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Policy Memo by: Adam G. Martinez

Cammarota, J. (2004). The gendered and racialized pathways of Latina and Latino youth: Different struggles, different resistances in the urban context. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 35(1), 53-74.

The Problem

This study explores the concept of resistance to address how Latina and Latino students “resist” in ways that orient them to schooling. This study of Latina/o youth examines how race and gender influence whether they perceive education as oppressive or useful in resisting oppression. Thus, academic achievement becomes a form of resistance for Latinas and Latinos. This ethnographic analysis seeks to inspire new race and gender strategies to improve Latina/o educational experiences.

Research Approach

Ethnographic methods were used in this study in which 40 life histories with Latina/o youth (20 male and 20 female) between the ages of 17 and 24 were conducted in a West coast city with a predominantly Latina/o population. The snowball technique was used for sampling. Of the 40, six were selected for in depth ethnographic study (3 male and 3 female) over a two-year period, four were of Mexican descent and two of Central American descent. These six were selected because they mirrored the larger population. All were either first or second generation or foreign born but raised entirely in the U.S. Of the six, three were high school dropouts, two were attending community colleges, and one graduated from a four-year university. This subset of six from the original 40 was “shadowed” over a four-year period (1996-2000). Altogether, the researcher took approximately seven years to complete 40 life history interviews, additional topic-specific interviews with ten youth from the larger sample of 40, and participant observation of six youth from the larger sample of 40.

Major Findings

The study found that Latinas encounter consistent patterns of “ . . . unfair treatment, deliberate negligence, and low expectations . . . ” However, for the Latinas who were successful academically, perseverance was important, as was “negotiating their way” through the harsh treatment. Latinas’ drive for generational change, or breaking the cycles of oppression of their mothers and grandmothers, was a critical resource. Women who had dedicated their lives to helping their families survive were a source of inspiration for the subject Latinas, the former having shared the experience of oppression based on gender and oppression with the latter. Education provided the subject Latinas a chance to achieve for themselves -- to attain higher status, better opportunities, and more control over their lives. Their college experiences helped Latinas to develop a critical awareness of their gender and of gender inequalities. This sense of empowerment helped them to develop a consciousness that they used to educate other women around them.

The Latinos in this study felt that they were consistently policed in society and at school. This included a type of “academic policing” where teachers questioned Latino students’ intellectual abilities and their physical presence in advanced placement classes. For several students in this study, this criminalization of males led to cutting classes. For them, cutting class was a “social activity for enacting, symbolizing, and sustaining friendships” (Cammarota, 2004, p. 68). The participants in this study acknowledged that cutting class came at a cost that made the experience not entirely enjoyable. One even acknowledged that cutting class was wrong. It was done, however, because it was a time for positive social interaction. For one Latino student, being active in a community activist organization and mentored by an older Latino who “cared” helped him resist the criminalization, and gave him the edge to eventually enroll and do well in college.

Policy Implications

This study has particular implications for secondary and post-secondary personnel who deal directly with Latina/os in their day-to-day affairs. It has important implications for counselors in secondary education for understanding better the daily issues and struggles of Latina/os. It should also challenge and enable counselors to better facilitate a mutual understanding between teachers and students. The study also highlights the experiences that Latina/os bring to higher education, and the kind of motivations, as well as struggles, that they are likely to operate under, if they make it to college at all.

The study has implications for understanding and supporting academic motivation among Latinas. For Latinas, recognition of academic achievement is more than recognizing good grades or the completion of a particular course, or even the achievement of a degree. It is the recognition of perseverance and of “breaking the cycle of oppression” experienced in the form of unfair treatment, biases, and low expectations. Academic achievement, for Latinas, is an accomplishment of personal empowerment. The study, therefore, also has implications for how, how often, and even who should be invited and recognized at special academic achievement ceremonies and special events. For the Latinas, understanding the importance of the mother, grandmother, or other significant women in their lives is critical to understanding what drives many Latinas to succeed. This study has implications for the importance of involving family and community members in the educational lives of Latinas with the goal of overcoming barriers to academic achievement, self-determination, and social change.

Latinos, on the other hand, are disadvantaged by attitudes of culpability and a lack of trust towards them. The males in this study experienced oppression on a regular basis by the overt and covert questioning of their intellectual abilities. Criminalization negatively impact their desire to attend classes and to stay in school at all. These patterns become a vicious circle of low expectations and mistrust. Latinos in this study who achieved higher academic goals also experienced mentoring by older Latinos whom they perceived as genuinely caring. Strong relationships with genuine mentors can help Latinos move beyond the criminalization they experience and help create pathways to college and other promising futures. In addition, the study provides insight into understanding some positive group dynamics of Latinos in the context of gang activity. Schools and institutions of higher education should consider ways of facilitating opportunities for males to develop supportive relationships with other males, as well as with older males who can serve as mentors. Lastly, the study implies that Latinos also had a more positive experience in education when they engaged in activities that offered a sense of ownership and self determination as a way of resisting their criminalization and oppression.

This study provides insight into the role of family, school, and community in supporting student resistance of “social and cultural processes” that encourage failure. Educators and researchers must acknowledge the “multiple social struggles related to race and gender, in addition to language and culture, that constitute oppressive barriers for Latina/o youth” (Cammarota, 2004, p. 54). Lastly, the study implies that how students experience education and live out their daily lives in school -- where they experience either success or a preoccupation with oppression based on race or gender -- help contribute to either a focus on future goals, or to an inability to see beyond the here and now or to even envision a better life.
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