Indigenous Immigrant Youth’s Understanding of Indigeneity: Language, Power Inequities, and Self-Understanding
Barillas Chon, David Wotsbely
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This qualitative study seeks to address the question of how indigenous immigrant youth from Latin America make sense of indigeneity in their countries of origin and in the United States. For the last couple of decades, there has been a great expansion of scholarship in the area of Latina/o education. As the field has proliferated, studies focusing on the variation within Latina/o populations have also emerged, including variation based on different countries of origin (e.g., Darder & Torres, 2014; Suárez-Orozco, 1987) and gender (e.g., Ginorio & Huston, 2001; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2003). One highly significant yet under-investigated source of variation within the Latina/o population are indigenous immigrants from Latin America (Barajas & Ruiz, 2012). This group has been routinely silenced in their countries of origin and subsumed within the study of Latina/os in the U.S. (e.g., Stephen, 2007; Urrieta, 2013). While their identities may be collapsed, their struggles are unique and persist. Because of the systematic ways indigenous populations have been rendered invisible, I use a “coloniality of power lens” (Dussel, 1995; Lugones, 2010; Maldonado-Torres, 2007; Mignolo, 1995, 2000; Quijano, 2000) to foreground systems of oppression and power and the construction of the self and other (Corntassel, 2003, 2012; Holm, Pearson, & Chavis, 2003). In order to better understand the experiences of indigenous Latin American youth who had migrated to the U.S., I conducted a qualitative study of eight self-identifying indigenous youth from Mexico and Guatemala. Primary data for this study consists of interviews with focal youth. Other data gathered include interviews with non-self-identified indigenous Latino youth, two teachers, and one Bilingual Student Services Facilitator. Analysis of the youth’s interviews yielded three important findings. The first relates to asymmetries of power based on language. The youth described hierarchies of language, the economic opportunities afforded to Spanish speakers, and the subordinate position of indigenous languages. The second finding relates to their understanding of the discrimination indigenous peoples experienced in countries of origin and in the United States. In particular, the youth identified the use of “indio” as a racial epithet. Indio is an important vestige of coloniality as it positions indigenous peoples as inferior. The third finding elaborates on how the youth made sense of themselves and others. Participants relied on the use of indicators for making sense of the category “indigenous;” through these indicators, the youth revealed a partial understanding of their own indigeneity. I posit that the process of sense making the youth engaged in exhibited particular kinds of understanding and awareness of indigeneity, including their own and of others. This dissertation is an important contribution to the field of Latina/o education because it fills empirical and conceptual gaps. First, it shows the forms of oppression and systems of power indigenous youth understand and operate from. It also provides insights into how indigenous youth make sense of themselves and of others from their own particular lived experiences. It gives a textual space for the youth to talk about themselves in ways that are self-affirming (Smith, 1999). The second contribution relates to the historicizing of racial formations in Latina/o education. Understanding the experiences of indigenous immigrant youth requires an unpacking of racial formations tied to power inequities. The coloniality of power is one frame that historically situates the construction of a racial/economic hierarchy in the Americas. As indigenous immigrant youth continue to immigrate, the coloniality of power lens helps us understand vestiges of coloniality currently present in their contexts of departure and colonizing contexts of reception.
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