Academic journal article High School Journal

What's Age Gotta Do with It? Understanding the Age-Identities and School-Going Practices of Mexican Immigrant Youth in New York City

Academic journal article High School Journal

What's Age Gotta Do with It? Understanding the Age-Identities and School-Going Practices of Mexican Immigrant Youth in New York City

Article excerpt

Recent reports of out-of-school immigrant youth have brought attention to predominantly Mexican and Central American immigrant youth who immigrate to the United States and do not enroll in formal schooling (Fry, 2002; Hill and Hayes, 2007). Many arrive to the United States unaccompanied, joining their older, undocumented counterparts in becoming part of the undocumented labor queue (Esquivel, 2007). New York City is one of the more recent destinations for these immigrant youth, with Mexicans leading all immigrant groups in terms of the highest percentage of school-age youth not in school. This article examines how these youth understand their life stages, both pre-immigration in Mexico and post-immigration in New York City, us well as the behaviors and actions they undertake in both contexts that lead to earlier and more rapid transitions to adulthood across the transnational social space. Most often considering themselves adults, these youth remain outside of formal high schools to meet their own labor and life demands.

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To better understand Mexican immigrant youth who do not enroll in New York City schools, I examine how these youth experience their life stages, pre- and post-immigration, and suggest that these youth experience life stages of childhood and adolescence that differ from mainstream characterizations and thus adopt older age-graded identities that do not coincide with rail-time schooling in the United States. These youth stay out of school and work fulltime to earn money to remit back home to their families, while, in most cases, living on their own or, similarly, paying living expenses to relatives. Demonstrating how Mexican immigrant youth experience abbreviated life stages with earlier transitions to adulthood, I discuss the lives of seven Mexican youth, four who are pre-immigration, or those who have never left rural Puebla, Mexico, but who live in high out-migration communities; and three who are post-immigration, or who have already immigrated and are residing in New York City, but were raised in rural Mexican communities within the immigrant-sending states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla. Defying traditional research on and with immigrant youth, this article draws from transnational theory and life course theory to uncover the youth's experiences of work, school, and leaving home, and how these experiences influence how they perceive their own life stages. Without understanding how these youth understand their own life stages and why they do so, both in and across rural Mexico and New York City, I argue that we cannot understand their motivations for staying out of schools in the United States.

Transnational Theory

Transnational theory is a theoretical perspective explaining how institutions and individuals link their communities of origin and their communities of settlement through a network of cultural, social, economic and political relationships; practices and identities which span national borders (Basch et al., 1994; Brittain, 2002; Guarnizo, 1997). Most studies have documented transnational acts at various institutional levels, focusing most upon transnational policy changes at national levels, activities associated with modernization at the local level, and individual behaviors immigrants may perform within the contexts of their receiving communities to initiate and/or sustain crossborder activities (Brittain, 2002; Goldring, 1998; Portes, 2001; Smith, 2006; Thorne, et al., 2003; Vertovec, 2004). While some scholars debate that transnationalism should be limited only to observable actions practiced by adults, such as political participation, remittances and communication--others, including this researcher, believe it is useful in explaining ways youth view the world and their ideas, especially as they relate to their individual and collective identity formation and economic and social mobility (Brittain, 2002; Levitt, 1996; Sanchez, 2004; Smith, 2006). …

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