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Researchers ask how Central American Americans see themselves

By Mike Allison
Central American Politics

Norma Stoltz Chinchilla and Nora Hamilton have what looks to be an interesting paper on Identity Formation Among Central American Americans.

Here’s part of their conclusion:

The individual stories of the Central American Americans we interviewed are unique, and their specific trajectories distinguish them from the general population of young Central Americans in the United States. Nevertheless, certain patterns can be identified in comparing them, both with other Central American and second generation immigrants, and with each other.

First, similar to other Central American Americans arriving in the 1980s and early 1990s, many of our interviewees had left countries in the midst of conflict and in some cases had been traumatized by their experiences of war and persecution. Like others, they and/or their parents were often undocumented and confronted the reluctance of the U.S. government to recognize them as refugees.

Most of their parents worked long hours in low wage jobs, and many lived in neighborhoods where poverty, the presence of gangs, underperforming schools, and low expectations were often the norm. Several had friends among gang members, and some became involved in gangs themselves. Tensions with other ethnic groups, and even other Latino groups, were not uncommon. Some also experienced abuse and violence within their families.

At the same time, there are several factors shared by these young Central Americans which differentiate them from others in their cohort and help to explain why their trajectories deviated from what is generally considered the norm. Many received encouragement from individual teachers or counselors which reinforced their interest in their education and their ambition to excel.

They also took advantage of various programs which expanded their knowledge and understanding of different opportunities and options available and further prepared them to enter college. Some received support from their parents, many of whom had only completed grade school, as well as encouragement from friends and peer groups.

Finally, these Central American-Americans have generally thought about issues related to identity. They do not necessarily see themselves as bound by a single identity, but generally claim multiple identities which they can invoke according to the situation.

Many of these young Central Americans differentiated themselves from the older generation as being more inclusive, open to cooperation with different national and ethnic groups, and often less preoccupied with conditions in the home countries and more concerned with Central Americans and other ethnic and minority groups in the United States.

Furthermore, ethnic identities are not the only, or often even the major, type of identity; personal, professional, or various types of group identities might be equally or more important. Thus college students who organized to obtain legal status “came out” and openly identified themselves as undocumented – often after many years of struggling to hide their undocumented status, signaling a new political and personal identity.

Families and community could be sources of identity formation, Although some parents downplayed their Salvadoran and Guatemalan identities – whether due to their undocumented status or the trauma they had experienced and wished to forget, and often as a means of protecting their children – other families chose to embrace their ethnic and national identities.

In related news, did you know that the driver of the car in which Paul Walker died over the holidays was originally from El Salvador? Roger Rodas . He was a native of Santa Ana who, among other things, established a foundation to assist widows and orphans in El Salvador. Just don’t go searching the internet for conspiracy theories.

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