the term “Latino/a.” In the U.S., race-ethnic labels play an important role for defining and articulating social and political positions. Race-ethnicity shapes the institutional and social life in this country and is important for accessing governmental resources such as housing, education, as well for building political power. There are advantages in the use of umbrella terms such as "Hispanics" and “Latino/as" because they can enable access to resources and help to articulate policy demands for specific ethnic groups. Under certain circumstances, such as the ones of structural inequalities, the use of pan-ethnic terms could be useful for political unity and for competing for resources.
This dissertation is composed of four body chapters. With the exception of the first one, each chapter focuses on the analysis of a particular context of activity: the family/home, an after-school program, and the multi-setting of social media networked spaces. Chapter 1 introduces the methodology, data, and theoretical framework that I used for the elaboration of this research project. Given the specificity of the contexts of activity that I investigate and the structure of the chapters, I decided to introduce only the general foundational theories that I use throughout the dissertation in Chapter 1. In order to facilitate the articulation of my argument and the analysis of the specific contexts of activity, a more comprehensive revision of the theoretical framework is later presented and discussed in each of the following chapters. Although each of these three chapters addresses the general theoretical foundations of the dissertation, each of them also has specific theories according to the specificity of their contexts and the research traditions that have studied them. I review these theories and engage with them in order to elaborate diverse case studies and develop a complex analysis.
Chapter 2, for example, considers the family and home as contexts of activity where Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth develop meaningful media practices and gain new media skills. I divided this chapter into two major sections. In the first one, I introduce the working class Latino/Hispanic immigrant families where each of the five immigrant youths were raised up. After the series of short family profiles, I discuss the cultural dimension of the process of assimilation and highlight its importance in shaping immigrant family dynamics. Then, I address the general characteristics of the Latino/Hispanic families that have been studied by researchers in the U.S., specifically focusing on the issues of language and media technologies. In the second section, I analyze the five different family contexts according to their socioeconomic and technological resources and parenting styles drawing on sociological, media, and communication theories (Seiter, 1993; Livingstone and Bovill, 2001; Livingstone, 2002; Larau, 2003; Horst, 2010). While mapping the domestic media environments, in both its public and private spaces, I describe the agency that immigrant youths exercised in these contexts in relation to the process of assimilation. Particularly, my analysis focuses on three media practices the youths developed using media technologies (homework, media consumption, and media production) and two of the new media skills they acquired (distributed cognition and transmedia navigation).
Chapter 3 focuses on the context of an after-school program offered at Freeway High, the Cinematic Arts Project (CAP). In the first part of the chapter I provide a background of the research related to the field of after-school program. I discuss its historical evolution and relationship with immigrant and low-income youths; review some of the recent literature on after-school program outcomes, learning approaches, and incorporation of digital technology; and introduce the two digital media oriented after-school programs that existed in Freeway High. In the second part, I elaborate on a case study about the CAP and the participation of two Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth, Antonio and Sergio, in this program. Drawing on the sociocultural theory of "figured worlds" (Holland et al. 1998) I analyze the goals, tools, discourses, media practices, and situated activities that took place at CAP. Specifically, I examine how by participating in the CAP, Antonio and Sergio were able to access several social, cultural, economic, and technological resources, they could eventually mobilize for advancing their process of assimilation. In my analysis I also investigate the characteristics of the new media practices and skills that these youths developed through their engagement with the CAP, inquire about their level of expertise, and describe how they exercised their agency.
In Chapter 4 I study the activities of the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth in the multi-context of social media networked spaces. In the first part of the chapter, I set up the theoretical framework for analyzing youth online activities in a new communication environment. In a brief historical review, I introduce the social media networked spaces, their technological affordances, and the sociocultural practices that have been developed on them. After that I discuss the potential and challenges of the new communication environment in relation to participation, culture, and youth. I critically engage with the literature on participatory cultures (Jenkins 2006, 2010; Jenkins et al. 2006) and genres of participation (Ito 2008, 2009; Ito et al. 2010), as well as with the one on digital inequalities (DiMaggio et al. 2004; Hargittai 2007; Hargittai and Walejko 2008; van Dijk 2005), and set-up the theoretical framework for my analysis. In the second part, I look at the specific contexts of activity where the five Latino/Hispanic youths developed their media practices. I map their geography of social media networked spaces looking at the Social Network Sites (SNSs) and Media Sharing Sites (MSSs) where they “hang out,” “mess around,” and sometimes also “geek out.” In the analysis of the new media practices that these youths developed through their interactions online I focus on the networking and appropriation skills. I discuss how these two skills supported the process of assimilation into the U.S. in several dimensions, particularly the cultural, social, and linguistic ones.
Chapter 5 synthesizes the various issues addressed through the previous chapters and integrates the evidence analyzed through the different case studies. Besides providing answers to the research questions presented in this Introduction and addressing the dissertation objectives, in the Conclusion I discuss the key findings of this research project. Moreover, I offer an update on the outcomes of the process of assimilation of the five Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths looking at the trajectories that they followed after we finished our fieldwork. Furthermore, I provide a set of recommendations for researchers, educators, media designers, parents, and policy makers.
The Digital Edge Project and the Connected Learning Research Network
This dissertation emerged from the Digital Edge project, a three-year research initiative that I participated in, led by S. Craig Watkins at the University of Texas at Austin, and funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of the Connected Learning Research Network (CLRN). I draw on the qualitative data collected by the Digital Edge team during a longitudinal ethnography (2011-2012) conducted at Freeway High School, a large, ethnically diverse, and economically disadvantaged public high school in the Austin Metropolitan Area.
- The Digital Edge project was a three-year research initiative founded by the McArthur Foundation as part of the Connected Learning Research Network. The project was led by Professor S. Craig Watkins and had a team of seven research assistants from the Media Studies, Information Science, and Sociology departments at the University of Texas. The team spent the 2011-2012 academic year conducting ethnographic fieldwork at Freeway High School. This dissertation emerges from my work in that project as a member of the research team. http://clrn.dmlhub.net
- Due to the continuous flow of immigrants from Latin America and Asia during the last five decades, the demographic structure of the United States has become more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before in the history of the country. In 2011, nearly one in four youth under the age of eighteen were either foreign-born or native-born to immigrant parents (24% of a total of 74.7 million youth) (Passel, 2011a).
- The etymology of Texas, for instance, comes from the Spanish word “Tejas,” earlier pronounced as "ta-shas." I comes from the Caddo (eastern Texas Indian tribe) word “Taysha” that means "friends, allies," written by the Spanish as a plural (Online Etymology Dictionary 2015).
- For historical, cultural, and geographical reasons, the most popular destination states for Mexican immigrants are California and Texas. In these states they are the dominant group of the total immigrant population. According to a Pew Hispanic Center report from 2012, Mexican immigrants constituted 88% of a total of 9,794,000 Latino/Hispanics living in Texas (38% of the state population) (Motel, 2012).
- Scholars have argued that Latino/Hispanic immigrant children, particularly the ones with Mexican origins, have been affected by the negative stereotypes. Within the U.S., as Cintia Bejarano (2005) clearly 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 development and assimilation of Mexican immigrant youth through a process that Carola Súarez-Orozco (2000, 2002) has conceptualized as "social mirroring.”
- I, myself, as an international student from Colombia and native Spanish speaker, was positioned sometimes as a "Hispanic" and “Latino” during my everyday interactions in Austin and had to deal with some of the stereotypes that such label carried in Texas.
- Several immigrant generations have been defined on the basis of nativity, citizenship, nativity of the parents, and age of arrival. Native-born with two native-born parents are third and higher generations; native-born with at least one immigrant parent are second-generation; and foreign-born are considered first-generation if they entered the host country after their adolescence, or 1.5 generation if they immigrated before their teenage years (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001; Kasinitz et al., 2008).
- See for instance, data published in by the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Bureu of Census Statistics, and the National Center for Education Statistics.
- In this dissertation I use only the measures of educational attainment and occupation to refer to social class. I consider working class families those composed of parents with low educational attainment (high school or lower than high school degree) and working on service, blue collar, and manual labor occupations. However, I understand that this categorization and the issue of social classes in the U.S. are contested. Therefore, I acknowledge that there are different ways in which the working class could also be measured such as income, lifestyles, and membership to specific social networks.
- Economic data suggests that Hispanic/Latinos are more disadvantaged compared to other groups in the U.S. Hispanic/Latinos are placed at the bottom of the economic hierarchy ($20,000 Annual Personal Earnings) below Non-Hispanic Whites ($36,000) and Non-Hispanic Blacks ($25,000) (Kochhar et al., 2011; Motel, 2012). Furthermore, a large share of the young Latino/Hispanic population under 17 years old lives in poverty (37%) compared to 11% of Non-Hispanic Whites and 33% of Non-Hispanic Blacks (Lopez & Velasco, 2011).
- The majority of students in Freeway High were enrolled in the general curriculum track. Only a small share of the students (24%) took advanced placement (AP) classes who would prepare students for college.
- For instance, a Pew Hispanic Center report from 2011 revealed greater disparities in broadband access between populations. While only 45% of Hispanic-Latino households had broadband Internet access, 65% of White and 52% of Black homes had access to broadband. (Livingston, 2011). The same report showed that significant differences in Internet usage persist between foreign (51%) and native-born Latino/Hispanics (85%), as well as between English language speakers (87%) and Spanish speakers (35%) (Livingston, 2011). Controlling variables related to educational attainment, income, and occupation, researchers confirmed that in the case of Latino/Hispanics, both immigrants and natives, there is a strong correlation of material access and usage with educational attainment and income (Fox & Livingston, 2007; Livingston, 2010).
- According to a Pew Hispanic Center report from 2012, Mexican immigrants constituted 88% of a total of 9,794,000 Latino/Hispanics living in Texas (38% of the state population). (Motel, 2012) Given that they constitute the majority of the Latino/Hispanic population, it is possible to describe the demographic trends of immigrants with Mexican origin living in Texas using the available Census data on Latinos/Hispanics. The median age of this segment of the Latino/Hispanic population (27 years old) makes them the youngest racial/ethnic group in the state.
- The history of the term “Hispanic” can be traced to the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the violent incorporation of Spanish-speaking populations from the Southwest (Fernandez-Armesto 2014; Oboler 1992, 1995; Acuña 1972). This war is key in the construction of the homogenizing category of “Hispanics” and the perception of people from Latin America in the U.S. as a homogenous group of foreigners (Oboler 1992, 1995). Although many Mexicans decided to accept U.S citizenship after the war, the U.S. government expropriated the territories of many small farmers who owned communal lands (ejidos). In order to keep privileges, rich and elite Mexicans allied with the Anglos and identified themselves as Spanish-Americans as a strategy to cope with the segregationist-based dynamics of the Anglo society. As Oboler explains, "Spanish-American" was like an aphorism about color and class. The term "Hispanos" was a reference to the Spanish conquistadores who conquered those lands before. Carey McWilliams has explained the use of this term as a strategy to maintain power and status in the Anglo racial hierarchy, a "fantasy heritage" of racial purity. Officially, it was until the early 1970s when the term "Hispanic" was first used by the U.S. government to refer to people from the south of the Rio Grande, Spanish speakers, and with Spanish surnames. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare started to use the term and in 1980 it was included for the first time in an official U.S. census. Although several activists and scholars make reference to President Nixon as the one who coined the term "Hispanic" it was actually created by a Mexican-American bureaucrat from South Texas named Grace Flores-Hughes. Flores-Hughes was an assistant in an ad-hoc committee in what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. As she explained in several interviews and in her biographical book, for Mexican-Americans discriminated in the State of Texas, it was better to claim their Spaniard heritage as the former inhabitants and landowners in this territory.
- Although the term “Latino” appeared in the post-Civil Rights Movement era (1970s) in the context of the Chicano and Puerto Rican activists groups, it was until the 1990s that the use of this term became popular. According to some scholars and activists, using the term "Latino/a" was a conscious choice that offered an alternative to the supposedly imposed (official) label "Hispanic." Scholars like David Hayes-Bautista and Jorge Chapa (1987), and Felix M. Padilla (1985), for instance, have argued that the term "Latino" is more political than “Hispanic.” In "The Latino Ethnic Consciousness," Padilla argues that the population from Latin American origins, specifically the Chicano and Puerto Ricans groups, need to collaborate in the political struggle for equality and justice regardless of their national origins and cultural differences. According to him, the use of a pan-ethnic label could be useful for dealing with the minority and oppressed status of the group. According to Padilla, "the expression of Latino ethnic conscious behavior is situationally specific, crystallized under certain circumstances of inequality experience shared by more than one Spanish-speaking group at a point in time." Hence, the use of an umbrella term such as “Latino/a” is useful for mobilizing communities who are in positions of disadvantage.
- Ethnic and race data collected by the U.S government can be used to support enforcement of civil rights laws and redistricting of congressional districts.