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Open Access Publications from the University of California

U.S. Central American Students in Higher Education: Finding a Sense of Belonging

  • Author(s): Maldonado Dominguez, Katy Joseline
  • et al.

This paper highlights the overlooked experiences of U.S. Central Americans in higher education. Given the absence of Central American studies departments and various shared experiences with Mexican communities in the Southwest, this study analyzes how Chicana/o/x studies departments can serve as relatable spaces for U.S. Central Americans. This study draws from eight semi-structured interviews with U.S. Central Americans in UCLA’s Chicana/o studies department to provide insight into how they navigate and create agency within academia. The findings show that U.S. Central Americans in this study developed a dual sense of belonging as Latina/o/x and U.S. Central American students. As Latina/o/x students, the Chicana/o studies department offered tools and knowledge that affirmed their belonging in a predominantly white institution. However, as U.S. Central Americans, the Chicana/o Studies department lacked a complete inclusion of their specific ethnic and cultural experiences. This research argues that to document these realities is to begin to understand how to facilitate the success of U.S. Central American students to critically assess the multiple academic realities of an increasingly diverse population of Latina/o/x collegestudents.

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