“Dando las gracias a mis papás”: A discursive analysis of perceptions of policy and callings across generations of Latinx immigrants

2019-08-15T20:04:15Z (GMT) by Virginia Sanchez

U.S. rhetoric that embraces immigration is juxtaposed with the lived experiences of Latinx immigrants, the country’s largest immigrant group. Intergenerational research shows how immigrants’ social mobility depends on socioeconomic and environmental factors, impacting occupational attainment. Immigration policies portray immigrants negatively—contrasting deserving/good with undeserving/bad. This study uses d/Discourse (i.e., everyday talk/societal understandings) to investigate how immigrants from different generations make sense of policy, immigrant portrayals, and their lives through the lens of “calling.” Here, calling is used to understand differences across generations, rather than positioned as an individual pull toward an occupation. Specifically, this study answered three questions: (1) What occupational and intergenerational d/Discourses are perceived by immigrants?; (2) Whose interests are served by these d/Discourses and who is marginalized?; (3) How do immigrants experience “callings” across generations? Semi-structured interviews were conducted with different generations of immigrants (N=36). Generational and intergenerational sensemaking themes are identified using d/Discourse, while critical discourse analysis is used to explain inequalities and in whose interests d/Discourses are created. The main theoretical contribution of this study suggests that callings can be enacted and fulfilled intergenerationally. Within immigrant families, first-generation immigrants often hold visions of who their children (second-generation immigrants) will become. This vision often includes high educational attainment, a prestigious occupation, and documentation in the United States. Second-generation immigrants felt a pressure to perform well in school and validate the sacrifices made by their parents. They recognized that the visions for their future constructed by their first-generation parents were riddled with tensions. The occupational decisions of the second-generation immigrants often tried to find a middle ground between fulfilling their parents’ vision but also practicing in occupations that they were personally interested in. Several barriers made the path to fulfilling intergenerational callings more difficult. Second-generation immigrants recognized the privileges they held that their parents did not, including language barriers and acceptance into the country tied to documentation and acceptance based on racial models in the United States. While first-generation immigrants accepted these challenges as part of their intergenerational calling, the second-generation struggled to do the same. Finally, in fulfilling intergenerational callings many immigrants unintentionally reproduced deservingness narratives. In short, this study contributes theoretically and practically by challenging immigrant portrayals and viewing callings as intergenerational but filled with internal and external challenges.