mexican migrants and their children: family dynamics in an era of

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moving beyond the Single Story:
Engaging a Comprehensive Strategy
in Our Work with Undocumented
Immigrant Youth
Roberto G. Gonzales, University of Chicago
The Danger of the Single Story


When we show people
as one thing over and
over and over again
that is what they become
To insist on the single
story of someone is to
flatten their experiences
and overlook the many
other stories that formed
them
What is their single story?
What about here?
Success Narratives
The Dilemma of Urgency
Unauthorized Settlement: a new era of immigration
11.1 million people living in unauthorized status (Pew 2010)
Those who migrate as children number 2.1 million (MPI 2010)
Plyler’s Dilemma



Plyler V. Doe (1982)
provides K-12 Access
Did not address
education beyond high
school
Laws allow them to go
to school, but they
cannot work, vote, travel
outside of the country,
receive financial aid for
college, and drive in
most states
TODAY

Tens of thousands leave
high schools every year
encountering uncertain
futures
Lack of Continuity
K-12 EXPERIENCES
LATE ADOLESCENCE
From Childhood to Adulthood
Academic Research




Educational Struggles
and Attainment
Risks and Resiliency
Importance of
Mentors and Social
Networks
The Transition to
Adulthood
The Early Transition
As undocumented children make transitions into
late adolescence, they move from spaces of
belonging to rejection, from inclusion to exclusion,
from de facto legal, to “illegal”
WAKING UP TO A NIGHTMARE
Well you know what, I never actually felt
like I wasn’t born here. ‘Cause when I came
here, I was like ten and a half. I went to
school, I learned the language. But I first felt
like I was really out of place when I
graduated from high school, when I tried to
get a job.
Because I didn’t have a Social Security
number….Well I didn’t even know. I mean, I
didn’t even know what it meant. You know
Social Security, legal, illegal. I didn’t even
know what that was. I asked my mom and
[she] said, “it’s in the process.” In the
process? I didn’t even know what that
meant. I don’t know why she would tell us
that. –Rodolfo
BLOCKED PATHS-UNCERTAIN FUTURES
But when I actually wanted to get a
job, I couldn’t because I didn’t have a
Social Security number. So, my first
job was cleaning carpets, helping my
dad. –Rodolfo
That really sucked. I had been all like
I’m going to get my car before all of
you, but I couldn’t. It was unfair and I
had to, you know. What could I do?
How could I tell them I can’t, I can’t
drive? I can’t get my license. It really
messed me up. –Sergio
STIGMA AND CHANGED SOCIAL PATTERNS
I just stopped going out. I was tired of
asking for a ride and coming up with
excuses and every time it was a hassle
with my friends. They wouldn’t let it
go. They wouldn’t let it go. So I
started telling them I was too busy with
school. At first they didn’t like that,
but after a while they stopped inviting
me. I end up spending a lot of
weekends by myself because most of
my friends don’t call me anymore. It’s
such a hassle to explain everything to
people. And it has affected the way I
am when I meet new people. I used to
be very outgoing, but I try to keep my
guard up, try not to get too close to
people.
–Grace
The Transition to Adulthood
Protected Status
K-12 education is
free and legal
Most institutions in
childhood do not
require legal status
Transition to
Adulthood
Late adolescence
triggers legal
limitations:
Working
Driving
Financial Aid
Nightlife
Awake to a
Nightmare
Succession of blocked
opportunities
Fear, stigma, changed
social patterns
Forced decisions—
reveal or conceal
Physical/ emotional
manifestations
Post-High School Experiences
College-goers
Early-exiters
DIVERGING TRAJECTORIES
MECHANISMS
-Supportive learning
environments
-Trusting relationships with
adults
-Peer networks
-Access to resources
Transition to
Adulthood
MECHANISMS
-Negative school experiences
-Resource-poor families
-Falling through the cracks
-Exiting school early
-Entering “illegal” adult world
OUTCOMES
-Form positive
networks
-Develop resiliency
-Preserve the “buffer”
OUTCOMES
-Little trust in adults
and institutions
-Left to fend for
themselves
-Daily contact with
legal limitations
-Forced underground
Completing the Transition to
Adulthood
A MASTER STATUS
The people working at those places,
like the cooks and the cashiers, they
are really young, and I feel really
old. Like what am I doing there if
they are all like 16, 17 years old.
The others are like señoras who are
35. They dropped out of school, but
because they have little kids they
are still working at the restaurant.
Thinking about that, it makes me
feel so stupid. And the factories,
too. They ask me,“Que estas
haciendo aqui? You can speak
English. You graduated from high
school. You can work anywhere.
–Esperanza
CONCLUSIONS
 Interaction between contexts – legal, cultural and
developmental – creates a dramatic shift in experiences
 Stigma creates a second border that reinforces legal
exclusions
 The experience of “illegality” – living in a narrowly
constricted world in the shadows – is a relearning process
 Key supports within the community and school can
mediate the effects of undocumented status
 While a great deal of divergence happens at earlier
transitions, over time trajectories converge
CONCLUSIONS
 Delayed or blocked mobility caused by a lack of legal
status is leveling educational motivations, stressing
parent-child relationships, contradicting notions of
small-c citizenship and creating the conditions for a
new underclass.
 These processes are also rendering our measures of
intergenerational mobility by educational progress
irrelevant by breaking the assumed link between
educational attainment and material/psychological
outcomes after school
Implications for Policy
Today’s children are growing up under arguably harsher
contexts – more than 1 million are children – while those
now adults are in jeopardy of “aging out” of eligibility
Moving the legalization discussion beyond one-size-fits-all
solutions, and taking into consideration the complex and
varied realities of today’s immigrants
Legalization efforts aimed at regularizing undocumented
youth have much in common with school reform work
Implications for Community
School offers one of the few legally permissible pathways
 Schools – the majority does not go on to post-secondary
education
 Community – very few other options outside of school
 Most jobs are off limits
The transition to illegality has important health implications
 Clinical – little understanding of the effects of the
developmental/legal processes for this unique population
THANK YOU
[email protected]
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