SOCIAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT OF
ADOLESCENT GIRLS OF MEXICAN ORIGIN
Vemita M. Zubia
B.A., University of Northern Colorado, 1988
M.A., University of Colorado, 1992
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
2000 by Vernita M. Zubia
All rights reserved
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
Vernita M. Zubia
has been approved
Zubia, Vemita M. (Ph.D., Education Leadership and Innovation)
Social Identity Development of Adolescent Girls of Mexican Origin
Thesis directed by Professor Alan Davis
The purpose of this study was to better understand the process of social identity
development in Mexican girls living in the United States. The focus was on: (1)
the girls perception of the differences between their social world of home and
that of their peers, school and community and (2) the adaptive strategies they
used to move from one context to another. Six adolescent girls participated in
the study for one full year from sixth grade through seventh grade. Qualitative
data collection included observations and interviews of each student as well as
her parents, friends and teachers. The findings of the study demonstrated that
for Mexican adolescent girls living in the United States: 1) Social identity
development was complicated by conflicting needs and expectations between
their social world of home and that of the larger community, 2) the most
prominent theme of their social identity development was the maintenance of
relationships, 3) the girls school performance was profoundly impacted by their
status in the larger community, the nature of interactions between minority and
dominant social groups, and the stressors they experienced both in school and at
home, and 4) the adaptive strategies the adolescent girls used to manage the
border crossings between home and school were temporarily effective, but they
were potentially incompatible with maintaining long-term success in school.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my two sons, Darian and Dylan. They have found their
own way to be successful in a complex set of social worlds. They are as
comfortable on the ranchito in Mexico as they are in their Algebra class in the
United States. They have mastered a way of thinking, talking and behaving
which is adaptive to their different social worlds. They have been my inspiration
while I worked to reconstruct my own identity which balanced the needs of
family and school. As we shared our little kitchen table all those weekends and
evenings reading, studying and doing homework, we grew as a family of learners,
dreamers and doers. I am proud of the young men they have become. The
sacrifices they have made and the time they have given me in support of my
education are forever held in my heart.
My thanks to Dr. Beth Doll who has provided me with inspiration and guidance
in my doctoral work. As a teacher, she has been a valuable source of knowledge.
As a writer, she has given me a structure to organize my thoughts and ideas. As
a researcher, she has taught me to draw meaning from the complexity of human
life experiences. As a mentor, she has encouraged me each time I sat in her office
to expect even more of myself. I am grateful for this!
1 INTRODUCTION............................................ 1
2 LITERATURE REVIEW....................................... 5
Important Terminology............................ 5
Social Identity............................ 5
Social Worlds ..................................... 6
Transition ........................................ 9
Conceptual Framework .................................... 9
Sociocultural Context of Development....... 10
Identity Development....................... 12
Cultural-Ecological Model.................. 13
Research Review.................................. 16
Focus on the Maintenance of Relationships .... 16
Adaptive Strategies to Cross Borders Between So-
cial Worlds................................ 20
Making Sense of Social Injustices and Oppression . 23
Academic Identity and Engagement in School ... 26
3 METHODOLOGY............................................. 32
Site Selection............................................ 32
Researchers Role......................................... 34
Data Collection Strategies................................ 36
Student Interviews................................. 37
Parent Interviews.................................. 37
Teacher Interviews................................. 38
Friendship Group Interviews........................ 38
Contact Summary Form............................... 40
Document Summary Form.............................. 40
Assurances, Confidentiality............................... 42
Inductive Data Analysis................................... 42
Reading the Transcripts............................ 42
Individual Themes.................................. 43
Organizing Themes.................................. 43
Conceptually Clustered Matrices.................... 44
Conclusion Drawing................................. 44
Limitations of the Design................................. 45
4 FINDINGS OF THE STUDY............................................ 47
Organizing Themes......................................... 50
Maintaining Relationships with Family ............. 51
Growing More Emotionally Dependent on Their Moth-
ers ............................................... 52
Maintaining a Cultural Identity ................... 54
Contributing to a Feeling of Collectivity in their
Preparing for Traditional Female Roles ............ 60
Struggling with Distress Related to Family Issues . 62
Reinas Story...................................... 65
Struggling to Maintain Satisfying Peer Relationships 67
Subdividing Larger Friendship Groups into Smaller
Hanging Out with Friends........................... 69
Making Choices about Friends....................... 70
Worrying about Friends Safety and Well-Being . 73
Anakaris Story ................................... 74
Growing Up.............................................. 76
Waiting for my Quinceanera....................... 77
Being Pressured by Older Boys.................... 79
Expressing Feelings.............................. 81
Estrellas Story................................. 82
Caring about School and Grades.......................... 85
Caring about Grades and Academic Progress ... 86
Becoming Somebody ............................. 89
Separating from Friends to Learn Better.......... 90
Struggling in School............................. 91
Reconstructing New Social Identities.................... 93
Lacking Role Models ............................. 94
Worrying about the Despairing Community and Fam-
ily Messages..................................... 94
Making Sense of Social Injustices and Unfair Treatment . 97
Becoming Increasingly Aware of Borders Between
Social Worlds ................................... 98
Increasing Anger and Resentment about Racism . 101
Organization and Perception of Different Social Worlds . 104
Common Economic Struggles....................... 105
Maintaining a Connection with Families in Mexico 106
Family Folklore Based on Rural Traditions of Mexico 106
Family History of Distress...................... 108
Dealing with Young Men Pursuing Sexual Relation-
ships ........................................... 109
Important Sites of Negotiation and Decision-Making ... Ill
Relationship Oriented vs. Individual Performance
Caring about School vs. Despairing Messages ... 113
Waiting for los 15 vs. More Rapid Transition into
Adolescence ..................................... 114
Becoming Somebody vs. their Parents Work in
the Community.................................... 116
Adaptive Strategies and to Cross Borders................. 118
Maintenance of Relationships............................. 120
Maintaining Relationships with Family and Peers . 121
Relationships as a Protective Factor............. 121
Relationships Contributing to a Positive Self-Concept 122
Combined Effects of Circumstances on Academic Engage-
ment .................................................... 123
Managed Border Crossings......................... 123
Difficult Border Crossings....................... 124
Resisted Transitions............................. 126
A STUDENT INTERVIEW.................................................132
B PARENT INTERVIEW...........................135
C TEACHER INTERVIEW..........................138
D GROUP INTERVIEW............................139
E CONTACT SUMMARY FORM.......................142
F DOCUMENT SUMMARY FORM......................144
G ELIMINATED THEMES..........................145
Educators know that adolescent girls of Mexican origin need a successful social
identity development to support academic achievement (Fine, 1991:
Flores-Gonzalez, 1999; Fordham, 1988; Matute-Bianchi, 1991; Munoz, 1995;
Phelan, Locke-Davidson, Yu, 1998; Suarez-Orozco, 1991; Way, 1998). Schools
are often the most salient sites for social identity development, where the
adolescent girls worlds of home, peers, and ethnic group interface with the
worlds of the larger community (school, peers of dominant group status). Yet,
not enough is known about how social identity development aids or impedes the
successful transition among these social worlds in a way that supports academic
achievement. It is evident that academic achievement is supported by the
development of a social identity which allows for smoother transitions between
the Mexican-American girls worlds and that of school. These smooth transitions
from one context to another are supported by adaptive strategies which allow the
adolescent to make choices within her social worlds without compromising her
academic achievement. On the other hand, the Mexican-American adolescents
ability to manage a successful academic identity is often impaired when her
social identity development is met with unavoidable challenges by her family,
peer, or ethnic group loyalties. Too often, such challenges result in an adaptive
strategy that impedes academic achievement. Such an example of an adaptive
strategy which impedes academic achievement is taking the least challenging
classes in order to protect the time after school to maintain family relationships.
Successful social identity development is difficult for Mexican-American
girls because the cultural differences between their worlds and the world of
school complicate the process (Bernal, Saenz & Knight, 1991; Ogbu, 1987:
Phelan et aL, 1998; Soto, 1997). The world of school tends to value and reward
social identities which reflect the knowledge, skills and behaviors of
Euro-American middle class society (Delpit, 1988; Fordham, 1988). For
example, these skills and behaviors often emphasize and reward individualism,
high activity, self-reliance, differentiation and goal-directness. Latina girls have
consistently reported significantly stronger levels of commitment to traditional
cultural values than their African-American or Asian-American peers and even
more so when compared to their Euro-American peers (Rotheram-Borus,
Dopkins, Sabate & Lightfoot, 1996). Their traditional values emphasize and
reward group and family orientation, cooperation, respect for authority and
emotional expressiveness. Another way that cultural differences are magnified is
in the socioeconomic and sociocultural differences of the middle class community
in which Mexican-Americans live as compared to the rural agrarian society from
which many Mexican immigrants originate. While Mexican families with
agrarian and rural competencies bring a wealth of skills which contribute to the
larger community, there are huge differences in folklore about parenting,
maintaining a strong family unit, getting an education and achieving social
status in the community (Valdes, 1996). Unfortunately, the integrity of these
cultural differences are not always appreciated or recognized within the
fast-paced and competitive society of the United States.
It is possible that school practices and interventions could support or
complicate the social identity development of adolescent girls of Mexican origin
through instructional techniques, management and disciplinary strategies, and
the nature of relationships with parents (Cummins, 1986; Delgado-Gaitan &
Trueba, 1991; Moll, 1991; Moll and Diaz, 1989; Soto, 1993). One way that
schools impact social identity development is through instructional practices.
Instructional practices include choices about what to teach, how to group
students for learning and which methods of learning are emphasized. These
choices can either validate or discredit the students social history or cultural
heritage. They can also include or isolate by rewarding or penalizing the student
for knowledge, skills and behaviors that the student brings from home. Another
way that schools play an important role in social identity development is through
management and disciplinary techniques. Disciplinary techniques that use
peaceful conflict resolution strategies and allow all students to be heard, teach
students that the larger community is equitable and fair. When disciplinary
strategies silence the voices of students, unfairly punish students and leave
conflicts unresolved, ethnic minority adolescents often develop resistant adaptive
strategies (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Kohl, 1994; Ogbu, 1995). Still another way
that schools play an important role in social identity development is through
interactions with families of ethnic minority status. Schools that develop
collaborative relationships with parents support the adolescents transition from
home to school. On the contrary, when parents are disrespected or excluded from
the educational decision-making process, this complicates transitions between
home and school and often promotes a negative identity exchange between the
teacher and student (Delgado-Gaitan &: Trueba, 1991; Erickson, 1987).
Accurate understanding of this developmental process is important if
schools are to successfully engage the Mexican-American adolescent. This study
examines the social identity development for adolescent girls of Mexican origin
by exploring the following focus areas:
how she organizes and perceives her different social worlds,
which borders become important sites of negotiation and
decision-making in developing a social identity,
what adaptive strategies she uses to cross borders between her social
worlds and that of school and the larger community,
what role relationships play in adolescent social identity development,
how the combined effects of the relative circumstances affect her
Further research is necessary in exploring the features of school environments
and practices which better support academic achievement of Mexican girls living
in the United States.
First, I will introduce some important terminology which wall be used
throughout this paper. Secondly, the conceptual framework will outline the
theories which contribute to the design of this study. Third, I will provide is a
research review of the four tenets which are central to creating a clearer
understanding of social identity development for adolescent girls of ethnic
A young adolescents social identity makes up a major portion of her self
concept which guides her behavior and interaction in intergroup relations
(Bernal, et al., 1991; Tajfel, 1982). Social identity is the adolescents central
definition and evaluation of who she is in relation to others. For adolescents of
ethnic minority status, an important part of social identity development is the
process of categorizing her world into groups of others like herself and unlike
herself. The adolescents positive and negative components of her self concept
are, in part, dependent on how she evaluates her group in relation to other
groups unlike hers. The adolescents social identity is made up of multiple
identities including the following:
Ethnic Identity. This is how the adolescent identifies herself in relation
to her ethnic group membership. The terms that are used in this paper to refer
to different ethnic groups include: Mexican, Mexican-American, Latina, of
Mexican origin, of ethnic minority status, Chicana, and Hispana.
Academic Identity. The adolescents academic identity focuses on how
the adolescent identifies herself to others in the school and the nature of her
participation and engagement as a student.
Family Identity. The family identity focuses on how the adolescent
identifies herself at home, especially in the nature of her roles as a member of
The term social worlds is used in this paper to mean the social contexts
in which the adolescent lives and interacts including her family, peers, ethnic
group, school and community. Each social world has cultural standards of
behavior which include: values and beliefs, expectations, actions and emotional
responses. Participants in each social world must be skillful and knowledgeable
in the cultural standards in order to know how to think, act and behave. The
construct of social worlds and the related constructs of boundaries,
borders, and transitions are adapted from the work of Anzaldua (1999),
Munoz (1997), Ogbu & Simons (1998) and Phelan et al. (1998).
BonnHarips. A boundary is a metaphor for the theoretical line which
separates the social worlds based on different cultural standards of behavior. A
boundary symbolizes the transition between two social worlds that is relatively
easy to cross because the cultural differences on both sides are politically
neutral. A boundary could be thought of as a state line in which travelers can
cross without difficulty.
Borders. A border is similar to a boundary except the cultural
differences are not equally valued in each of the social worlds (Anzaldua, 1999).
Therefore, crossing a border becomes more difficult because it involves making a
value judgment about which cultural knowledge, skills or behaviors to retain,
abandon, learn, transfer, disguise or resist. The border metaphor is more like an
international border such as that between Mexico and the United States in
which the cultural standards are not politically neutral. There are different
kinds of borders between social worlds. One kind of border is the macro-level
border which separates the more obvious social worlds of home, peers, ethnic
group, school and community. Micro-level borders are those which might not be
quite so obvious, but describe the more discrete differences between the social
worlds. These include:
Sociocultural Borders. Sociocultural borders are the cultural standards
which are differentially valued and rewarded in two social worlds. The value of
cultural standards are effected by the historical circumstance of the cultural
groups introduction and subsequent treatment in the U.S. Examples of
sociocultural borders are cognitive processing styles, communication patterns,
adult-child interaction expectations or parenting styles.
Socioeconomic Borders. Socioeconomic borders axe the economic
circumstances of those in two different social worlds. For example, an
adolescents family may be of working class status while she attends a school
which consists primarily of students and staff of middle class status.
Psychosocial Borders. Psychosocial borders are internal factors, such as
depression or anxiety, which can interfere with adapting to the emotional or
attitudinal orientation of the different social worlds. Adolescents who have
experienced family distress are particularly vulnerable in managing other
difficult border crossings especially between home and school.
Linguistic Borders. Different languages can become borders when one
language is devalued. For Mexican adolescents, there are prominent linguistic
borders in the community and school social worlds which often invalidate
Spanish as a language of learning.
Structural Borders. Structural borders are the laws, rules, codes and
norms established in the social worlds. These structural borders are typically
reinforced by the people in that world who see it as their job to control access to
resources. For example, schools are a complex organization with many written
and unwritten rules, codes and norms which differentially provide services and
access to students. The teachers and authority figures, see it as their job to
carry out these rules. For Mexican families, there are also many structural
borders which limit their ability to work and travel freely between Mexico and
the United States.
When the adolescent moves from one social world to another, this is
considered a transition. A transition requires the adolescent to deal with or
adapt to the differences between these social worlds. Another term used for
transitions in this paper is a border crossings. There are four types of transitions
or border crossings:
Smooth Transitions. Moving from one social world to another is
uncomplicated. Often times, the social worlds are similar to each other and
require few adaptive strategies, therefore the transition is easy.
Managed Border Crossings. In this case, there are important cultural
differences between the social worlds but the adolescent is able to employ some
adaptive strategies to manage the transitions with minimal difficulty.
Difficult Border Crossings. In this situation, there are significant
cultural differences that make it difficult for the adolescent to move between the
social worlds. Even though the young person may use adaptive strategies, there
are complications with the transitions.
Border Crossings Resisted. In this case, the adolescent resists the
movement between social worlds and employs adaptive strategies which prove
resistant to one or more of the social worlds.
This study of social identity development of adolescent girls of Mexican
origin is embedded in a conceptual framework which emphasizes the role of the
sociocultural context in development (Vygotsky, 1962) as well as the
cultural-ecological model to understand behavior and actions of students of
ethnic minority status (Ogbu, 1977, 1985, 1987, 1995; Ogbu &: Matute-Bianchi,
1989; Ogbu & Simons, 1998). The developmental stage of adolescence was
guided by Eriksons psycho-social theory of identity development (1950, 1968).
Sociocultural Context of Development
The Vygotskyian perspective (1962) emphasizes the important role that
the sociocultural context plays in a childs thought and language development.
Thought and language development are embedded within the sociocultural
context and the experiences and opportunities it provides for the child. The
child encodes the observations and interactions with her environment in the
form of nonverbal images, language samples and overt actions. Early cognitive
development is referred to as spontaneous thought development. As the child
gets older, nonspontaneous concept development becomes increasingly influenced
by adults through instruction, storytelling, discussion or sharing of experiences.
Spontaneous and nonspontaneous thought development are in constant
interaction with each other. By the time a girl reaches adolescence, she has
formed a complex perspective of her multiple social worlds.
During adolescence, a young person develops an increased ability to use
language as a tool to manage complex and abstract thoughts. With this
advanced thought development, the adolescent is able to view her social worlds
from a broader perspective. This conceptual development also gives her a new
ability to make judgments about her world. In addition, she develops a new
sense of self-consciousness in which she is able to understand more clearly how
others perceive her. For young adolescents, this new world view and the
reflection of oneself through anothers eyes can be overwhelming.
Language is the medium through which the child interacts with her social
world, expresses her thoughts and receives feedback about her behavior and
ideas. The critical role that language plays in social and thought development
has important implications for the methodology and interpretation of the results
of this study. First, children internalize observations or experiences using
nonverbal images as well as language. Consequently, the external dialogue of
expressing ones thoughts does not capture the totality of the adolescents
thoughts and experiences. Because of this assumption, this study included
interviews with parents, teachers and friends to capture a more holistic view of
the adolescents development. Second, the young persons development is
impacted through the act of verbalizing her ideas, thoughts, concerns and
experiences. I kept in mind that the adolescents lives were changed by having
participated in the study. Therefore, I gave special emphasis to this during the
interview process and in the interpretation of the results. Third, adults are
constantly influencing a young persons thought development. I was regularly
evaluating the selection of questions and the reactions that I displayed during
the interview process also had an effect on the girls development. I worked to
evaluate and re-evaluate how these assumptions affected what thoughts,
observations and experiences each adolescent girl chose to talk about.
Erikson (1950, 1968) identifies the psycho-social development of identity
vs. role confusion as the last stage of childhood. In the identity development
stage, the adolescent is forced into making new choices and decisions as a result
of more advanced cognitive ability and new expectations placed on them by
others. The Euro-American culture has emphasized the role of the individual in
the adolescents endeavor to create a unique identity. This identity typically
evolves through free role exploration which allows an increased sense of
independence and autonomy.
Eriksons theory introduces three components which suggest why the task
of developing an identity is different for Mexican adolescent girls living in the
United States. One important component of this theory is that the adolescents
identity development work is defined by the larger society. For the dominant
Euro-American culture, the adolescents identity work reflects individuation and
autonomy. Group-oriented cultures, such as Latinos, emphasize relationships
and collectivity. An example of collectivity is the importance of working
together for the sake of the family or cultural group.
A second component of Eriksons theory is that different societies vary
greatly in the way that adolescence is constructed. An example of such a
difference is illustrated in the tradition of a Mexican <
fifteenth birthday celebration is a rite of passage from childhood to adolescence.
In this tradition, girls are expected to wait to engage in adolescent behaviors
which symbolize maturity. Examples of adolescent behaviors are dancing with
boys, having a boyfriend, or wearing make-up. These behavior expectations are
reinforced and rewarded by the broad community. To summarize, the Mexican
construct of adolescence varies from the Euro-American culture in the age girls
begin adolescence, the way that appropriate behaviors are explicitly identified
and the ritualization of passage from childhood to adolescence.
A third component is that the choices about behavior, thoughts and values
which must be negotiated during identity development reflect the conflicts
within the larger community. Such sources of conflict are tensions between social
groups based on ethnicity, sociocultural differences or socioeconomic status. For
example, resolving issues about ethnicity becomes an important part of social
identity development for ethnic minority adolescents when cultural differences
between ethnic groups are a site of struggle. These differences between social
groups are identified as borders. On the other hand, when cultural differences
between ethnic groups do not develop in opposition to each other, then ethnicity
takes on a lesser role of importance for social identity development. In this case,
the ethnic differences would be identified as boundaries.
Ogbus theory of cultural ecology (1977, 1985, 1987, 1995; Ogbu &
Matute-Bianchi, 1989; Ogbu & Simons, 1998) emphasizes the important role
that societal and historical borders have on ethnic minority adolescents social
identity development and their engagement in school. Ogbu has concluded
through comparative research that the way members of a minority group behave
in a dominant society depends on two important factors. Fust, the behavior is in
response to how their ethnic group was historically incorporated into the society.
Secondly, their behavior is also in response to their subsequent treatment by the
dominant group members. These behaviors are viewed as adaptive strategies to
either manage or resist the community forces of oppression and mistreatment.
This theory contributes four different cultural models for understanding
the behaviors and actions of Mexican-American adolescent girls in their different
social worlds. First, the ethnic groups dual frame of reference differentiates the
experience of those who see they have more opportunity to succeed in the
United States than back home (positive dual frame of reference). This is
compared to those who view their economic and social situation as being inferior
to middle class Euro-Americans and also view schools as inferior (negative dual
frame of reference).
Second, the folk theory of making it is the groups ideas about how to
achieve success. The land of opportunity group believes that hard work,
following the rules and getting a good education is the key to success. The
ambivalent group also believes that hard work and education are necessary
but they are doubtful that they will be able to overcome the structural borders
in schools and in the workplace which discriminate against ethnic minorities.
Third, the nature of trust that the ethnic minorities have in schools
identifies one group as having a pragmatic trust. They view schools as a tool
through which they can achieve success. The other group is distrustful and
suspicious that the schools will not do a good enough job educating their ethnic
Fourth, the collective identity is developed in response to the groups
position and treatment in society. The boundaries group acknowledges
language and cultural differences between their own social world and that of the
dominant group. While both sets of cultural values are viewed as politically
neutral, dual membership does not threaten their own group identity. The
borders group perceives the cultural and language differences as markers of a
collective identity. These cultural and language differences have developed over
many years of historical oppression. Crossing borders between social worlds is
much more difficult for the latter group. There are often psychological and
personal costs involved in attempting to maintain dual membership.
Ogbu contends that adolescents of ethnic minority status must consciously
use adaptive strategies to cross borders between home, school and peers. Phelan
and her colleagues (1998) identified three adaptive strategies that students use
to manage or resist such transitions. First, some students managed transitions
by adapting completely to the mainstream patterns in the school while hiding
cultural behaviors which might set them apart from their peers of dominant
status. Second, some students adapted situationally. These students conformed
to the mainstream patterns at school but maintained cultural behaviors at home
and with ethnic peers. Third, a smaller group of students achieved academic
success without hiding aspects of their home culture.
The application of the cultural ecological model emphasizes the historical
and sociocultural factors which play a central role to understanding an
adolescents experience of ethnic minority status.
This research review focuses on four tenets which are central to creating a
clearer understanding of what the experience of social identity development is
like for adolescent girls of ethnic minority status. These tenets are:
Social identity development of many adolescent girls of ethnic minority
status tends to focus more on the maintenance of relationships than
with seeking autonomy and independence,
Border crossings between her social worlds of home, ethnic group, peers
and school require adaptive strategies,
Recognizing and making sense of social injustices and oppression is a
fundamental part of social identity development for many adolescents of
ethnic minority status, and
Academic identity and engagement in school for adolescent students of
ethnic minority status must be understood within the broader context of
what the circumstances are for students in and out of school.
Focus on the Maintenance of Relationships
It used to be a common assumption that social identity development was
patterned along the adolescents pursuit of independence and autonomy.
However, recent research demonstrates that many ethnic minority adolescents
struggled more with maintaining a connection to others (Rotheram-Borus et al.,
1996; Suarez-Orozco, 1991; Waters, 1996; Way, 1998).
Way (1998) studied the adolescent experience of relationship development.
She was interested in how urban adolescents talked about growing up and the
ways they related to others within the structural borders of their schools and
communities. The 24 high school students who participated in the study
reflected an ethnically diverse group including African American, Latina
(Central America and Puerto Rico) and West Indian. Way conducted her
ethnographic study over a three year period. Data gathering methods included
extensive observations and interviews with the adolescents, their Mends,
teachers and parents.
One important result of the study was that ethnic minority students did
not fit the Euro-American pattern of wanting to distance themselves from their
parents and families. Instead, the ethnic minority students most often told
stories that were relationship-oriented. This identity work was not consistent
with the most broadly accepted story of adolescence which is portrayed as a
search for independence and autonomy. Way found that the adolescents became
increasingly closer to their families during adolescence. They especially valued
the relationships with their mothers as an important source of connection and
belonging. The girls developed sister-like relationships with their mothers with
whom they openly shared their problems.
There were several assumptions drawn from the students strong sense of
attachment with their mothers. For the Latino students, their cultural values
honored mothers with a special respect and sanctity. Mothers were associated
with, family qualities such. as strength, perseverance and patience. Another
assumption was related to socioeconomic conditions. Adolescents growing up
with limited resources were more aware of what their mothers did to make ends
meet. A third assumption was related to the adolescents having a lack of
perceived or real power in the larger community. Rather than confronting the
world independently, being relationship oriented was a more effective way of
coping with this lack of power. In fact, those students who were most passionate
about the importance of their relationships at home were better able to manage
the transitions between home and school. Consequently, they experienced
greater academic achievement.
Another study of the mother-daughter relationships of Latinas (Taylor,
1996) extended the results of the previous study in order to understand the
development of these relationships in younger adolescents. This was a three year
study of 48 at risk adolescents from eighth grade to tenth grade. The
construct at risk was drawn from Dryfoos (1994) work and was used to
describe adolescents who were at risk for early parenthood and school dropout.
The particular chapter on which this review was based specifically included the
interview data of twelve Latina girls. Taylors study was designed to better
understand how Latina girls renegotiated the cultural conventions of femininity
and womanhood while staying in relationship with their mothers. She used a
series of interviews as her data gathering tool.
Mothers held the esteemed role in the Latina homes as the bearer and
guardian of culture. Within highly valued mother-daughter relationships,
mothers socialized their daughters to be self-conscious, vigilant, dependent,
obedient, responsible and submissive. The socialization was in part a conscious
effort to prepare their daughters for future adult roles as a mother and wife.
However, the same qualities were intertwined with roles in the larger community
as a member of an oppressed group as well.
When the girls spoke of these cultural conventions dining eighth grade,
their stories described tension between themselves and their mothers. They
often criticized their mothers role and felt that her teachings contradicted the
roles they aspired to be within the larger community. They were intensely
involved in a process of drawing meaning from what they were rewarded for at
home and what they observed as valuable in schools and in the community.
By the ninth and tenth grades, most of the girls had shifted their focus
from resisting the cultural conventions to assuming an ideal relationship with
their mothers. In efforts to build strong relationships with their mothers, they
most often conformed to the cultural conventions of home and withheld
expressions or feelings of disagreement and resistance. Similar to the results of
Ways study (1998), the girls in this study emphasized the importance of their
relationships with their mothers. They worked to affirm these relationships and
to resolve the tensions and differences.
In due time, the girls either chose to comply with the cultural values and
beliefs or they learned ways in which they could accommodate their resistance
while maintaining their relationship with their mothers. One way they managed
to do both was by keeping their real feelings of confusion, anger and criticism
out of the relationship with their mother. Another was by making choices about
what to talk to their mothers about. For example, Ana chose to keep her
concerns about school out of her conversations with her mother as a way of
avoiding confrontation about different cultural conventions. Over time, these
girls all became increasingly dependent on their relationships with their mothers.
Both of these studies emphasized that identity development of Latina
adolescents was ardently relationship oriented. First and foremost in the Latina
adolescents life was their relationship with their mother and family. Through
these relationships, mothers played prominent roles in socializing their daughters
by teaching and rewarding cultural conventions of womanhood and femininity.
The girls stories told how their familys cultural values were contradictory to
whom they aspired to be in the dominant culture. In the process of working to
maintain relationships with their families, the girls had to make choices about
their behaviors and actions regarding these cultural conventions. By the ninth
and tenth grades, the girls had either decided to comply with the cultural values
of home or they had found ways to accommodate their resistance while
maintaining their relationships with their mothers. In either situation, the girls
emphasized the relationships with their families despite the adversities in dealing
with cultural conventions at home which contradicted with those of dominant
Adaptive Strategies to Cross Borders
Between Social Worlds
Mexican adolescents living in the United States must develop adaptive
strategies which allow them to cross borders between their social worlds of home
and ethnic group with those of the dominant culture. As indicated by the
previous discussion on maintenance of family relationships, it was evident that
socialization of adolescent girls at home was aimed at developing competencies
to function successfully within their family and cultural groups. Nevertheless,
the girls had to develop their own adaptive strategies in order to accommodate
the cultural conventions at home with those of the larger community. In fact,
the girls developed varied and complex adaptive strategies which facilitated the
border crossings from their social worlds to those of the dominant culture. These
adaptive strategies have been documented in several research studies (Bernal,
Knight, Ocampo, Garza & Cota, 1990; Matute-Bianchi, 1991; Phelan et al.,
Phelan et al. (1998) were particularly concerned with the adolescents
perceptions of the borders between their social worlds and the adaptive
strategies they developed in order to move from one world to another. This
ethnographic study took place in two urban high schools and involved 16
adolescents. The students represented a diverse ethnic background. Over the
course of three years, the researchers conducted four in-depth interviews, spent
80 days observing the students in their schools and collected artifacts and
demographic data. This case study approach provided the reader with a direct
approach to the adolescents social reality.
Phelan and her colleagues found that all students who were challenged
with different social worlds at home and school developed complex adaptive
strategies to deal with the border crossing between their social worlds. For some
of the students, these border crossings were difficult, while for others they were
manageable. Still, there were others who resisted the border crossings between
their social worlds and that of school. For all of these students, these border
crossings became salient sites of struggle.
Students who were able to manage the transitions between their social
worlds used an adaptive strategy in which they blended the behavioral and
linguistic aspects of their home culture with pro-school behaviors that supported
high academic achievement. One such adaptive strategy involved making
conscious choices about when to speak out concerning social unfairness or racism
and when to be silent. A second adaptive strategy used was to maintain their
Spanish fluency and to stay closely connected to their Mexican peers and family.
Ethnic peers were more apt to overlook their success in the school social world if
they maintained strong relationships with their home culture. A third adaptive
strategy was to keep their academic identity contained within the school. It was
not unusual for these students to put little energy into building relationships
with their peers of middle class status at school. Instead, they focused on
maintaining close relationships with their families and ethnic peers within their
neighborhoods. These were three adaptive strategies common among students
who were able to manage the transitions between their social worlds.
Another group of students had difficulty managing the transitions
between their social worlds. Maintaining their familial and academic identities
simultaneously was not as easy. The adaptive strategy that many of these
students used was to draw clear lines of separation between their social worlds of
home and school. By keeping school clearly separate, they were potentially able
to demonstrate competence within their home and peer culture without it being
affected by how they were doing in school. A second adaptive strategy employed
by some of these students was to accept under-challenging class loads. Easier
classes allowed them to spend minimal time studying and doing homework,
protecting the delicate balance important to maintaining their relationships and
responsibilities at home.
Still another group of students resisted transitions between home and
school. For a variety of internal and external reasons, these students found the
borders between school and home impassable. Many were largely unsuccessful in
school. One adaptive strategy these students used to deal with their lack of
success in school was to ascribe to behaviors which were antithetical to those of
the students of the dominant culture. One example of such a technique was
Sonia who ascribed to and over-emphasized a crazy and risk-taking identity.
This crazy persona disguised her real desire to do well in school.
In summary, all students of Mexican origin must develop and employ
adaptive strategies to transition among their social worlds. These adaptive
strategies can serve to protect ones personal integrity, to maintain valuable
family relationships, to get around being teased about educational achievements
or even to disguise ones lack of success in school.
Making Sense of Social Injustices and Oppression
Recognizing and making sense of social injustices and oppression was a
fundamental part of social identity development for adolescents of ethnic
minority status (Pastor, McCormick & Fine, 1996; Soto, 1997; Phinney,
Ferguson, Tate, 1997).
Pastor et al. (1996) were particularly interested in how adolescent girls of
ethnic minority status made sense of the social injustices within the larger
community. The participants of the study were three middle school and two high
school girls. The students represented a diverse ethnic background, including
Latina and African ethnicity. The researchers collected data through narratives
from group discussions and ethnographic observations of the students within
their schools. The study was conducted over the course of two years. A primary
mode of engaging the girls in dialogue was through focus group interviews in
which the researchers used newspaper articles, videotapes and essays in order to
One result of the study was that the adolescent girls in the study could not
simply pursue their own identities of independence or autonomy without the
issues of the challenges of racism, sexism and classism profoundly interfering (p.
15). The girls had to confront sexism within their homes from domineering
brothers and on the streets as they were harassed by men. They confronted
racism in the stereotypical images of the media. They were faced with classism
when metal detectors were set up in the entryways to their schools. It was
evident from these stories that they were not able to explore their identities
without dealing with issues of social injustices and oppression.
A second result of the study was that the girls developed a critical
consciousness by dealing with these social challenges. This critical consciousness
was an important adaptive strategy. They became increasingly aware of
individual and group needs. They used this awareness to access resources and
help others as well. This critical consciousness gave them a way of dealing with
the unfairness and the inequities. They could better understand why others
acted the way they did.
A third result of the study was that this critical consciousness helped the
girls to know that there was much that is wrong with the world (p. 16). They
were better prepared to assert themselves within a world that was not designed
to protect them. Rather than going underground and burying their needs and
aspirations, a critical consciousness guided the girls in overcoming the border
challenges which the dominant society had placed on them. Phinney (1992)
referred to this level of awareness as ethnic identity achievement. She stated
that adolescents who had developed a critical consciousness about the social
issues that awaited them were better prepared for living in a diverse society and
they were better able to deal with racism without internalizing the negative
perceptions others had of them.
A fourth result was that the girls developed a social individuality in the
way they dealt with racism, classism and sexism. They did not seek out
collective action. Rather, they found their own unique spaces for resistance. For
some girls, it was through writing. For others it was a career aspiration in which
they would be able to confront racist behavior. Yet, for some it was finding
spaces of resistance which often reinforced the very oppressive cultures that they
Making sense of the social injustices and unfairnesses was an important
part of these girls ability to develop a critical consciousness. The girls tendency
to develop a social individuality in dealing with these difficult social issues
supported their ability to maintain their family relationships while quietly
seeking resistance in the larger community.
Academic Identity and Engagement in School
Academic identity and engagement in school for adolescent students of
ethnic minority status were best understood relative to the circumstances both
in and out of school. These circumstances which affected academics included
both the teachers and the students perceptions of the adult roles appropriate
for their social group within the larger community. Another impacting factor
was their perception of how ethnic minority adults were differentially rewarded
for educational attainment within the larger community. The patterns of
inter-group interaction and the tensions that existed at the borders between
social groups was another circumstance that had bearing on how students and
teachers acted in school.
To examine how these circumstances affect academic identity and
engagement, Rotheram-Borus et al. (1996) conducted a qualitative study of two
high schools within the same attendance area. A total of 453 girls and 326 boys
participated in the study. The girls ethnicity included African American (31%),
Latino (26%) and White (42%). Data collection tools included responses to
videotaped scenes, questionnaire assessments and interviews. The socioeconomic
and ethnic diversity of the students were similar in the two schools, yet there
were important differences in the size, staffing patterns, upkeep and
attractiveness of the physical plant and ethnic tensions.
An important finding of the study was that schools had a significant
impact on how students mediated the circumstances of the larger community. In
School One, the students were able to deconstruct and reconstruct new identities
which were not confined by the borders and limitations in the larger community.
However, students at School One had two important advantages: (1) Then-
school was smaller and more group oriented, and (2) They had teachers who
listened to the students and created a safe place where the students could risk
new patterns of cross-cultural interactions that were different from the way
people worked together in their community. Through these interactions, the
diverse school body learned to work through their own biases which reinforced
social unfairness and social hegemony. At this school, students tended to explore
new identity options which transcended the conventional borders observed in the
larger community. They reported higher aspirations to go to college.
On the other hand, students at School Two were restricted to the socially
constructed roles and behaviors that were observed in the larger community.
School Two was much larger. Teachers were described as bitter about the lack
of engagement among the students and burnt out. Students formed cliques
and groups which reflected the social roles in the larger community. High levels
of inter-ethnic tension were consistently reported by students. There were no
students at School Two who talked about going to college, rather their
vocational plans reflected the limited alternatives available within their
Girls in both schools reported, more than boys, being more inclined toward
traditional values and roles. They were even more vulnerable to the limited roles
they observed in the community. This is illustrated in the decision of many of
the girls to become beauticians. Even more important than their career and
work aspirations, girls in both schools mostly wanted to be mothers and wives.
This study demonstrated that schools were extremely influential in the
socialization process of students. However, girls who reported being more
traditionally value-oriented were profoundly influenced by the roles appropriated
for them in the larger community.
The way that students and teachers reconstructed the social groups and
roles that were found in the larger community was even more powerfully
portrayed in the study of Field High (Matute-Bianchi, 1991). Matute-Bianchi
drew her research from a longitudinal field study in an ethnically diverse high
school. She used participatory ethnography and interviews to explore the
connection between societal factors and the way students behave and act in
Students who occupied a subordinate status in the school and the larger
community used ethnicity as an explicit strategy in the way they interacted with
others. For example, Japanese-American students at Field High did not organize
themselves based on ethnicity. The larger community did not perceive the ethnic
role of Japanese as being antithetical to being a good student. In this school,
being Japanese-American meant that people think you are a good strident.
On the contrary, the status of students of Mexican descent was historically
characterized by oppression and subordination. Negative stereotypes invaded the
larger communitys perception of what it meant to be of Mexican descent.
Consequently, the students of Mexican descent in school organized their
identities around ethnicity. Ethnic identities such as Mexicano or Chicano
became social descriptors which defined whether they participated in the school
to achieve academic success or whether they resisted education. Students who
assumed the identity of Mexicano and Mexican-American were more recent
arrivals to the country, thus they were not as affected by the socio-historical
circumstances. To be identified as Mexicano or Mexican-American allowed
students to develop successful academic identities. On the other hand, Chicano
and Cholo social groups were more impacted by the ongoing struggles of their
gente. They identified themselves as being antithetical to the Mexicano or
Mexican-American identity and they resisted schooling as a dominant group
institution. It was nearly impossible at this school for a student to maintain a
Chicano or Cholo identity while also being academically successful.
Another result of Matute-Bianchis study was that the way these students
behaved in school reflected their anticipation of what their future adult roles
would be. The Mexican descent students who were successful in school still
believed that what they did in high school would help them get a better paying
job in the future. Most of these students were born in Mexico and received their
early education there as well. They believed that getting an education would
take them beyond the labor jobs their parents were limited to because of
linguistic and educational borders. The students of Mexican descent who were
successful behaved in ways that helped them to be successful in school. They
maintained good attendance, completed their homework, approached teachers
for assistance and worked to get along well with their teachers.
Unsuccessful students of Mexican descent were impacted by the
socio-historical circumstances in their community. They had considerably more
negative observations of the roles adults had in their community. They did not
talk with their parents about their career goals nor their education.
Consequently, they were ambivalent about their schooling and their future.
When asked to explain why so many adults of Mexican-descent were
unsuccessful in their community, they typified responses of ethnic minority
groups who had internalized the negative stereotypes. They resolved that people
were unsuccessful because they were lazy, had dropped out of school, worked in
the fields, partied and did drugs. In school, the Chicano and Cholo students
behaved in ways that reflected the exclusion and subordination they observed
and experienced in the larger community. They sat in the back of the class, did
not do homework, took the easiest classes just to get by, hung out in remote
areas and did not participate in the class.
These four tenets depict what the process of developing a social identity
must be like for adolescent girls of ethnic minority status. There were several
important limitations in this literature review. One limitation was the scant
amount of qualitative research of adolescent girls of Mexican origin. Mexican
immigrants share a different socio-historical background than other Latinos. For
example, the cultural introduction has involved historical struggles of
subordination and oppression of the Mexican people. One site of struggle was
the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which huge
amounts land was taken away from Mexicans who had settled much of the
Southwest. Since then, those who continued to reside in the United States
achieved a subordinate, or a conquered, status. In addition, ongoing conflicts
have resided at the international border between Mexico and the United States
in which, entry into this country has long established the superiority of those
who were citizens of the United States.
A second limitation was that many of the studies focused on high-school
aged adolescents. There has been little research done involving middle-school
adolescents of ethnic minority status.
The purpose of the present study was to better understand social identity
development of adolescent girls of Mexican origin. Five areas of focus were:
how she organizes and perceives her different social worlds,
which borders become important sites of negotiation and
decision-making in developing a social identity',
what adaptive strategies she uses to cross borders between her social
worlds and that of school and the larger community,
what role relationships play in adolescent social identity development,
how the combined effects of the relative circumstances affect her
The site selected for the inquiry into the social identity development of
adolescent girls of Mexican-origin was Star Middle School. Star Middle School
offered an ethnically diverse setting with over one-third of the population
consisting of students of Mexican-origin. This middle school had already
implemented some important schooling practices to promote academic success
for students of ethnic minority status. First, a dual immersion bilingual program
provided students with grade level academic instruction in both English and
Spanish to promote optimal academic progress and second language
development. Second, teachers facilitated cross-ethnic cooperative learning
opportunities which provided meaningful interaction between students of ethnic
minority status and students of dominant group status. Third, a community
liaison, who was of Mexican origin, actively involved families in an educational
and supportive network of Spanish-speaking parents.
Nevertheless, the girls in this middle level bilingual program still faced
significant difficulties developing adaptive strategies to manage or resist
transitions between their social worlds. It was not uncommon to hear teachers
expressing frustration about girls who began having difficulty staying
academically engaged dining their seventh-grade year. If academic success was
to be measured by graduation rates, the girls of Mexican origin were trailing far
behind their dominant-group peers. During the 1999-2000 school year, no former
female students of the dual immersion bilingual program were presented with a
high school diploma.
Six girls of Mexican-origin were selected in the Spring of their sixth-grade
school year. The sixth grade bilingual teachers assisted me in creating a fist of
all the girls who qualified. These qualifications included: 1) being of Mexican
origin, 2) parents had immigrated to the United States from Mexico within three
years prior to or following their birth, and 3) parents were of working class
status. Six girls were randomly selected from the list of those who qualified. The
participation of these initial six girls was confirmed based on both parent and
student approval and written permission. None of the initially selected students
or their parents refused participation in the study.
The six girls were involved in the study for one full year beginning in the
spring of their sixth grade school year through the spring of their seventh-grade
school year. The data collection consisted primarily of ethnographic interviews.
Student, teacher and friendship group interviews all took place at school. Parent
interviews took place within their homes.
The most important struggle of the adolescent girls, identified in the
literature review, was to build a meaningful relationship with others. Therefore,
it was through entering into a relationship with the adolescent girls that I gained
their trust to learn what their experiences were like. As the researcher, my
unique experiences and connection with the Mexican families facilitated my
success in building trusting relationships -with the girls and their families. My
own agrarian and rural background made it easier for me to understand what
their lifestyle was like in Mexico. I also enjoyed the support of an extended
family as I was growing up and I knew how it had been difficult for me to adjust
to an urban setting. Also, through the dual immersion bilingual program, all of
the families knew my sons, who have proudly maintained their linguistic and
ethnic identity with their fathers family in Mexico. In addition, I am a fluent
speaker of Spanish, thanks to my Mends, who insisted that I not only pronounce
the words correctly, but also that I learn the cultural nuances of speaking
Spanish. Finally, as a former teacher of several participating girls siblings and a
presenter for parenting workshops, I was a familiar person to the parents and the
girls. By visiting the families in their homes and by developing a mentor
relationship with the girls, I was able to establish a role that was different than
my role with the families as a teacher.
The second most important role as a researcher was to listen. To focus on
listening, I worked to understand their story rather than looking for
confirmation of my own assumptions. To help maintain an openness towards
their life experiences, I periodically reflected on the process and reevaluated my
biases, assumptions and expectations. I also left two interviews unstructured
dining the year in which I introduced the dialogue with, So, hows it going? I
found these interviews to be incredibly effective. In the semi-structured
interviews, the girls were polite in letting me go through the list of questions
that I had laid on the table in front of me. They gave polite answers to my
questions. When I had finished what I needed to do, then they told me what
was really going on in their lives. In fact, I was somewhat surprised at the way
the girls and parents welcomed the opportunity to talk about their lives.
Finally, the third role of the researcher was to carefully summarize and
reflect the actual experiences of the girls as individuals. In doing this, I focused
on how the girls told their stories, how they spoke about themselves, and then
worked to identify themes across the stories. I worked to condense the stories of
social identity development in a way that captured the complexity of their lives
by constantly looking for the interrelatedness of each girls social worlds, how
their behaviors served as adaptive strategies to cross borders, the nature of their
relationships and how the unique socio-historical and personality traits
contributed to their actions and thoughts.
The girls told their stories through the process of individual ethnographic
interviews. Additional interviews in which the girls interacted within their
multiple social worlds contributed to a wide-lens perspective or triangulation.
These multiple data sources and viewpoints corroborated the primary data
source or enriched the girls stories with accumulative perspectives that
contributed to the girls assertions about their constructed reality.
My role as a participant in the girls social world of school, peers and
family was most like that of a mentor. I became a part of the girls worlds as
someone who was interested in their lives and in what it was like for them
growing up. I asked the girls questions that helped them think about their social
identity development in their different social worlds. I attended special
activities. I observed the girls several times throughout the year. I took them on
two Saturday exclusions.
Data Collection Strategies
The primary sources of data collection included a) ethnographic interviews
with the individual girls, b) parents, c) teachers, d) friendship groups, as well as
e) observations and f) collection of artifacts. All of the interviews were
audio-taped and conducted in the girls preferred language. All of the girls and
their parents chose to speak in Spanish, except for Anakari who chose English.
The interviews were transcribed for analysis.
Ethnographic interviews with the individual girls included a Grand Tour
interview in which I asked them questions about their identity, social worlds,
goals, values, friends and family (see Appendix A for the Grand Tour Student
Interview). In two of the follow-up interviews, I asked different questions for
each girl depending on the areas that needed to be clarified or explored further.
In two other follow-up interviews, I opened the dialogue with the question, So,
hows it going? This allowed the girls to choose what they wanted to talk
about. This was a modification to the original design of semi-structuring every
interview. I made this change because I felt the girls were more expressive about
their fives when they had a chance to tell me what the most important things in
their fives were at that time. It also empowered the girls to have more control in
the interview process. Interviews took place with the girls approximately every
The ethnographic interviews with parents took place three times
throughout the research timeline. Initially, the parents participated in the
Grand Tour interview at the beginning of the study. (See Appendix B for the
parent interview.) The two follow-up interviews consisted of an inquiry of
relevant topics that arose from the initial interview or the student interviews.
Parents had a similar response to the girls in that they answered my pre-set
questions politely. When I was through, they told me what they really wanted
to talk about.
For each student, I interviewed three teachers: one English Content
teacher, one Spanish Language Arts teacher and one Math teacher. Teachers
were interviewed at the initial stage of the research in the spring of the sixth
grade, then again after the beginning of second semester of the seventh-grade
year and at the end of the seventh-grade year. The interview consisted of one
general question: Tell me about (student) and how things are going for her in
your class and in school. Probing questions about friends, attitudes, behavior,
effort and progress were asked when the topics did not come up on their own.
The purpose of the teacher interview was to contribute to a better
understanding of the girls social identity development. It was not a focus of the
present study to analyze pedagogical practices with ethnic minority students.
Friendship Group Interviews
The Friendship Group Interviews took place towards the end of the
sixth-grade year, and again in the middle of the seventh-grade school year. Each
girl invited two to three friends to the friendship interview (with parent
permission). This interview included open-ended questions that initiated
discussions about how the groups perceived borders between school, peers,
family and community, (see Appendix C for Friendship Group Interview) My
role was to facilitate the discussion and encourage the girls to talk more about
topics that came up and that were relevant to the study.
Another source of data was observation. An initial meeting with the girls
was held to talk about the research project and to decorate their artifact boxes.
I also observed each girl at least once during the sixth grade and at least three
times in the seventh grade. Besides classrooms, observations included lockers,
hallways, cafeteria, homework help and recess. I also attended some special
activities including a class play, an awards assembly, a quinceanera, a Frisbee
golf youth activity, a service learning project at the Humane Society, a yearbook
signing, and several classroom presentations. In addition, I took the girls on two
Saturday excursions. One Saturday, we went downtown to lunch, the art
museum and for ice cream. Another Saturday towards the end of the year, we
went ice skating, to lunch and to play on a farm. Field notes were recorded in
the form of a contact summary. (See Appendix E).
Another source of data collection was the artifacts. Each girl received a
special box in which any notes, report cards, letters from school, awards, etc.
could be saved. The girls let me take the boxes home and then they were
returned. In addition, I collected the following information: 1) photographs to
reflect changes in dress, hah* style, makeup; 2) writing samples in both languages
and; 3) photographs of their lockers and posters, artwork, and cultural symbols.
Contact Summary Form
A contact summary form was completed after each field contact. I
recorded my reactions, any special outcomes, themes, issues and questions that
arose as a result of the contact. The contact summary sheet helped to structure
my ongoing data analysis through a reflection of important points to consider
after each field contact. (See Appendix E for Contact Summary Form)
Document Summary Form
The document summary form was used to label the document and identify
the relevance of the document to the study. (See Appendix F for the Document
The many stories and events that took place or were retold that were
representative of the studys purpose were recorded in the form of a vignette.
These vignettes contributed to the ongoing data analysis or even led me at times
to investigate the story more in a later interview.
The following chart describes the time frame of the study and the schedule
used for data collection:
May 1999 Oct 1999 Jan 1999 Mar 2000 May 2000
Student Friend Group Teacher Parent Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview Interview
Consent in writing for participation in the study was secured from each
student, teacher and family. I obtained student and family consent by visiting
the families in their homes, conversing with them about the project and the
procedures to be used. All communication with the parents was in Spanish. All
of those who were interviewed were made aware of the audio-taping of the
interviews prior to the first session. Confidentiality of the students, families, and
teachers was respected by using fictional names in any discussions of this
research. Additional girls invited to the friendship group interviews also had
parental permission to participate.
Inductive Data Analysis
The goal of the inductive analysis of the data was to present a life in
progress in an effort to preserve the context of each persons words and their
experiences. In the analysis and in this report, emphasis was given to the
meaning that the girls assigned to the events and interactions in their daily fives
and the changes that occurred over time. The five steps of this analysis were as
described in the following paragraphs.
Reading the Transcripts
I used the The Listening Guide outlined by Brown &: Gilfigan (as cited
in Taylor, 1996) to carefully and strategically listen to the multiple layers of
perspectives and voice in the stories. This approach to reading the transcripts
guided my analysis in working to uncover the themes in the girls stories. A
series of four readings focused on: 1) listening to what the girls were talking
about and how these topics changed during the year, 2) listening to the feelings
and relationships in the girls stories and how this affect changed over the year,
3) listening for evidence of a theme, and 4) listening carefully for when the
theme was revised, dropped away or was absent. These first two readings were
the initial steps of the analysis, the final two readings took place after a theme
had been identified.
While I read the transcript for the first two readings, I jotted notes in the
margin about what was going on in the girls life, what affect was expressed, the
relationships she emphasized, what inconsistencies or patterns I saw and how my
reactions may have changed what the interviewee said. From these readings and
notations, I identified themes for each girl from her multiple informants
including individual interviews, friendship group interviews, parent interviews,
teacher interviews, observations and artifact collection.
Next, I identified themes that were common among the stories of all of the
girls. All of these themes (31) were written on pieces of papers and then sorted
to find organizing themes. The themes fit into 6 organizers. Then I proceeded
with the last two readings of the listening guide in which I read all of the
transcripts twice more in order to find evidence of the themes for each individual
girl. Actual quotes which supported the themes were written down.
Conceptually Clustered Matrices
I used conceptually clustered matrices (Miles &: Huberman, 1994) to
organize the large amounts of data, to determine the patterns and consistency of
the themes, and to present a visual display of the data. The data was organized
on a large poster board with a matrix for each organizing theme. Across the top
of the board were the names of each participating girl. Along the left hand side
of the poster board were the themes which fit into the organizing theme. The
evidence for each theme was recorded using authentic quotes which were copied
down, coded with dates and data source. These were fit into the matrix for a
visual display of the pattern of each theme across the six girls. If the theme
proved to not be consistent across the six girls, it was ehminated from the
analysis. Ten themes out of 31 were taken out of the analysis. (See Appendix G
for eliminated themes).:w
Conclusion drawing and verification was my way to give meaning to the
data by highlighting the nature of the process of social identity development for
these girls and their families. The conceptually clustered matrices guided the
process in which patterns of the themes were analyzed and verified across all six
girls. In some cases, the quotes demonstrated similarities within a theme, while
in others the girls described very different experiences within one theme.
Limitations of the Design
There were several limitations in the design that were kept in mind
throughout the data collection and analysis process. First, as Vygotsky
explained in his theory of thought and language development, I constantly
reminded myself that the interview process never fully captured the authentic
process of development. External dialogue was only part of the adolescents
complete array of complex ideas encoded in both verbal and nonverbal forms. In
addition, the process of expressing her thoughts required the adolescent to think
in new ways about growing up. The inclusion of multiple informants helped to
further the understanding of the young persons development of a social identity.
A second limitation was that the girls and their families did not respond
objectively about their experiences, nor was I, as the researcher, completely
objective in my relationship with the adolescents. The adolescent girls and their
families had the power of deciding which stories they told. The fact that I was a
school-related figure reduced the neutrality of the relationship. I also had the
power to decide what the questions were which inferred a sense of authority with
the storytellers no matter howr relaxed and convenient I attempted to make it.
Both of these limitations were evaluated and re-evaluated during the
course of the year and during the analysis. While there were limitations to
capturing the authenticity of the experiences, there was significant value in what
adolescents and their families chose to talk about and what topics they chose to
either engage in or to resist talking about.
FINDINGS OF THE STUDY
In this chapter, I will introduce the six girls who participated in this
research project. I will then portray the adolescent girls stories through a
presentation of the organizing themes and topics which came up for each theme.
The six girls who participated in the study were all sixth graders when I
invited them to take part in the study. They were all promoted to the seventh
grade for the school year of 1999-2000. All of the girls attended Star Middle
School and were in the dual-immersion bilingual program. Brief introductions of
the girls will follow. Note that all the girls names and other names of people
and places have been changed.
Abigails family immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she
was three years old. Abigail was the oldest of three children. Her father worked
in construction and her mother made tamales and burritos at home to sell.
Abigails mother and father were both involved in the interviews, as they were
both involved in the parenting. Abigail was successful in school. In seventh
grade, she won the annual award for Outstanding Bilingual Student. she also
won the award for English Literature. Even though Abigails parents had not
attended any parent-teacher conference in sixth or seventh grade, they were
aware of how she was doing in school through the graded work she brought home.
Claudias parents immigrated to the United States less than a month
before she was bom. Claudia was an only child. Claudia and her parents
traveled to Mexico at least once a year. In Mexico, Claudias father worked in a
mine and her mother was a nurse. In Colorado, her father worked for a waste
disposal company and her mother worked cleaning at a university. Both of
Claudias parents were involved with the school and her mother and father both
took part in the interviews. Claudia struggled in school with probable learning
difficulties. Even though her parents had been requesting an evaluation since the
fourth grade, there had not yet been an evaluation conducted as of the end of
the seventh grade. Claudias parents visited the school often to keep updated on
Klaris family immigrated to Colorado, to join then father who was
already working here, when she was two years old. She had five brothers and
sisters. Klaris family traveled to Mexico about once a year to visit family in
Guadalajara and Durango. In Colorado, Klaris mother sold tamales and her
father worked in maintenance. Only Klaris mother was interviewed. Klari did
well in school. She most often felt that she was under-challenged in her classes
and that the learning was too repetitive. However, she did not advocate for class
changes. Klari was interested in playing basketball at Star Middle School, but
she quit after several days because of transportation difficulties.
Anakaris family had lived in Colorado since she was three years old. Her
family was from Juarez, Mexico. Anakari lived with her older sister, younger
stepbrother, her mother and her stepfather. Anakaris mother worked cleaning
houses and doing home health care. Anakaris stepfather had minimal
involvement in her parenting and did not take part in the interviews. Anakari
failed both the sixth and seventh grades. She attended summer school in order
to be passed on to the eighth grade. Her teachers described her as being
pleasant in class, but never bringing in any homework. Anakaris mother had
several meetings with the teachers to discuss her academic failure. Anakari was
involved in many community activities with her friends. She was the only girl in
the study to have friends who were of dominant group status.
Reinas parents immigrated to the United States two years before Reina
was bom. Reina was the youngest of five siblings. Her father died of cancer
during her sixth grade school year. Her mother worked cleaning hotels. Only
Reinas mother was interviewed. Reina failed both sixth and seventh grade. She
demonstrated spurts of energy where she attempted to get her work done, but it
quickly faded away. Reina was described as oppositional in her English classes,
whereas her Spanish teachers found her to be very cooperative. Reinas mother
only came to school when required to do so, related to behavior incidents,
several times during the school year.
Estrella immigrated to the United States with her mother when she was
three years old. Her family first lived in Texas before moving to Colorado.
Estrella was an only child. Her mother was a secretary in Mexico. Here, her
mother worked in a restaurant and her stepfather was a janitor in the school.
Her stepfather was involved in two of the parent interviews and her mother was
involved in all of the interviews. Estrella was a good student. Her parents made
frequent contacts with her teachers to monitor her progress. Estrella often
reported having difficulty focusing and remembering information because of her
worries about family problems.
The six organizing themes which were common across all of the stories told
by the six girls were:
maintaining relationships with family,
struggling to maintain satisfying peer relationships,
caring about school and grades,
reconstructing new social identities, and
and making sense of social injustices and unfair treatment in schools and
in the community.
Each of these organizing themes were inspired by the common themes in
the stories the girls told about what it was like growing up as a Mexican
adolescent living in the United States. In an attempt to most accurately portray
what the social identity process was like and to capture the fullest animation of
the participants voices, I decided to include their actual quotes in Spanish as
the translations lost too much of their real voice. In addition, I described
Anakari, Reina and Estrellas stories because their lives told some unique stories
which were not captured in the themes.
Maintaining Relationships with Family
Maintaining relationships with family was the most prevalent theme in the
social identity work of these six girls. All of the girls worked to develop and
maintain strong relationships at home. These strong relationships were defined
by the girls and their families as:
growing more emotionally dependent on their mothers,
maintaining a cultural identity,
contributing to a feeling of collectivity in their families,
preparing for traditional female roles, and
struggling with distress related to family issues.
Reinas story extends these relational themes into her unique story about
her family. Each of these topics will be discussed in depth in the following
Growing More Emotionally Dependent
on Their Mothers
Five of the six girls in this study spoke about their mothers with a special
affection and attachment. They recognized their mothers as being the primary
person they relied on when they had a problem. They expressed their concern
for how their mother was affected by their actions and behavior. They spent
time with their mother telling her about what was going on at school and with
Over the course of the year, the girls all reported growing more
emotionally dependent on their mothers as they faced challenges related to
growing up. One example of the girls increased attachment to their mother was
in Estrellas response to the important changes she had noticed in herself. She
problemas.>> [At home I talk more with my mother about what happens to me
and about my problems.]
Abigails mother described her conversations with her daughter which were
similar to what other mothers said as well.
Yo me siento muy contenta con ella tambien porque yo siento y la veo
que me tiene confianza. Me platica asi. Yo me pongo a platicar con ella y
ella me platica. Trato de aconsejarle lo mejor que puedo. Me siento bien con
ella porque ella me platica de cosas de la escuela, de ella. Ahora como esta
creciendo, ya es sehorita y trato de explicarle antes. [I am happy with her
also because I feel and I see that she has confidence in me. She talks to me
like that. I sit and talk with her and she talks to me. I try to give her advice
the best that I can. I feel good about it because she talks to me about things at
school and about herself. Now that she is growing, shes a young lady now, I
try to explain things to her beforehand.]
The girls expressed a concern for how their mothers were affected by their
behavior and actions. Losing their mothers confidence was the worst
consequence for them when they had made a bad choice. All of the girls talked
about how they often made decisions to stay out of trouble so as not to upset
their mother. For example, several girls chose not to get into a fight at school,
all of the girls struggled to keep their grades up for their mothers, and most of
the girls told boys they could not be their girlfriends because their mother would
not approve. Estrella had to confront the reality of losing her mothers
confidence when she ditched school for a day:
Es lo que mas me afecto porque a veces digo si yo no hubiera hecho eso,
mi mama todavia siguiera teniendome confianza. Que sepa que puedo tomar
decisiones. Ahora no es lo mismo. Ella dice que quiere tenerme confianza
pero que yo se lo demuestre, que ella este segura de mi. [Thats what affected
me the most because sometimes I think about that if I hadnt done what I did
then my mom would still have confidence in me. She would know that I can
make responsible decisions. Its not like that now. She says that she wants to
have confidence in me but that I have to show her so she can be sure of me.]
Fathers played a less important role in the lives of all four of the girls who
had fathers living in their home. All four girls expressed a preference in sharing
their problems with their mothers, rather than with their fathers. Klaris
statement best explained how the relationship between her mother and father
Pero con mi papa, no le digo mis problemas asi (como con mi mama)
porque pienso que no los entiende o yo no lo entiendo a el. Si le digo que
tengo novio nada mas me dice que esta mal. Pero si le digo a mi mama ella
dice que si pero no es nada mal, puedes salir embarazada. Y con mi papa
pienso que me va a reganar. [But with my father. I dont tell him my
problems like that (like with my mom) because I think he doesnt understand
them or I just dont understand him. If I were to tell him I have a boyfriend
then he only tells me that its wrong. But if I tell my mom. she wont tell me
that its wrong, just that I could get pregnant. And with my father, I think
hes just going to lecture me.]
Five of the six girls invested time and energy during the year to strengthen
their relationships with their mothers. The girls and their mothers took a
mutual pride in their relationship. Mothers gave their daughters advice about
growing up and solving problems. It was evident that this relationship with
their mother was an important buffer for staying out of trouble and sticking to
their plans for the future. Reinas story, at the end of this section, talks about
how her relationship with her mother was different than the other five girls.
Maintaining a Cultural Identity
An important way for all of the girls to assure their membership in the
family was by maintaining a strong cultural connection with their family. These
Mexican families collectively affirmed their cultural identity by maintaining their
language and close connections with family in Mexico. Spanish was the language
of parenting at home as well as a valued language of learning at school. All of
the parents reported that they chose to keep their daughters at Star Middle
School because of the value they placed in their children being proficient
speakers, readers and writers in Spanish. Spanish was an important skill in
maintaining their connection with family in Mexico as well.
In the trust-building stage of connecting with families, both the parents
and the girls questioned me about my cultural identity. Their questions
emphasized their values of maintaining their language and a connection to
Mexico. Their questions included: Do your boys speak Spanish? But do they
know how to read and write? Do you take them to Mexico? Are they in the
bilingual program? What language do you speak at home? Do they talk to you
only in English?
Four of the girls made trips to Mexico in the course of the year. Reina
described her Chicana identity as knowing both places <
lugares.>> [I know both places.] Claudia showed an ownership and a sense of
belonging when she talked about her home in Mexico through her expressions:
<> [But here in our town....]
Identifying an ethnic label was an important part of expressing their
cultural identity. Four of the girls chose the ethnic group label of Mexicana, one
Latina and one Chicana. The girls had already negotiated which ethnic group
label they should use when they were much younger. Both Claudia and her
mother remembered when she was exploring her ethnicity label before she even
Como ella decia que nacio aqui que era de aqui. ^Que tienes Claudia?
Eso no tiene nada que ver. Aunque te has sembrado de aqui eres de padres
mexicanos y no te olvides de tus raices. [Like she used to say since she was
bom here that she was from here. Whats wrong Claudia? That has nothing
to do with it. Just because you were bom here, your parents are Mexicans
and dont ever forget your roots.]
In the first interview, Claudia chose to identify herself as Latina and
explained <> [I
dont know how to describe it, but I just feel that I am Latina.] When asked
what the messages were that she received at home about being Latina, she
Mi mama siempre me ha inculcado las tradiciones de Mexico y siempre
me ha dicho que soy 100% Mexicana. [My mother has always taught me about
the Mexican traditions and she has always told me I am 100% Mexican.]
There were a variety of responses when the girls were asked to describe
some cultural symbols or what it meant for them to be Mexicana, Chicana or
Latina. Surprisingly, they all had to stop and think about their answer as if they
hadnt been asked before. Abigails father explained that they rarely talked as a
family about what it meant to be Mexican because <
como americanos aqui.>> [Thanks to God, we live like Americanos here.]
One of the girls described being Mexican as celebrating <
madres>> [Mothers Day]. Another girl identified <>
[Ranchera singers] as a cultural symbol. Still another felt that <
independencia de Mexico, el Cinco de Mayo, la flag>> [The language, Mexican
Independence Day, May 5th, the flag] represented her culture. Anakari said that
being Mexican was Our family living happy without needing anything like
Abigail was unable to travel to Mexico because of structural borders.
Without legal papers, traveling to Mexico was a risk that her parents chose not
to take. Despite not having been to Mexico since she was three years old,
Abigail had listened to hundreds of stories that her parents told her about what
life was like in her native land. Of all the girls, she was the one who most often
brought her cultural knowledge into the classroom. She added comments to the
class lessons to enrich the content or to involve her Spanish-speaking peers in
the class discussion. Her science teacher described this:
She loves to bring her culture into the classroom like no other student
Ive had. She had jicama (as her plant to study) and she brought some hot
chili sauce that she put on it. She was telling everyone, more than just
telling about jicama, Ohh, this is chili sauce and we use it on this and this.
It tastes good on this and telling the Spanish word for it...she likes to share
that stuff, sharing the vocabulary and tying it into her background.
Maintaining a cultural identity was an important part of affirming
relationships with their families. Important indicators of having a strong cultural
identity were: Spanish proficiency, maintaining close connections to family in
Mexico and being competent in the cultural knowledge about life in Mexico.
Contributing to a Feeling of Collectivity
in their Families
There was a feeling of collectivity among all of the families in the study.
This collectivity functioned as an interdependence among all of the members to
work together to ensure that the family had the resources and the support that it
needed. All members of the household were expected to contribute to this feeling
of collectivity from the time they were very young and throughout their life.
Each girl contributed to this feeling of collectivity by helping out at home.
Being the oldest, Abigail was expected to assume her mothers role in her
absence or illness. <
mi mama y mis hermanitos. Yo cuidaba a ellos.>> [Since I was the oldest, I had
to make food for my mother and my brother and sister. I took care of them.]
Abigail and Claudia both assumed their mothers role when their mothers
went to Mexico. Both girls got up early to prepare their fathers lunch before
school, they made breakfast, fixed meals, cleaned, washed and ironed clothes.
Anakari regularly assumed these household responsibilities because her mother
was busy cleaning houses for others.
All of the families helped each other out by sharing their homes with
extended family members from Mexico. The girls were often asked to share a
room, or give up their room, to relatives who needed some support or who had
recently arrived from Mexico. For five of the girls, sharing their home was just
the way it was. It was harder for Claudia when it meant not only sharing her
room, but her mother also. When she expressed her jealousy about her
sixteen-year-old cousin staying in her home, her mother explained:
Mira, ella necesita mucho apoyo. Mira, no tiene ni papa y en segundo
lugar es madre soltera, esta sola. Es para que oyes, si no esta con nosotros
donde se va a ir? [Look, she needs a lot of support. Notice that she doesnt
even have a father and secondly she is pregnant and alone. Hear this, if she
isnt with us, then where will she go?]
All of the girls contributed to a feeling of collectivity by serving as
translators for parents in the community. Sometimes the girls translated to help
order a pound of sliced cheese or to sort out a telephone bill. At other times, the
translating involved difficult adult situations such as a doctors appointment or a
session with a psychologist.
Cuando voy con el doctor, el doctor se queda muy extranado. Dice que
es un niaa muy inteligente. Para la edad que tiene esta muy madura y se
puede explicar. No me explico yo como puede explicar todo tan bien. La
llevo con el psicologo y todo y ella me explica. [When I went to the doctor,
the doctor was surprised. He said that she is a very intelligent girl. She is
very mature for her age to be able to explain so well. I cant understand how
she can explain everything so well. I even take her to the psychologist and
she explains everything.]
Yet another way that the girls felt a responsibility to the family unit was
through economic support. Klari and Reina both talked about giving their
mothers the money they earned by doing odd jobs. Reina felt her family was the
happiest with her when:
Iba.a trabajar con ellos. Con mi papi y mi mami. Y cuando les ayudo
cuando tienen que hacer cosas, como ayudarles limpiar. [I went to work with
them. With my father and my mother. And when l helped them do things like
helping them clean.]
Several times throughout the course of interviews, Reina explained that
Todos trabajan menos yo. [Everyone is working except me.J Work was
an important marker of success for her family as well as economically essential.
In describing what she would be doing in ten years, she replied:
Trabajando, que ayuda a mis hermanos, darles apoyo. [Working,
whatever helps my brothers, to give them support.]
For the other four girls in the study, there was less emphasis on working to
help support their family and more of an emphasis on contributing to the family
by first getting an education. Their commitment to education and career goals
will be discussed in an upcoming section.
Preparing for Traditional Female Roles
Even though, all of the families expressed a value in education and careers,
the girls were simultaneously involved in a preparation for traditional female
roles at home. The most striking example was observed in Klaris story. Klaris
mother expressed much sadness talking about Marisol, an older sister, who had
left home and quit school at the age of 14 to get married. I attempted to
reflect her sadness by saying that it was indeed upsetting that her daughter had
left home so young and decided to quit school. Contrarily, she felt that she had
not done an adequate job in preparing her daughter for learning how to care for
a husband and a house. She vowed to prepare Klari differently:
Ya la (Klari) quiero poner a trabajar (en casa) porque la Marisol yo la
tenia bien consentida. Me duele tanto. Ya salio de la escuela. Esta
trabajando. Se me hace muy duro cuando llego a su casa y ella tiene que
hacer trabajo en su casa que nunca la puse hacer. Yo le dije a Klari que yo
queria que ella lo hiciera. Yo tengo que ensenarla. Lo estoy haciendo por
ella, no por mi. Como Marisol, yo siempre decia pobrecita mija va a la
escuela y luego viene enfadada. Yo siempre tenia la casa limpia y ella no mas
comia y ya. Pero no. [Now I put Klari to work because I spoiled Marisol too
much. It hurts me so much. She :s left home now. She :s working. It is so
hard for me to go to her house and see her having to do work in her house
that I never had her do here. I told Klari that I wanted her to be able to do
it. I have to teach her. I am doing it for her. not for myself. Like Marisol. I
always said oh my poor daughter, she goes to school and comes home worn
out. I always had the house clean and she only ate and that was it. But no.]
Klari reported several times that she likes keeping the house clean. She
and her mother both joked about how she ran everybody out of the house so she
could do her cleaning. Interestingly, Klari became increasingly ambivalent about
her education and career goals during the course of the year (to be discussed in a
All of the girls were working to reconstruct an identity which successfully
crossed the borders of traditional female roles at home and roles valued by the
middle class social world of school and work. Abigail expressed this duality of
roles in her description of what she would be doing in ten years:
Trabajando en una carerra que escoja. Si despues de unos aiios tuviera
hijos, cuidaria a mis hijos, les daria mucho cariho. [Working the career that I
choose. And then after a few years, I would have children. I would take care
of my children and I would give them much love and affection.]
Abigails social identity development involved negotiating her personal
career goals with the family roles she so admired in her mother. Her mother
took much pride in her ability to stay at home and care for her children while
making tamales and burritos to help with the family income.
Pues si tengo que ayudar en algo. Es que no trabajo, nunca me
gustaba dejarlos a ellos (los ninos). Andar encargandolos, no me gusto. Yo
antes cuidaba ninos y ahora desde que me mude a ese trailer, ya tengo como
tres anus haciendo comida (para vender). [Well, I have to help in some way.
Its that I dont work, I have never liked leaving my children with others. To
be taking them other places, I dont like that. Before I took care of children.
But now since I moved to this trailer, I have been making food to sell for
Abigail had an important advantage. She had an aunt who was already
navigating these border crossings. One of the ways that her aunt had adapted to
the needs of both her home and school world was to live at home while she
attended classes at the university. This decision gave priority to her familys
preference to have her stay close to home, <
familia, que no se vaya lejos.>> [We want her to be close to home, not to go far
The girls talked with each other about the traditional roles they fulfilled at
home. During a lunch outing with the six girls in the study, they engaged in a
conversation about the cleaning they did at home. All of the girls shared in the
discussion that they valued having things picked up at home and were
commonly frustrated when siblings messed things up after they had cleaned.
These organizational skills were highlighted by a math teacher as important
qualities which would help them in school.
Thats the first thing I noticed about these girls (Estrella, Abigail and
Klari). They are very organized. To me it really spells success because they
are starting from a higher level in the playing field because of their
organization. They might not realize it but when the going gets tough, they
will at least be able to find their work. Its organized. It seems to be well
established in these girls.
Struggling with Distress Related to Family Issues
All of the girls in the present study experienced significant family stressors
during the school year. All of them had been witnesses or victims to family
trauma. These family stressors and trauma included a death in the family,
marital distress, domestic violence, incarcerated family members, abuse,
alcoholic parents, illness, and grieving parents. Some of the family stressors had
been short-term or isolated incidents while others were chronic sources of conflict
and disruption. These family stressors affected the girls ability to stay focused in
class. They also made it difficult for them to keep up on their homework because
of the extra duties they assumed at home while their mothers were grieving, ill
or away in Mexico. As a result, their grades cycled between the subidas y
bajadas>> [ups and downs] depending on the intensity of the family stressors.
Four of the six girls experienced a death in the family during the year. All
of these girls expressed intense grief and sadness over their losses. The grief was
intensified because of the distance that the families endured away from their
relatives in Mexico. One example of this was in Abigails description of a phone
call from her family in Mexico telling them about her grandmothers cancer that
had already progressed to a serious stage:
Hablaron a mi mama que mi abuelita tenia cancer, un tumor, que le
quitaron su matriz, y la operaron varias veces y esta muy mal. [They called
my mother and told her that my grandma had cancer, a tumor, that they took
out her uterus and shes had several operations.]
Like other families who had to deal with receiving difficult news on the
phone about their family members, they often were unable to travel to Mexico
to be with them. When they did go, it was often at the point of death.
All of the girls reported previous or ongoing marital distress at home.
Three of the families had experienced intense episodes of domestic violence
which included incarceration for one father. Chronic marital distress had the
most impact on the adolescents social identity development.
Si, es muy dificil, tambien es una vergiienza, es un sabado y un
domingo, yo estoy viendo la tele y ellos alia en su cuarto peleando. ... Aveces
me desespero. Oigo a mi mama y mi papa que estan peleando, a veces que
me reganan a mi y que me hacen llorar. A veces yo quisiera dejarles solos e
irme a un lado, irme a caminar, irme con una amiga, o algo, no me dejan. [It
is very difficult, its also embarrassing. Its Saturday and Sunday, and Im
just sitting watching tv. and they (parents) are in their room fighting.
...Sometimes I cant stand it anymore. I hear my mother and father fighting,
sometimes they get mad at me too and make me cry. Sometimes I want to
just leave and let them be alone, go somewhere, go walking or with a friend.
But they dont let me.]
There was one report of early childhood trauma. Even though Anakari
received therapy when she was younger, it was evident that there were
unresolved issues related to this trauma. Her mother reported:
Es que necesita sacar cosas que tiene adentro porque le paso ... en
Mexico, paso en familia. Entonces yo pienso que todavia siente eso adentro.
Y necesita terapista. [Its because she needs to get some things out that she
has left inside because something that happened to her in Mexico. It happened
within the family. So I think she still feels this inside. She needs a therapist.]
Three of the families were dealing with incarcerated family members.
Anakari, in particular, expressed anger about her uncle's decision to take off his
ankle bracelet and go to Mexico.
Yeah, now were in kind of a problem with my family, my uncle just
got out of jail a month ago. He had one of those things they put on your leg.
They were going to take it off yesterday, since they caught him driving and
he wasnt supposed to ... so they said they were just going to put that band
on him for longer, so he decided to rip it off and go to Mexico ... they (the
police) were like he made the wrong decision to run ... I was disappointed. I
felt like hitting him even though hes my uncle.
AJ1 of the families were currently grieving a significant loss: a death,
illness, incarceration, family members leaving the house or longed for relatives in
Mexico. Without an extended family support system of other adults to assume
the role of comforting during the grieving process, the girls themselves often
became the caretakers for their parents during these difficult times. Claudia
knew all too well what this role was like. Since she was very young, she had
cared for her mother as she grieved four miscarriages, the removal of her uterus
and as she recovered from recurrent episodes of domestic violence. When her
grandmother died in Mexico, she anticipated her mothers return with a deep
concern for her psychological well-being.
Estoy preocupada por mi mama porque tengo miedo que vaya a
enfermar. No mas va a estar pensando en eso (la muerte de su mama).
Luego luego le agarra los nervios ... luego empieza a gritar, donde se
desespera. [I am worried about my mother because I am afraid that she will
get sick. She will only be thinking about that (her mothers death). Then
right away she is going to get los nervios ... when she cant stand it
anymore shell start yelling.]
The girls struggles to cope with family stressors was a recurring topic of
discussion in every interview. Their taking part in these family struggles
contributed to a sense of belonging. Their assistance in comforting others and in
assuming new responsibilities validated that they were capable members of their
families. For five of the girls, chronic family stressors created unresolved grief
and distress which complicated their ability to concentrate in school and cope
with other decisions and problems in their lives. Reinas story illustrated how
her family situation impacted her social identity development.
Reinas development of relationships had been sharply interrupted by the
death of her father. Her father died of cancer at Christmas time during her sixth
grade year. They were very close and she had had little support in dealing with
- Como te sientes ahora? [How do you feel now?]
- Sola. [Lonely]
- Que haces cuando te sientes triste? [ So what do you do when you are
- Me encierro en mi cuarto. [I lock myself in my room.]
- Con quien hablas cuando te sientes triste? [Who do you talk to when
you are feeling sad?]
- Nadie. [Nobody.]
- No te gustaria hablar con alguien? [Would you like to talk to
- No me gusta porque cuando hablo con alguien me siento mas triste.
[I dont like to talk to anybody about it because it only makes me feel even
Reina rarely mentioned her mother during the first part of the year. There
was a disconcerting lack of communication between Reina and her mother.
When Reinas mother was asked to give examples of what she talked to Reina
about, she responded:
El que hablaba con ella era mi esposo. Yo casi no. Ella siempre estaba
con su papa. [The one who talked with her was my husband. I hardly ever
do. She was almost always with her father.]
Unlike the other girls who were well informed about what their mothers
did, Reina responded vaguely when asked if her mother was working:
Pues no se, siempre cuando llego a la casa, siempre esta alii. Yo creo
que si porque a veces en la noche no esta. No se, se me hace que si esta
trabajando. [Well, I dont know, whenever I get home she is always there. I
think she is because sometimes at night she isnt there. I dont know, it seems
to me like she must be working.]
Towards the end of the year, the doctors had found a tumor in her
mothers uterus. They were doing a biopsy to see if it was cancerous or not.
During that time, Reina began to change her relationship with her mother. She
declared to her peers during the friendship group interview that she was going to
graduate from high school for her mother. She also chose to stay out of a fight
at the end of the year to avoid causing her mother more problems:
Pues reaknente yo les dije que no queria pelear porque tengo problemas
en mi casa. Como ahorita esta mala mi mama y no queria daxle mas
problemas. [Well to be honest I told them I didnt want to fight because I had
problems at home. Like how my mother is sick and I didnt want to give her
There were other family stressors in Reinas life as well. She had two
brothers in jail during the year. She lived in a crowded household. Reina was
part of a neighborhood gang which one of her brothers had started. She also
described hanging out with a group of girls in Mexico who often got into fights.
Towards the end of the seventh grade, Reina began to talk to her mother
about how she was treated unfairly at school. Reina felt there were particular
teachers who picked her out of the group and hassled her about everything from
the kind of blouse she wore to the way she wrote the date on her paper. Her
mother became increasingly frustrated with this and had told Reina she did not
need to listen to these teachers. Her mother insisted that it would not do any
good to go to school and talk to the teachers. Previous attempts to resolve
issues of school had reaffirmed her belief that schools were racist institutions.
These factors disrupted Reinas academic progress. She failed the seventh
grade because of her resistance to school. Reina reported that she had had
enough support from her teachers, but she chose not to use it. She also chose
not to attend summer school. This potentially meant that Reina would be
retained in the seventh grade in the fall. By the end of the year, Reina stated:
Para que se quitan, voy a salir de la Mountainside High. No voy a ir a
la universidad o nada y voy a trabajar en Taco Bell. [Alright so they
(dominant society) can get what they want. I!m going to quit Mountainside
High I'm not going to go to the university or anywhere and I:m going to
work in Taco Bell.]
Struggling to Maintain Satisfying Peer Relationships
The second most prevalent theme in social identity development was in the
Mexican-American adolescent girls struggle to maintain satisying peer
relationships. This section focused on the friendships the girls developed and
how these relationships played an important role in their social identity'
development. All of the girls struggled with maintaining satisfying peer
relationships during the year. The sites for these struggles were:
subdividing the larger friendship group into smaller groups,
hanging out with friends,
making choices about friends,
and worrying about their friends5 safety and well-being.
Anakaris story also helped to illustrate how these themes of friendships are
intertwined with the girls personal history. Each of these topics will be
discussed in depth in the following sections.
Subdividing Larger Friendship Groups
into Smaller Groups
All of the girls talked about subdividing the larger friendship group into
smaller friendship groups. This process started towards the end of the sixth
grade and continued into the first half of the seventh. Claudia best described
Si, porque antes eramos como 20 que nos juntabamos. Nos separaban
en 5 grupos y si sale una nina, pues salian otras tres porque eran sus amigas.
Entonces salian estas tres y salia otra nina y decidian irse como cinco con
ella y despues nos anda nada mas como Yaneli y Estrella. Despues en vez de
un grupo grande, hay grupos chiquitos. [Yes because before there were about
20 of us all together. The whole group has been separated into 5 groups. If
one girl decides to leave the group, then another three will go with her
because they re friends. Then after those three left, another girl would decide
to leave and five girls would go with her. Finally there's only us like Yaneli
and Estrella. Instead of one big group, its a lot of little groups.]
The girls all agreed that the smaller groups were easier because there were
fewer problems to solve. Sometimes there was animosity between a girls old
friends and her friends in the new group. Other times it seemed that the groups
had flexible boundaries and girls could move easily among groups. While the
subdividing process was most intense at the beginning of seventh grade, the
groups were constantly changing throughout the year.
Hanging Out with Friends
The most important social time of the school day for hanging out with
friends was lunch-time. Students hurried to get their lunches so they could
spend most of their time talking. Sometimes a few girls were writing hastily to
get a homework assignment completed for an afternoon class. Even though they
could go outside for recess when they finished, most of the girls in this study
chose to stay inside and visit. Generally, there were trips back and forth to the
bathroom or the telephone.
Hallways were the next favorite gathering place for social conversations.
The changes in the friendship groups seemed to have an impact on this hallway
activity. Towards the beginning of the year, the girls were busy affirming
connections with each other during passing periods. This need tapered off
towards the end of the year when groups became somewhat more consistent.
The friendships that the girls worked so hard to maintain at school were
rarely extended into activities outside of school. The only time that these
friendships were maintained outside of school was when the girls lived within the
same neighborhood. Even in this case, there were only a few examples of
activities they did together.
Some of the girls had different friends in their neighborhood than they had
at school. Estrella developed a close friendship with a girl who lived in the
trailer next to hers. They began to go for walks together, go to the mall and to
play basketball. Klari had several friends in her neighborhood with whom she
did homework at <> played tag, went to Dairy Queen and went
to the mall.
Most of the time, family members such as mothers, cousins, siblings,
sister-in-laws or aunts fulfilled the need for friendship at home. One parent
Le dijimos que somos sus papas pero queremos ser sus amigos tambien
y que nos puede contar. Si tiene una amiguita en la escuela, 2 o 3 esta bien.
Pero sus mejores amigos estan en la casa para tratar de guiarla. [We tell her
that we are her parents but we want to be her friends also, so that she can
count on us. If she has a friend at school, even two or three, that's alright.
But, her best friends are in the house to be her guides.]
Making Choices about Friends
The girls were not only sorting out what was important to them in a
friend, but they were sorting out who they were in relation to others. They were
making important choices about which behaviors and values they were willing to
stand up for. They were learning about how others perceived them.
In sixth grade, Reina described her ideal good friend as:
Que me da consejos. Que no sea mala gente y no hace cosas que no
deben hacer. [Someone who gives me advice, is not a bad person and doesnt
do things they shouldnt do.]
Towards the end of the seventh grade, Reina had made a decision to
change friendship groups because she felt they didnt meet her standard of being
a good friend.
Son muy creidas y querian decirme que hiciera y dije pues no. [They
are stuck up and they wanted to tell me what to do and I told them no.]
Her decision wasnt without personal costs. Three of them followed her
from the bus stop and threatened to cut her hair, cut her blouse and beat her
up. Police were involved and restrictions were placed on the girls to stay away
from each other. In school, Reina became extremely cautious about her
friendships. Her teacher described the personal and emotional hardships she
went through after the conflict:
Basically the kingpins who were out to get her were in this classroom.
So she became a hole. She went to the wall and shut up. She didnt do
anything. She was just silent and did not interact at all until just recently
when she joined another group. For a long time she was scared and angry.
Socially shes moved out of her group.
This friendship regrouping had a significant impact on Reinas social
identity development. She was forced to consider how she could really know if
someone was a good person or not. She became distrustful of her ethnic peers.
Consequently, she isolated herself. This isolation impeded her academic identity
development as well because Reinas sense of belonging at school, like that of all
of the girls, was organized around the satisfying relationships wdth her ethnic
peers. Her attendance became even more sporadic towards the end of the year.
Other friendship regroupings were less dramatic but were still emotionally
taxing. Klari regrouped her friendships several times throughout the year. Her
friendship changes were characteristic of what this grouping and re-grouping
process was like for all of the girls. Klari ended one friendship with a group of
girls because she disapproved of their gossiping.
Ya no me gusta andar con ellas porque me dicen cosas que no me
gusta. Anda chismeando de las otras y no me gusta. [I dont like hanging out
with them anymore because they talk about things that I dont like. They go
around gossiping about everybody else and I dont like that.]
Another friendship change was made to stay out of trouble in the
classroom. She was frustrated about getting in trouble with Reina in class. Klari
used the term <
Es que es muy bolada o sea me zonzaca, sabes que es? Pues dicen es
que ella tiene problemas, luego me dice que yo haga lo que ella hace y que no
le haga caso si no quiero. Le digo pero tu me zonzacas, ella dijo que no es
cierto porque tu te zonzacas sola. No me llevo bien con ella. [Its because
shes too crazy and she gets me going. Well its like if she has problems, later
she tells me to do what shes doing and I dont listen to her because I dont
want to. I told her well you get me going. She said its not true and I get
myself going. I dont get along with her.]
A third friendship change occurred when she decided not to be involved in
the phone calls with Estrellas boyfriends.
Nosotros, bueno Estrella, saco unos amigos, se me hace que son de
Longmont. Entonces todas mis amigas los hablaban y todo. Les deciamos
que teniamos 17 ahos. Pero yo no quise hacer eso. Yo y Claudia les decimos
que ya no queria hablar entonces ya se enojaron conmigo. [We, well Estrella,
found some boyfriends. I think they were from Longmont. Then all of my
friends were calling them. We were telling them we were 17 years old. I
didnt want to do it. Claudia and I told them that we didnt want to call
anymore and they got mad at us.]
Like all of the girls, Klari made some tough choices about friendships
during the year. Each decision was difficult and involved emotional and personal
costs when she took a stand and chose to move out of a friendship group.
However, each decision contributed to her overall social identity development.
She frequently shared her decisions with her mother. This seemed to be an
important buffer for the stress related to these changes.
Worrying about Friends Safety and Well-Being
Like Klari, other girls also took a stand when their friends were doing
something that was inappropriate or dangerous. They often tried to give their
friends advice about what to do. They worried about their friends when they
did not listen to them.
Claudia told about how she and her friends tried to convince Estrella that
she was engaging in a dangerous game when they were calling a group of older
boys. The girls were extremely worried the day they ditched school:
Pues, Klari dijo que era muy malo que se habian ido. Abigail tambien.
Pero a ellas les daba risa. Nosotros nos preocupaba mas que a ellas porque
nosotros lloramos y ellas se reian. Pues nosotros no sabiamos donde estaban.
Ni nos contaban. Nos dijo Angie si nosotros sabiamos donde estaba Estrella
y Yaneli porque no las hallaban en City ni aqui en Mountainside. [Well.
Klari told them that it was very wrong that they had left. Abigail did too. But
they just laughed at us. We were worried more than they were because we
were crying and they just laughed. Well we didnt know where they were.
They hadnt told us. Angie asked us if we knew where Estrella and Yaneli
were because they couldnt find them in City nor in Mountainside.]
Five of the girls shared their fears and worries about this incident with
their parents. Through this process they learned about what their parents
perspective was on their friends decision. They were able to process what the
dangers really were and how to stay out of problems like this with their Mends.
The girls reflection of this incident demonstrated their empathy for each
other. None of the girls ridiculed them or made fun of them. They all
communicated a deep sense of concern. They also communicated a bit of unease
that somebody they knew so well could make a choice like that.
Anakaris friendships presented unique patterns when compared to the
other girls in the group. Towards the end of her sixth grade year, she was
already feeling disconnected from her ethnic peer group. When she was asked to
choose two Mends for her Mendship group interview, another girl interrupted
saying that she did not have any Mends. Anakari responded that she did but
they were not in that school. By the beginning of the seventh grade, she
identified her Mends being her uncle, who was her same age, and two girls of
Euro-American origin as well as her boyfriend who was also of Euro-American
origin. Her peer group stayed consistent throughout the school year.
There were some factors in Anakaris life which were important in
understanding why her peer interactions were different than those of her ethnic
peers. Anakari was the only girl in the sample who was involved in community
activities. Consequently, she had practiced building Mendships with other young
people of Euro-American origin. She participated in a Youth Program which
involved a camping experience, community service projects, environmental
education and recreation activities. She also played basketball at the Recreation
Center. She participated in a violence prevention project in which they created a
video. However, Anakari only went to the activities if her friends went with her.
In fact, the second summer she opted not to participate in the camping
experience because the camp leaders could not fit her entire friendship group in
the same session.
An important difference when comparing Anakari to the other five girls
was that Anakaris mother modeled friendships with others outside of her ethnic
group as well. Anakaris mother took risks to make friends with English
speakers. In addition, Anakari lived in an area where she had access to friends
who were of Euro-American origin. Unlike the other five girls in this study, the
friends she made in her neighborhood were the same friends she hung out with
A final factor was early childhood trauma in addition to ongoing family
stressors. This unresolved distress and violation of trust and attachment in her
early years had implications for relationship building and identity development.
Anakaris family life also appeared to be somewhat chaotic at times in which
there was no set pattern on which Anakari could count to predict what her day
would look like. Instead of having the time to study, she often found herself
cleaning the house or going shopping unexpectedly.
Anakari experienced some important border crossings through her
community involvement and service learning. She had made friends across
ethnic borders. Yet, these positive transition skills were not transferred over into
her school performance. She was most often described by her teachers as the
only student who never brought any homework in. She failed the sixth grade
and was passed on. She failed the seventh grade and did summer school in order
to pass on to the eighth.
Anakari felt successful when she was supported by a group. She
established friends with others who were willing to maintain a friendship both in
and out of school in order to support her need for group support. Friendships
with her ethnic peers were seemingly not working because of the cultural
differences between home and school. When she was in the classroom, she was
able to complete work if it was part of a group or class activity. However,
anything that left the classroom did not come back. Anakari used various
strategies to cover up her difficulty in completing individual activities. She often
said that she did it but left it at home, could not find it or did not finish it yet.
There were important differences in the way the parents talked about
adolescence in comparison to how the larger community constructed this
developmental stage. As a part of their social identity development, these
Mexican-American girls had to negotiate what the expectations of the
quinceanera meant in making decisions about how they thought, behaved and
acted. This was done in relation to the thoughts, behaviors and actions which
were differentially rewarded by the larger community of school, peers of
dominant group status and work. These topics will be discussed about the girls
and their stories of growing up:
waiting for my Quinceanera,
being pressured by older boys,
and expressing feelings.
In addition to these themes, Estrellas story expanded on what it was like for her
growing up and how she gave meaning to the struggles of her social identity
Waiting for my Quinceanera
All six of the girls talked about waiting for their quinceanera, or their
fifteenth birthday. Waiting meant that they agreed to not engage in a defined
set of behaviors until their fifteenth birthday, an important rite of passage from
childhood to adolescence. These behaviors included not wearing make-up, not
having a boyfriend, listening to their mothers, not dancing with a boy other
than a brother or cousin, and being appropriate in their dress and behavior. By
being faithful to these expectations, many girls were honored with a quinceanera
party. More importantly, they were respected in their community as a person
with a character of virtue and integrity.
The <> tradition formally revolved around a big
celbration which marks the trasition from childhood into adulthood. Especially
in small, rural communities in Mexico, the festivities were a result of a broad
community effort. For example, may caring adults served as sponsors who paid
for the dress, the cake, the food, the band, the ring, etc. Typically, these adults
were those who have participated in parenting the young adolescent as well.
There were religious practices related to the tradition as well.
Whether or not the family intended to throw a quinceanera party, all of
these girls perceived their fifteenth birthday as an important transition point in
their fives. They referred to it as los 15. Parents considered that they
continued their childhood until their fifteenth birthday. After that, they were
officially beginning adolescence. One example of how the parents talked about
adolescence beginning later in fife was:
Yo le dije, todo a su tiempo. Ahorita para que preocuparse, tu eres
nina. Ya por lo demas de las ninas se pintan y tienen novios y tu quieres lo
mismo. No, le dije. [I told her, everything in its own time. Right now, why
worry? You are a girl still. Just because the other girls put on make-up and
have boyfriends, then you want to do the same. No, I told her.]
There were behaviors which could interrupt childhood before the girls
turned fifteen. The young girl could prematurely start her adolescence by
resisting the limitations withheld in the <> folklore. Another
way that was most commonly talked about was getting married which usually
meant they were taken by a boyfriend. Te acabaria con tu nineza en una
vez. [You will end your childhood all at one time.] was often the parents
warning about leaving with a boyfriend.
Abigails family did not celebrate the quinceanera tradition because of
their religion. However they still supported the expectation of waiting until it
was the right time for adolescent behaviors, which conceptually was about
fifteen years old.
Ella sabe que es tiempo de poner su base en la escuela. Mas adelantito.
Nosotros no creemos que es tiempo todavia aunque tenga el desarrollo que va
a empezar en su adolecencia. Todavia es nina. Esta entre nina y adolecente.
[She knows that now it is time to get a good base in school. Later. We don't
believe that it is time yet for her to begin adolescence even though she is
developmentally ready. She is still a girl. She is in-between being a girl and
Parents talked about how the quinceanera tradition served an important
role in their native Mexican communities. Guiding and preparing a young girl
for their quinceanera was a community project in which family, school, church,
friends and the community all contributed to the parenting. The social rewards
for being faithful to the behavior expectations were an esteemed status of strong
character and respect among the community.
Being Pressured by Older Boys
All of the girls felt vulnerable to the pressure of older boys. The girls knew
that these relationships involved more mature behaviors including sex. They
also knew that going out with a boy to have sex with him also meant getting
married and was considered a permanent commitment.
Girls were often influenced by their friends to become involved with older
boys. Estrella had been introduced, by her cousin, to a group of older boys (ages
17-21). Estrella recruited a large group of her friends for the boys and they were
getting to know each other through phone calls at lunch time. The girls made
up names and ages for themselves. What started out as fun quickly escalated to
a serious game in which meetings with them were beginning to get arranged.
Most of the girls quickly decided that they did not want to be involved.
Porque yo soy de menos edad que ellos y ni los conociamos. Dije que
era malo porque ellos estan en una casa de no mas hombres de 18 afios y no
me gusta eso. [Because I am much younger than them and I didnt even know
them. I said it was wrong because they lived in a house with only other 18
year old men and I didnt like that.]
Estrella had other friends who tried to convince her that what she was
doing was wrong. Nevertheless, Estrella, and her Mend ditched school, caught a
bus to city and spent the day with the older boys. In this case, Estrella returned
to school in the afternoon, but the girls had stories of Mends and sisters who left
and stayed with the boy in a permanent relationship.
Throughout the rest of the year, the five girls were troubled by how easily
it seemed that their friend had been convinced to do what her boyMend wanted.
Claudia was concerned with how she could protect herself from being influenced
by her Mends or by older boys. She felt that the boys had convinced Estrella to
do what she did.
^Que crees tu? ^Que es que le hace uno hacer eso? [What do you
think? What makes somebody do that?]
Yo pienso que los muchachos ellos porque ellos les decian que las
querian mucho. Entonces yo le decia a Yaneli, iQue va a querer un
muchacho de 20 anos con una nina de 12 anos? Angie les dijo tambien que
no era con buenas intenciones. Pero es que los muchachos las hablaban
bonito. Que las querian, que las visitara, entonces ellas para hacerles caso y
asi se fueron. Ellas no pensaron que sus mamas iban a sufrir por haberse ido.
[I think it!s because of those boys because they told them they liked them a lot.
So then I told Yaneli, What is a 20-year-old going to want with a
12-year-old girl? Angie told them that whatever it was, it was with good
intentions. But its because the boys talked to them real nice. That they loved
them, that they should visit them and so they did what they wanted. They did
not even think about how their mothers were going to suffer.]
Claudia also admitted that she felt vulnerable to making a decision like
this. Therefore, she decided not to hang out with Estrella because she was afraid
that she could also be convinced to do that also.
Klari shared Claudias stand on refusing to let older boys influence her to
do something she didnt want to do. However, Klaris mother had a different
perspective than that which was expressed by all of the other mothers. Her
family folklore taught her that girls were mature as young as twelve years old.
Therefore, she felt that if her daughter was to fall in love then she had little to
say about it.
Como voy a estar metiendome si tiene novio y cual novio... es mujer
desde los doce anos y tiene que ser responsable. Luego si sale con otro y otro
y otro sale peor. Mejor dejala con el primero, el que se la llevo. [Like how am
I going to get involved in whether she has a boyfriend and which
boy friend...she is a woman as of 12 years old and she has to be responsible.
Later if she goes out with another, another, then another it is worse. Its
better to leave her with the first, with who takes her.]
Other parents influenced their daughters beliefs and behaviors through the
way they interacted with and rewarded their daughter at home. For example,
Klari often told her mother and father that she planned on waiting to get
married until after she finished her education. However, her parents often
responded that she would probably do the same as Marisol, or possibly even
worse. It was consistent with all parents, except for Abigails, that they believed
the most common reason their daughter would not finish school was because of
getting married and quitting school.
All of the girls talked about expressing a new range and depth of feelings.
Abigail described it as complicated because, << De repente te sientes contenta
y de repente triste y ni sabe porque.>> [All of a sudden you feel happy and then
all of a sudden you are sad and you dont even know why.]
Klari found herself dealing with intense feelings of anger, <
enojo mucho y grito.>> [Sometimes I get so angry and start yelling.] Claudia
described having all kinds of feelings at once: <
frustrada y ahorita triste, ya a la vez. [Sometimes I am nervous, sometimes
frustrated and right now sad, all at the same time.]
This increased depth of feelings was understood by parents as a part of
growing up and they didnt get too upset about them. The common explanation
was that their bodies were growing so much that their feelings got all tied up in
During the year, the girls developed a more sophisticated ability to
consider how others saw them in relation to the larger community. With this
broader perspective, the girls expression of feelings became much more intense.
They were increasingly angry about how Mexicans were treated despite the
great contributions they made to the community. They were also angry about
inequities they observed and experienced in the way Mexican students were
treated differently than other students in their school. Several girls objected to
the unfair treatment by saying, <> [We are all
humans. ] (A more in-depth discussion about their reaction to these inequities
is in a subsequent section.)
For Estrella, growing up was best described as difficult. She expressed a
range of feelings about what it was like for her to listen to her mother and father
fighting every day, watching her mother cry and dealing with her fathers anger.
She felt angry, embarrassed, sad, anxious and frustrated. Estrella knew that she
worried about her parents fighting instead of focusing on her schoolwork. Even
though she was a good student, she was not doing as well as she knew she could.
Estrellas social identity development involved drawing meaning from her
parents relationship, how that relationship affected her and which adaptive
strategies she needed to deal with it. Estrella recalled her father telling her that
the wrong things in life were easy to achieve and the good things in life were
hard to achieve. She used this saying to understand what it meant for her father
to be explosively angry. She resolved that it was easier to say hurtful things and
to get mad, while it was harder to choose the right words and to control your
She thought a lot about her mothers role as a wife. She wished that her
mother would just leave her father but she understood why she did not. She
understood that her mother was afraid to have failed her second marriage. She
also knew that it would be very hard for her mother to be on her own
financially. Estrella began to understand better during the year that when her
mother got angry at her, she was probably angry with her father. Estrella
resolved that, <> [This is the life of
Estrella worked to resist this suffering role of women within her home.
She described this in a rare attempt to resist her fathers anger:
Como antes no me atrevia decirle nada a mi papa que no seas enojon.
/ ^ r
Yo no lo decia porque no se, le tenia miedo. Yo no podia hacer nada por
miedo que mi papa se enojara entonces no lo hacia. Pero en un tiempo me
cause y le dije yo no voy estar toda la vida asi. Asi le dije, yo no pienso en
estar sufriendo y tener ese miedo con usted porque usted se enoja por
cualquier cosita y a mi no me gusta. Pero no, parece que entre mas le dice
uno, mas se enoja. [Like before, I didnt dare say anything to my father to
not be so angry. I didnt say anything because I dont know, I was scared. I
couldnt do anything because I was scared my father would get mad, so I
didnt do anything. But one time, I got tired and I told him that I am not
going to be like this all of my life. I told him just like this, I do not intend to
suffer and be scared of you because you get mad at every little thing that I do
and I dont like it. But no, it seems like no matter how many times you tell
him, he just gets even angrier.]
Without seeing any result, she grew increasingly distant from her father.
She resented the fact that he made her mother sad and she felt that the token
ways in which her father tried to express his love was hypocritical. She felt
imprisoned in her home without being able to express her feelings and she felt
neglected by her parents because they took care of their problems. Estrella felt
that her parents ignored the impact their fighting had on her. She struggled with
knowing that it wasnt fair that she had to take on so much stress for her age:
Yo he escuchado que mi mama dice que a veces le gustaria ser nina
para que nada mas le preocupara jugar. Yo digo pues yo soy una nina y me
preocupan las cosas. No es cierto. Supuestamente nada mas los adultos son
los que tienen problemas, los que se preocupan. Yo digo no es cierto porque
yo tambien me preocupo. Yo tengo problemas. Tengo cosas en que
preocuparme. Yo tengo grandes cosas en que preocuparme y no soy una
adulta. A veces me pongo a pensar si ahorita tengo problemas y me
preocupo, ^Que sera cuando este grande? ^Va a ser peor? [Ive heard my
mother saying that sometimes she wishes that she was a child because she
would only need to worry about playing. I say, well I am a child and I worry
about things. Its not right. Supposedly only the adults are those who have
problems and who have to worry. I say it is not right because I also worry. I
also have problems. I have things to worry about. I have big things to worry
about and I am not even an adult. Sometimes I think about if I have these
kinds of problems and Im not even an adult yet, What is it going to be like
when I am big? Will it be worse than this?]
Estrella expressed her need for an escape as she described, <
irme para el cielo y agarrar una estrella. [I would like to go up to the sky and
grab onto a star ] In her behavior choices, she actively sought her escape in the
form of getting involved with, older boys. After ditching school to spend the day
with them, she recognized the severity of her behavior and even surprised herself
that she could do something like that:
Ya aprendi. Ya se cuales son las consecuencias. A veces me sorprendo
y digo como podia hacer eso. Me dijo mi mama las que se portan mal no
hacen eso y si es cierto. A veces ni puedo creer de mi mismo que pude ser
capaz de hacer eso. Parece un sueno. No mas paso el camion amarillo y
agarre el RTD. Nunca pense que yo pude ser capaz de hacer eso. [Now I
learned. Now I know what the consequences are. Sometimes I surprise myself
and say How could I do that? My mother told me that those who misbehave
dont even do that and shes right. Sometimes I cant even believe myself that
I could be capable to do that. It was like a dream. Just the school bus passed
and I got on the RTD. I never thought I was capable of doing that.]
In her attempts to resist the womens role of suffering, dealing with an
angry father, having too much stress and adult worries, Estrella was seeking an
escape which was leading her towards the very things she was resisting.
Caring about School and Grades
The fourth theme identified in the girls stories was their concern for school
and their grades. With the exception of Reina, all of the girls and their families
believed that education was their road to social advancement. In individual
interviews with the girls, they voluntarily spent a good portion of each interview
talking about how they were doing as a student. In friendship group interviews,
there was much jostling that went on as the girls talked about many other topics.
But, when the girls talked about how they were doing in school and what their
educational and career goals were, they were serious and respectful to each other.
Each girls story and the interrelationship of her multiple social worlds
combined to have a unique effect on each of their patterns of academic
engagement. Three of the girls (Abigail, Klari and Estrella) managed to be quite
successful in school despite the challenges to transition among different social
worlds. One of the girls (Claudia) had struggled with learning in school since
early elementary. Two of the girls (Reina, Anakari) were failing school. This
section looked more carefully at their perspectives and the meaning and
understanding they told in their stories about school. The topics that arose out
of the interviews about school were:
caring about grades and academic progress,
separating from friends to learn better,
and struggling in school.
Each of these topics will be discussed in depth in the following sections.
Caring about Grades and Academic Progress
The girls and their parents expressed an inspiring sense of care and
concern about their grades and academic progress. Dining the friendship
interviews, the girls were asked to identify a time when their parents were truly
happy with something they had done. They nearly all responded that their
parents were happiest with them when they got good grades. There was a quiet
respect among the girls when they talked about their academic achievements and
struggles. Nobody was teased for not having success in school, nor were they
teased for setting high academic goals for themselves or for doing well in school.
Grades were the single most important indicator of doing well in school for
these families. No parent mentioned any other indicators such as involvement in
extracurricular activities. Abigail and Estrella talked with their mothers about
the projects and units they were studying in school. They let them know when
they were worried about an exam coming up. Estrellas mother was informed
about how she was doing and even teased her a little:
Tuvo un examen. Me dijo yo quiero una A+- Me trajo una A. Me
debes una -f- le dije. [She had an exam. She told me that she wanted an A+.
She brought home an A. I told her you owe me a +.J
Like Abigail and Estrellas parents, Claudias parents also helped her set
academic goals for herself and made sure she kept on track:
Mi papa dijo que no queria pura A, pero si queria B o C. Pero no D y
F. Quiere algo bueno para mi. Cada viemes van estar mandando un reporte
a mi mama de como voy yo en las clases. Porque ellos pidieron ese reporte.
[My father said he doesnt expect all As. but he does want B or C. But no D
or F. He wants something good for me. Every Friday the teachers are going
to send a report to my mother explaining how Im doing in my classes.
Because they asked for that report.]
As previously described, Anakari struggled to follow through on individual
work. However, she consistently expressed a deep concern about her failure in
school. An example of her efforts to improve her academic achievement was in
her perseverance to come to school every day. In one interview she was covered
with a rash. She had been breaking out for several days but she didnt want to
miss any school. Other seventh-grade girls would have been traumatized if they
had had to go to school with red sores all over their body and face. I asked
Anakari what got her to school every day. Her response was:
I dont know. I want to try and get better grades and a better career
because Im not doing very good in school right now. Im missing a whole