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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Legal Status and the Everyday Lives of Mexican-Origin Youth in Los Angeles: family, gratitude, and the high school transition

  • Author(s): Steinberg, Mindy
  • Advisor(s): Weisner, Thomas S
  • et al.
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Familism refers to a set of enduring cultural values in Mexican-origin families that emphasize family assistance, obligation, cohesion, and support. Familism has been repeatedly identified as a source of resilience for even some of the most vulnerable youth, linked to positive academic and behavioral outcomes. Yet some research finds that familism is not enough to transcend hurdles that are too great and resources that are too limited. Feelings of gratitude are also salient features of daily life for many Mexican-origin youth, linked with but different from family obligation. Feelings of gratitude can go overlooked in research that focuses on the prevalence of responsibilities or time spent with family, without accounting for contextual factors, such as legal status circumstances in families or parents’ long hours at work, which can interfere. A central aim in this study is to bridge the gap between research on familism, research on gratitude, and research on legal status implications for Mexican-origin youth, by looking at plural and changing legal status situations in the family context and how familism is experienced by youth across families with plural legal status situations. The two topics – familism and legal status – can together contribute to a more holistic understanding of the actual experiences of youth and family, and how we can promote successful pathways for a significant population of Mexican-origin youth. This study tracks 42 families randomly selected from a larger sample of 428 Mexican-origin families in Los Angeles (La Vida, PI: Andrew Fuligni; Co-PI: Thomas Weisner; Co-PI: Nancy Gonzales) using intensive qualitative interviews, home visits, official school records, and qualitative evidence from a subsample of relatives in Mexico. The Pew Research Center estimates that 51% of Mexican immigrants are undocumented and the majority of their children are U.S. citizens, yet mixed-status families remain largely absent from research. This study looks at the implications of familism, family ties, and legal status across the critical developmental period of late adolescence using a comprehensive, longitudinal, and mixed methods dataset with three years of qualitative and contextual evidence. Evidence shows a significant connection between gratitude and familism for Mexican-origin youth in Los Angeles, and that legal status can account for some of the variation in how familism is experienced. The added strain of unauthorized status does not weaken family cohesion or intensify family conflict; rather, unauthorized youth report feeling grateful to their parents and find meaning in high levels of family responsibility; many emphasize the importance of family connection with immediate and extended relatives in Mexico. The determination to “seguir adelante” (push ahead), in spite of it all, is one theme that emerged across interviews. To succeed academically is a desired outcome across families. This study also aims to contribute to our understanding of the pathways that lead to these desired outcomes for Mexican-origin youth growing up in different family contexts.

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This item is under embargo until December 16, 2021.