Academic journal article Social Justice

Reconciling Research, Rallies, and Citizenship: Reflections on Youth-Led Diversity Workshops and Intercultural Alliances

Academic journal article Social Justice

Reconciling Research, Rallies, and Citizenship: Reflections on Youth-Led Diversity Workshops and Intercultural Alliances

Article excerpt

Introduction

   What would happen if society viewed young people as competent
   citizens? This question is important, for the dominant view of
   youth in any society will affect the beliefs and behaviors of
   adults and of youth themselves (Checkoway et al., 2003).

I WRITE IN A TIME WHEN UNITED STATES "CITIZENSHIP" (1) IS PROBLEMATICALLY DISCUSSED as border reform and immigration policy. Combined, they advocate assimilation as adoption of American culture, English as a national language, increased border enforcement with border construction, guest worker permits, DNA testing as confirmation of legal status, and the adoption of an Office of Citizenship within the Department of Homeland Security. As George W. Bush campaigned across the nation, garnering nativist support for immigration reform that divides state and national allegiances over "citizenship" and civil rights for some, youth across the nation built coalitions to reclaim "citizenship" and protect civil rights for all.

Rather than accept narrow definitions of "citizenship" that blur democratic vision, youth actively organized and led school walkouts, campaigns, teach-ins, and art exhibits to oppose anti-immigrant polices such as H.R. 4437. (2) These political activities raised the question: "Citizenship and civil rights for whom, for what purpose, and at whose expense?" This active civic engagement on the part of youth challenged youth studies scholars--like myself--to delve deeply into our scholarship. It led us to ask: "What does it mean to do research and to teach in the area of youth studies when young people, who are not direct participants of our studies, walk out of their high schools, demand civic participation, and reclaim citizenship?"

By blending personal testimony with ethnographic data (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000), this article discusses competing and contradictory positions I experienced in conducting and writing research about the lives of youth activists affiliated with an organization I call Diversity Now, located in Northern California's Bay Area. Although these youth are not directly or actively involved in national immigration reform, they are dismantling oppression and forming alliances to engage in social justice that speaks to citizenship and civil rights. (3) In effect, this article represents how I have been challenged to rethink my scholarship. By re-reading my ethnographic data in a time of "citizenship surveillance" (Maira, 2005) and in writing this article, I have come to understand youth diversity trainers as more than citizens in the making. My discussion of "citizenship" views it not as legal status or a right to privileges tied to age, but rather as a social position to forge intercultural alliances that promote social justice. In this capacity, youth--like adults--can be seen as "citizens" that position themselves as active contributing members of society who care and think about the world they live in because they respond to their membership, and that of others, in community as they act in community.

This article examines my process to connect--rather than to separate--youth to our adults and adult-run institutions, with their shared commitments to civic participation and contributions to society as citizens. In this capacity, I recognize that "citizenship" is coupled with intercultural alliances, fostering and bridging shared concerns, commitments, and struggles across groups who live, relate, and contribute to community, despite their legal rights or privilege to do so. Intercultural alliances become a site of "citizenship," whereby youth--as members of society--come together across differences to promote and protect theirs and other people's "rights" as allies, despite their marginalization.

What follows is a reflective and layered account (4) that juxtaposes my research and teaching in the area of youth studies with dominant public perceptions and circulating media discourses regarding immigration reform and youth activism happening in my community. …

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