Academic journal article Centro Journal

Puerto Rican Girls Speak!: The Meanings of Success for Puerto Rican Girls Ages 14-18 in Hartford, Connecticut

Academic journal article Centro Journal

Puerto Rican Girls Speak!: The Meanings of Success for Puerto Rican Girls Ages 14-18 in Hartford, Connecticut

Article excerpt


This article reports on findings from "Puerto Rican Girls Speak!," an ethnographic research project carried out during the Spring of 2010 in Hartford, Connecticut, with 18 third-generation Puerto Rican girls ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old. Using mixed ethnographic methods, we examined the ways in which low-income, urban Puerto Rican girls defined success in their lives. For the girls who participated in this study, success is a multidimensional phenomena that includes happiness, wellbeing, life satisfaction, economic independence and stability, and fulfilling social relationships. We explored the role of family, reciprocity, and formal education networks in shaping the girls' beliefs about success, as well as their effect on the girls' ability to achieve success in life. Urban minority girls often struggle to balance the multiple domains of life that comprise success. [Key words: adolescents, Puerto Ricans, definitions of success, well-being, Hartford]

"I am not successful right now. There are things I want to accomplish, but I need help. I grew up too fast! I feel like I have lived the life of a grown up, when I should have been living the life of a child."


THIS ARTICLE REPORTS FINDINGS OF PUERTO RICAN GIRLS SPEAK! (PRGS! HEREAFTER), AN ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH PROJECT BEGUN IN THE SPRING OF 2010 IN HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT, WITH 18 THIRD-GENERATION, PUERTO RICAN GIRLS. Most of the existing research about success among urban, low-income youth of color limits definitions of success to school achievement (Farkas et al. 1990; Fordham 1996; Nieto 2000; Ogbu 1974, 1978, 1982, 1987a, 1987b; Suarez-Orozco 1987; Trueba 1987; Trueba and Delago-Gaitan 1988). Aside from a limited number of studies in the positive youth development literature (e.g., Catalano, et al. 2004; Dryfoos 1997; Masten, Best and Garmezy 1990; Pittman and Fleming 1991; Thakral and Vera 2006), the success of low-income or minority youth as a total social and cultural (beyond scholastic or monetary) phenomena remains largely understudied. Even less understood are the "emic" (the youth's own) definitions and measures of what is success, what it means to be successful in life, and how beliefs about success affect behavior and the decisionmaking of adolescents. The PRGS! study asked: What, for Hartford-Puerto Rican girls, does it mean to be successful?; and How do their beliefs and cultural models about success affect their behavior and expectations in life?

Answering these questions is important for several reasons: First, "success" is a broad, culture-bound, multidimensional phenomena related to issues pertaining to a person's sense of well-being, their family and surrounding social contexts, opportunities to make a living satisfactorily in culturally acceptable ways, personal, cultural, and ethnic identity, sense of control over their lives, and other related topics (Freeman et al. 1981; García-Quijano 2006, 2009; Masten and Coatsworth 1995). Second, culturally shared beliefs and models of success are powerful motivators of behavior. As people go through their life stages as members of a society, they will be drawing on their culturally agreed-upon definitions of success to set goals and seek tools that will enable them to approximate a successful life. Third, culturally bound and agreed-upon beliefs, and models of success may vary between and within social settings and also change over time. It is thus important to gather empirical data about the range of ideas and beliefs about success that young people are exposed to in the variety of social settings that comprise their lives, including not only the formal schooling and paid labor social context, but also their nuclear and extended families, neighborhoods, religious and ethnic groups, and others. For minority and low-income inner city youths who often have less access to a high-quality education system and accompanying social connections, these other domains of life success play an especially important role in influencing whether the youths manage to achieve what they, their peers, family, and community consider to be a successful life. …

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