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Ethnographic Research Paper: Latino-American Immigration Experience Essay

The immigration experience as a Latino-American is as diverse as the manifold cultures that the pan-ethnic identity, Latino, aims to subsume. With regards to the immigration experience, Zavella (1991) lays an emphasis on the notion of social location. The difference among Latinos in American society is embedded in their “social location within the social structure”, in which identity, or one’s sense of self, is emergent from the intersected social spaces formed by class, race/ethnicity, gender, and culture.

In order to gain a sufficient understanding of the identity of the Latino-American immigrant, it is necessary to consider the subjective conditions under which individual experiences have shaped behaviors and attitudes. Through examining social location, this essay aims to reveal the significance that an individual immigration experience has had in shaping a sense of self in relation to American culture.

In this essay, I discuss his immigration process in light of themes such as Latino identity, assimilation, legal status, immigrant social network in reception context, and family obligations to demonstrate how Mr. Raya’s personal experiences have constructed his identity as a proud American. In particular, I will consider how these themes contribute to his relation to the Latino community, how an active effort to learn English and familiarize with legal boundaries constituted a sense of belonging, perspective roles in U. S. society, and the influence of family values on his behavior. Latino Identity Suarez-Orozco, Marcelo and Paez (2002) explain how the Spanish language acts as the unifying agent across Latinos in American society.

The Latino population is made up of those whom originate, or are descendants from, a vast array of Latin-American countries that ranges from Mexico, reaches oversea to the Caribbean Islands, and down through Central to South America. The cultural difference among immigrants and the way in which American society receives them contributes to their social location and differs greatly between individuals of the Latino community. The ethnic category of Latino is one in which the United States has adopted in an attempt to racially define a particular sect of society.

The Latino identity has been crafted by the U. S. overnment and gains its meaning solely in relation to the experience in U. S. society. Although Latinos are often misrepresented by their pan-ethnic title, “the Spanish language generates a powerful gravitational field bringing them together. ” The assimilation experience as a Latino immigrant may be divided largely by structural forces associated with cultural origins, however, the Latino identity stands united under the Spanish language. Originally from South America, Mr. Raya is a proud Peruvian who associates himself with others from Latin American backgrounds due to their common cultural use of the Spanish language.

Mr. Raya elucidates, “I want to begin by clarifying what the term Latinos means. So Spanish comes from Latin…so our roots are from Latin. That’s why our language is latino. The language. Not our race. Because I’m from South America, Rigo for instance is from Mexico, but if you see us together then you can call us Latinos. Because it is the general idea. ” (p. 1, l. 1-4). Mr. Raya clearly states that his connection to other Latinos, such as his co-worker Rigo, is solely due to their use of the Latin-base language, Spanish. Similar to the experience expressed in the literature, Mr.

Raya’s identity as a Latino is only in relation to his association with other Latinos living in America. Assimilation Chavez (2008) demonstrates how the assimilation process of Latinos migrating to the U. S. has been compromised and restricted due to the “Latino Threat Narrative”. He argues that the popularly held idea that the Latino presence in the U. S. challenges American ideals and society on the whole accounts for the stunted rates of assimilation among Latinos in America. Latinos are viewed as a threat because of a perceived “refusal” to assimilate into the larger society due to the desire to preserve their own culture.

One way in which Latino immigrants are considered as resistant to American society is by their use of the Spanish language rather than what is preferred by the U. S. majority, English (Cornelius, 2002). American disapproval of Latino immigration has been expressed through the implementation of immigration laws, followed with a negative representation of Latino immigration in the mass media. America’s defensive attitude toward Latinos have stigmatized them with being “illegal”, which in turn, alienates Latino immigrants due to racialization effects from unwelcoming attitudes held by the larger society Gomez, 2007; Martinez, 1998). When first moving to America, Mr. Raya hardly knew a word in English. His initial struggle to incorporate into the U. S. social order was on account his lack knowledge of the English language.

His capacity for effective communication was bound to the confines of the Spanish language. He shares his experience, “I felt alone. I couldn’t, well I say: Good Morning, How are you; that was it you know. Even if somebody talked to me you know I was like a clam you know. I couldn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t want it, those things you know”(p. 1, l. 3-25). Mr. Raya’s experience stresses the separation from the American community felt by the Latino immigrants described in the Chavez study. He explains how a deficit of the English language contributed to a feeling of loneliness. In contrast to the literature however, rather than pushing him farther away from his assimilation goal, Mr. Raya became attracted to learning English. He explains, “So that’s why I went to school. I started studying English, and then I felt, I got Americanized immediately. ” (p. 1, l. 29-30).

Discontent with his isolated state, Mr. Raya recognized the importance of speaking English. He credits learning English for his ability to assimilate and how it lead to a gained sense of belonging as an American. Legal Status Abrego (2011) calls attention to the role that an immigrants’ legal consciousness plays in the incorporation process. Research suggests that adult immigrants with an undocumented legal status often live in a constant state of fear due to threat of deportation. The internalization of the “illegal” stigma criminalizes undocumented immigrants and legitimizes the exploitation of migrant workers (Menjivar and Abrego, 2012).

Their submissive attitude and passive lifestyle under oppression is reinforced through the U. S. structure and ultimately prevents their achievement of assimilation. On the other hand, those considered as being “with the law”, that is, those with a strong legal consciousness, “are aware of their rights and are likely to make claims for redress or inclusion”. Immigrants aware of their legal rights under American legislation are shown to have more successful rates of incorporation. Mr. Raya’s experience with applying for U. S. itizenship portrays him as having a strong legal consciousness. Although he is not an American citizen on paper, his awareness of his contractual agreement made with the United States government provides him with the information to back up his confidence that secures his sense of belonging. Mr. Raya recalls his experience, “ When I went to apply, when I went to apply here, they told me, ‘you just sign a paper, saying that you’re going back there. ’ After 2 to 3 years, I had to go back there. But my social security, I have a driver’s license; I’m legal here.

But if I go out, I can’t come back in 10 years. That’s one of the reasons why I never went out, I never went back there, back to Peru. ” (p. 3, l. 1-5 ). In line with the argument provided by Abrego (2011), Mr. Raya’s legal consciousness of what he can or cannot do under administrative decree, constitutes his sense of belongingness in American society. Mr. Raya further explains, “I really feel like America is my country. I miss Peru of course, but I’m okay. I’m just like an American right now. So I play the rules and everything” (p. 2, 1. 16-18).

He asserts his entitled right to live in America, and affirms his entitlement through proper forms of identification. Because he is aware of his legal standing, he cautions himself of the repercussive consequences of leaving the country. He makes conscious decisions based of the knowledge that if he were to return to Peru, he would not be permitted back into the U. S. immediately. Knowing what is and isn’t available to him under the U. S. legal system has given Mr. Raya his confidence due to the autonomy and control he has over his fate.

Social Networks Menjivar (2000) argues against the “overly romanticized notions of immigrant unity” that surround the image of Latino immigrant social networks. Research examining Salvadorian immigrant social networks provides evidence that refutes the stereotypical assumption that latino family members already living in the U. S. to offer unconditional financial, emotional and material support for their migrating relatives. The presence of existing social networks with individuals living in the U. S. serves for an incentive and resource aid for migration.

However, the way in which social ties receive friends and family upon transition is affected by context. In American society, perceptions held among immigration social networks have shown to reflect U. S. structural features such as the labor market rather than the cultural norms of the social culture of national origin. In many cases, social ties were shown to weaken because of a low capacity for reciprocity. The inability to reciprocate aid from reception was especially evident when the participants in exchange had very limited access to resources.

Social class insertion, brought by immigrants and potential opportunities, demonstrated a significant relation to an immigrant’s access to resources and ability to assist those within social networks. Male immigrants tended to have stronger and larger social networks than females and the wisdom of immigrants from older generations offered more successful information that had been acquired with age. The immigrant social network experience of Mr. Raya was shaped by social class insertion and reflects of the social context under which he was received.

Now 63, Mr. Raya migrated at the mature age of 31 with a clear objective in mind: to make money. Mr. Raya stresses the economic aspect and demand for labor market participation in American society, “everyone wants to come over here, because the general idea is like, you come here, and the dollars are on the street, they’re in the tree; you know, its easier to make dollars. Its not easy the way the way we work here”(p. 1, 1. 14-16). Mr. Raya’s perception of America prior to immigration embodies the same spirit of the American Ideal and depicts the notion of social mobility as being tangible by means of hard work.

When first migrating to the United States, Mr. Raya was welcome by a friend who had agreed to help him get settled, however was expected to work and provide for himself. Mr. Raya explains, “when we come over here we become Americans in an economic way. ” He further explains, “ Let’s say you want to bring your sister or your brother; you bring them over, and as an American, okay, you help them for 2, 3 months, you tell’em you gotta pay rent, you gotta pay your food. But up there no. You can stay at your parents house forever” (p. 2, l. 28-30).

In line with the literature, Mr. Raya highlights the shift of expectations for social networks as one makes the transition from Latin-American to American context. Mr. Raya’s experience has shaped his perception of the way in which friends and relatives looking to migrate should be received into American society. Family Obligation Abrego (2009) examines the ways in which migrant parents’ gender affects the transnational families’ economic welfare. The term transnational is used to describe families where “members of the nuclear unit (mother, father, and children) live in two different countries”.

Common among migrant parents of transitional families was their practice of sending of remittances. Abrego argues that families with transitional mothers are more likely to experience economic prosperity compared to transitional father-away, families in which families with transitional fathers often received limited or no remittances. Gendered parental obligations imply that men prioritize themselves or new relationships establish in the United States over their family back home, while attributing a strong regard for family values with mothers of transitional families.

Mr. Raya’s adolescent years spent in Peru were marked by extreme poverty and its unfortunate contingencies. Poverty-stricken conditions foreshadowed a life in Peru that was static and void of hope. In an attempt to invert his impoverished fate for his family, Mr. Raya’s decision to leave Peru was persuaded by the economic opportunities that America had to offer. Although his family was out of sight, they were never out of mind when it came to his financial gain while living in America.

In contrast with the literature illustrating the male, father figure as being self -interested and self- serving, Mr. Raya expresses his obligation to support his family. I was planning to go to college but I couldn’t because I had to send money to my kids, and my kids were in Peru” (p. 2, 1. 3-4). Unlike the experiences described by Abrego, Mr. Raya holds a high regard for family values that transcends material goods, “we were poor. We didn’t have a car, we didn’t have a house, But the main thing for me is that we had a family… that was the basic; loving your family first”(p. , l. 7-11). Family values defined his goal to provide financial support for his entire family was his main incentive for immigration.

Mr. Raya describes his objective, “ That was my main goal: help my people. Send money to them; to my kids, to my parents. And that, that part made me feel good. Even though I mean my kids they were not with me but, they, my kids they had a good education” (p. 2, 1. 10-13 ). Although the separation from his children is hard for him, knowing that they receive a good education assures Mr. Raya that he has served his duty to his family. Conclusion In the final analysis, Mr. Raya’s immigration experience demonstrates how the positions he occupies within the U. S. social structure has influenced his ultimate sense of an American identity. His personal experience in America as a Latino immigrant reveals his particular social location in which his Latino-identity, motivation for migrations, desire to assimilate, legal consciousness and expectations for reception all contributed significantly to his behavior and perceptions.

When examining his experience in light of research, Mr. Raya’s successful incorporation mirrors many theories held regarding Latino assimilation into American society. Mr. Raya recognizes that his Latino profile is one in which language is indicative of his relation to the Latino-American population, and that learning English is imperative to his assimilation process. An active engagement with the U. S. egal system while determining his migrant status has allowed for a positive assertion of legality and provides Mr. Raya with a confident sense of belonging. Moreover, the key feature of Mr. Raya’ experience is his strong will to assimilate. Dissimilar with conclusions of related research, obligation to fulfill his role as a father and support his family was the driving motive behind his successful incorporation.

On the whole, his social location has shaped his attitudes and opinions toward Latino-immigration in general. He stresses the importance one’s capacity for adjustment to the American structural context in order to achieve assimilation, and therefore reach economic, social and political success. Through an analysis of the Latino-American experience of David Raya, this essay demonstrates the significant impact social location has had on the formation of Mr. Raya’s American identity as a Latino immigrant.


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