A pedagogy of belonging is the educational ethos permeating schools that work: it refers to those "kinds of things" that change a group of strangers into a successful, transcultural community of practice that supports youths' academic, social, and cultural participation and development. Such communities are critical to the success of newly arrived immigrant youth, called "overlooked and underserved" in U.S. high schools, vulnerable to transplant shock, language barriers and racism (Suarez-Orozco, Suarez-Orozco & Todorova, 2008; Ruiz-de-Velasco & Fix, 2000; Olsen, 1997). This ethnography addresses how immigrant youth experienced belonging in a multiethnic, multilingual high school in Southern California, asking: what is the structure of belonging at a time of rapid cultural change and heightened immigration politics?
From 2009-2011, ethnography was conducted. Data were collected through participant observation in four classrooms, staff meetings, professional development sessions, school assemblies, and parent evenings. Thirty-three interviews were conducted with 9th-12th grade immigrant students, their teachers and administrators. Four key informants were interviewed three to four times each. The key informants were from Iran, Korea, Mexico and Pakistan; comparative analysis considered the intersectionality of national origin, language, gender, race, class and religion in the lives of adolescents and raised questions about commonalities among the experiences of immigrant students.
Informed by interdisciplinary theories of community and belonging (Wenger, 1998; King jr., 1967; Etzioni, 1996, 2000; Yosso, 2005), analysis revealed the following points: 1) Immigrant students' lives in school were shaped by a politics of belonging that indexed complex socio-political ideologies present in the Southern California landscape; 2) Immigrant youth live transcultural lives through which they achieved a sense of belonging through (a) language practices that forged community, and (b) multinational, multilingual, and intergenerational peer groups; 3) Immigrant students have myriad strengths and skills that germinate from their migration journeys and acculturation processes. These strengths and skills are valuable to communities grappling with the changing nature of schooling in a globalizing era. Education, as a vehicle of 21st century social integration and democracy, is undermined when the transcultural work of immigrant youth is overlooked.