Latin American Youth in Toronto
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Latin American Youth in Toronto


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7 pages


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Latin American Youth in Toronto: Identity and Integration Issues Final Administrative Report (1 October 2000) Prepared by: Alan Simmons (Lead Researcher), CERLAC, York University Duberlis Ramos (Researcher), HDC, Toronto George Bielmeier (Researcher), Ryerson Polytechnic University With the contributions of other members of the Research Team: Luis Carrillos (Research Assistant), HDC Blanca Serrano (Research Assistant), formerly HDC Gabriela Torres (Research Assistant), York University Brigido Galvan (Research Assistant), York University Summary and Main Conclusions A study of Latin American conducted with the participation of some 50 Latin American origin youth in focus groups and another
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Latin American Youth in Toronto:Identit andInte rationIssuesFinal Administrative Report (1 October 2000)Prepared by:Alan Simmons (Lead Researcher), CERLAC, York UniversityDuberlis Ramos (Researcher), HDC, TorontoGeorge Bielmeier (Researcher), Ryerson Polytechnic UniversityWith the contributions of other members of the Research Team:Luis Carrillos (Research Assistant), HDCBlanca Serrano (Research Assistant), formerly HDCGabriela Torres (Research Assistant), York UniversityBrigido Galvan (Research Assistant), York UniversitySummary and Main Conclusions Astudy of Latin American conducted with the participation of some 50 Latin American origin youth in focus groups and another 180 similar youths as individual interviewees makes clear that their principal concern is overcoming negative stereotypes of Latin Americans and Latinos (defined as a younger generation of Latin American origin living in North America). While the drive to overcome negative stereotyping by generating a new positive identity was not the only or even the main original focus of the study, in the research itself it became clear that this issue overshadowed many others from the youths whose concerns this study sought to record and understand. Thedesire of the youths to generate positive images of Latinos in particular is linked to an effort to conserve what they perceive to be positive Latin American values with regard to family cohesion and respect for one’s parents, while at the same time exploring their individuality and opportunities for developing a new identity in Canadian society and within North America more generally. Theyouths perceive the need for institutional programs to overcome negative stereotyping and crosscultural ignorance particularly in schools (for both teachers and other students) and for the police force which they view as having deep negative prejudice toward Latino youth. Thedesire of Latino youths to become involved directly in programs intended to address such problems is currently a diffuse, underdeveloped potential. The next step is to explore within the Latin American community in Toronto and through other bodies interested how such a potential might be constructively promoted and organized to effect change.INTRODUCTIONThis report is structured to provide the background to the above summary. It address three questions. First, what research goals, data and analysis support the findings? Second, what was learned from the study with respect to its diverse objectives going beyond the main findings? Third, what do the strengths and limitations of this study suggest with respect to future research priorities?PART I. RESEARCH GOALS AND DATAWhat we sought to studyThe following is taken from the original proposal:
This study seeks to expand the theoretical understanding of "integration outcomes" (from assimilation to hostile interactions) for Latin American origin youths, aged 13 to 19, in Toronto, and to provide information not currently available but of potentially great interest to service providers in various fields: education, health, community services, youth programs, etc. Particular attention will be paid to youth views on "safe" and "dangerous" social spaces and how these are shaped within various dimensions of integration, such as gender relations (machismoin the Latin American community), ethnic stereotyping and exclusions, group and "gang" culture, etc. The study design is largely participatory. Youth will meet to discuss issues of integration and social spaces, and they will serve as consultants to the development of a survey questionnaire to be applied by them to other youths in the community. The views of the youth will be interpreted taking into account the broader characteristics of their community as assessed from census and other data.The following illustrative and more specific questions are also extracted from the proposal:1.Identity. How do Latin American youths perceive themselves, and how does this shape their views on sexroles, the benefits of schooling, and participation in subcultures (including "gangs" )?2.Fields of "danger." How do they understand and deal with "safe" and "dangerous" social spaces arising through stereotyping, exclusion, sexuality, and gaps between home and host cultures, etc.?3.Migration experience. How do they perceive the impact of the influence of violence in home countries and refugee experience on their integration?4.Social policy. How do these youths assess the value of programmes in schools and the community with respect to increasing their security and integration? How would they improve these programmes?Data gathered and analyzed Wefollowed closely the methodology outlined in the project proposal, although a number of modifications were incorporated to the study design to reflect the circumstances we encountered. Approximately 50 youths of Latin American origin living in Toronto were identified for "extended focus groups". Latin American origin was defined as being born in Latin America (the case for most of the youths) or having been born in Canada to immigrants from the region (the case for a few). To begin with we defined "youth" as individuals aged 1319, but very soon we realized that this was unsatisfactory (for reasons given below) such that the agerange was expanded to include young adults in their 20’s. About half of the participants were identified by Luis Carrillos based on his professional knowledge (as a youth worker coordinating HDC programs for Latin American youth in Toronto) of Latin American youths (individuals and groups) in various parts of the city. The others were friends of the participants initially identified. Participationwas voluntary. The youths were told about the study and invited to become involved with the goal of learning something about themselves and contributing their knowledge to the community. Modest honoraria (subway or bus tokens and $10 to $15 for participation) were provided. Theyouths were organized into seven "extended focus groups" of approximately six to eight persons each, with each group generally including both males and females and individuals of different ages. All groups met at least once for one to two hours of discussion. Several groups met more than once. One group met three times. Discussion, led by one or more researchers, focused on the themes of the study and incorporated other subjects that the youths themselves brought forward. The discussions were taped and transcribed for analysis, with one exception (one of the first groups to meet did not want to be taped, so hand written notes were taken by the researchers). Eightof the youths involved in the focus group discussions were selected and invited (based on their evident interest and insights) to assist in developing and conducting a small survey of other youths in the community on the topics of concern in this study. The questionnaire developed was applied to 180 youths in the Latin American community chosen through the "snowball" procedure (one interviewee suggests others who might wish to be interviewed) in the community. The survey provides some preliminary quantitative data to complement the qualitative data from the focus groups. The questionnaire used is attached to this report.
 Thespecial tabulation of the 1996 census proposed for the study was not requested. While it would still be desirable to have such data, the researchers determined that it would be more cost effective to strengthen the focus group and questionnaire components of the study, while taking advantage of data from the 1996 census being provided for other studies.PART II. MAIN RESEARCH FINDINGSWho are the youths? Asnoted above, youths were originally defined for the purposes of this study as individuals aged 1319. However, in conducting the study the actual age range of participants was increased to include individuals aged 20 to 24 (and a few people aged 25 to 29). The major reason for this change was evidence early in the study that schooling, work and lifestyle experiences of teenagers and young adults in the Latin American community in Toronto blend into a common "youth" culture that extends from the midteens into the mid twenties. In this broad age span, there is no significant dividing line around the age of 19, 20 to 21 in lifestyle arising from schooling, work, friendships, or family. The youths begin to combine work and schooling early while in high school. Many drop out of school before they finish high school, but few give up on the idea of further studies and many go back to school part of full time. They continue to work, often in shortterm jobs or part time, and when unemployed, they spend their times with friends. Few marry in this period. Probably these findings would apply to contemporary youth more generally. In addition, we discovered that young adults were able to provide useful perspective on their experiences as teenagers in a minority Latin American community in Toronto.What is their identity? How does this relate to their sense of civic responsibility? Theyouths have overlapping identities. They see themselves as Hispanics, as Latin Americans, and in varying degrees (though generally less so) as Canadians. Most of all, however, they see themselves as "Latinos", that is, young men and women of Latin American origin living in North America. Their struggles as minority youths and young adults against stereotyping are viewed by them as part of a transnational effort—one that must take place in Toronto, in other cities in Canada, and throughout the United States. This was not always said explicitly, but could be inferred by the way they talked about the nature of the stereotyping problem and how it should be addressed. Such a perspective, particularly among some "leaders" in the focus group discussions, tended to increase their desire to become involved in activities designed to promote a positive Latino image in Toronto specifically. In other words, the desire to become active in civic organization is not linked particularly to national identification or pride.What are their views on safe and dangerous places? Thistopic turned out to be far more complex than we originally imagined it would be from previous research reports (largely from studies in Europe) on this topic. Latin American youths are very sensitive to and aware of prejudice and ethnic stereotyping that restrict their opportunities and generate hostile tensions at school and in the community more generally. They are also very familiar with what they perceive to be high levels of physical violence and extremely high levels of verbal violence (insults, threats, etc.) in high school and among youths on the street, not all of which is ethnic based. A lot of this violence seems to be based on lifestyle differences and clique formation that is overlapping but not identical to ethnic identification. Further, given the fact that public discourse on youth violence and youth gangs tends to focus on males and on physical violence, we did not anticipate that verbal violence would be so frequent and aggressive among young women. Asvicious as the violence may objectively be from time to time according to press reports of stabbings and brutal kicking by Toronto youths leading to serious injury and death of minority victimsthe Latin American youths in this study do not typically see the levels of violence around them as "dangerous". This somewhat surprising finding is however consistent with their world view and experience. The items that make newspaper headlines are viewed by them as exceptional, not daytoday. Further, the youths—both male and femaledefine themselves for the most part as resilient individually (that is they feel that they know how to avoid or handle threats
of violence). Even more importantly they see themselves as being protected by their friends, both Latin American origin and others. Feelingsof fear and isolation had been experienced at specific moments by many of the youths. These episodes were recounted as arising from a stage of high vulnerability, such as being a recently arrived child immigrant with poor or no skill in English, unusual and perhaps very poor quality clothing (many of the youths came to Canada in refugee families who had lost all their belongings), and no friends. These experiences are mostly in the past, although in some cases the deep insecurity and sense of rejection lasted for many years.What is the impact of cultural and family background? Theyouths had widely varying background experiences. While about half of the participants in the discussions and interviews came from Central American backgrounds, the others came from various countries in South America. Some had arrived to Canada as very young children. Others had arrived more recently. It is therefore difficult to generalize about the significance of their homecountry experiences, other than to say that for most the home country experience seemed distant, that is removed in time, place and relevance from their current concerns. Even those who came as children in refugee families from countries undergoing war and widespread violence have little recollection of or concern for the specific details of this. They recall the experience largely indirectly through the stories and memories of their parents. Althoughthe youths see themselves more as Latinos than as Latin Americans, they generally have a very positive appreciation of what they understand to be Latin American values, particularly those of "family solidarity" and "respect" for one’s elders. This was true even for youths whose families had been reconfigured (through deaths, separations, and divorces) and other "losses" (such as alienation from one or another parent, often the father) associated with settlement in Canada. They saw these personal losses as specific tragedies or sad occurrences. Many reported conflicts with their parents over issues of personal autonomy; they conceded moreover that these conflicts did raise dilemmas of "respect", including doing what one’s parents want and expect, even when this would limit "individuality" and personal freedom. Their stance seemed to be one involving challenging the limits of parental control, while at the same time paradoxically supporting the values that underlie parental authority and family solidarity. In sum, there was little evidence of a generational split in values. In contrast, we saw evidence of some tension between generations in terms of how exactly these values should be applied in the Canadian context, where individuality is more dominant.What do they say about Canadian schools? Manyof the youths were still in school, others had recently finished studies, and others still were thinking of pursing further studies. Teachers had played a major role in their lives. Nearly all the participants had memories of teachers who were hostile to them, or who lacked any understanding of their special needs as immigrants or minority students. Yet, for every negative story there was another story about an outstanding teacher that had really helped out in a time of need. There was a more widespread feeling that the schools they had attended had failed in terms of developing institutional programs to prepare teachers and other students to promote antiracist and antiimmigrant practices.What do they say about the Canadian police? Asmany as half of the youth participating in discussions or answering the questionnaire have had some direct contact with the police leading to questioning of their activities or charges being laid. These youths and others who have not had direct contact of this kind are extremely distrustful of police. They see police officers "targeting" Hispanic youth. According to them, the police seem to act as if all Hispanic youth are members of "gangs" involved in illicit activity. The preferred response to this included particularly mobilizing community information and action programs involving Latin American youths that would challenge and reverse police stereotyping.
What contextual factors need to be taken into account? Secondarydata provides ample evidence that the Latin American origin community in Toronto remains generally one of the most disadvantaged in terms of income and employment. Blacks and native peoples are, sadly, even more disadvantaged in these terms. At the same time, the Latin American origin community is heterogeneous and includes many successful professional and business families. The community benefits, then, from role models of successful economic integration and access to strong leadership. Theyouths who participated in this study reveal aspirations and behaviors associated with this context. Many have dropped out of school early, yet would like to go back to school. Some of the older youths have in fact gone back to school after several years away from studies. Nearly all the youths, both male and female, have aspirations for occupational success, within the skilled trades or as college or university graduates. For some, however, getting a decent job has been and continues to be a struggle. Getting lowpaid and hard work, in contrast, seems to have been easy over the period of concern (basically the midtolate 1990s) despite the relatively high levels of youth unemployment in effect in Toronto through mid1998 (when this study began). Youth unemployment abated fairly dramatically by late 1999, when the study ended, but giving the late timing of this shift, we are unable to comment on how it affected Latino youth employment practices and aspirations.PART III. PROJECT ASSESSMENT AND FUTURE PRIORITIESFunding and timetable CERISfinancial support in the amount of $23,706.00 was approved on June 24, 1998. The project was originally to have been completed by September 1, 1999 with a final report due December 1,1999. These dates were subsequently extended to July 1 and October 1, 2000, respectively, in order to take into account a revised (delayed) startup date and unexpected changes (new responsibilities) in the work of the Lead Researcher at his institution. Thefunding was less than initially requested (namely $27, 372). This resulted in some "tightening" of budget components that later affected two aspects of the study. Firstly, the effort to generate original secondary data through custom census analysis had to eventually be cut to retain the other, more central, research components. We regard this as an important lost opportunity and are examining the possibility of a new study that would focus specifically on census and other secondary data with respect to Latino youth. Secondly, the cuts reduced the participation of the Research Assistants in the data analysis, thereby slowing the analysis. Theoriginal oneyear calendar was proposed largely to meet CERIS criteria. That calendar would have been attainable under normal conditions, particularly if the originally proposed budget had been retained. Unexpected changes in the work role of the Lead Researcher in his home institution contributed importantly to the need to extend the project for a second year. Fortunately, CERIS was very understanding of these circumstances.Research focus and objectives: Wehave learned much from the study and can now see in retrospect that some of the objectives were "off centre" or too vague. This was particularly true of framing in the original proposal of "safety" and "violence", as well as the emphasis given in that proposal to the importance of home country (as opposed to origin culture) in the settlement experiences of the youths. Twoemergent themes in the study were not originally well conceptualized. One is the importance of expressive Latino culture (music, dance) for youths. We tried to pick up on this through a substudy of music added late in the project (see the report by Brigido Galvan). Theother is the potential for Latino youth involvement in organized effort to overcome negative Latin American and Latino stereotyping. It was understood in the original proposal that such a potential might be relevant to a second phase "dissemination" project. The discussions with the youths confirm this potential and suggest that is far greater than we originally imagined. It is, however, currently a diffuse and largely unorganized potential that could only be developed with a focused effort and appropriate institutional resources.
 Inother respects the study focus and objectives led to conceptual and policy insights of the kind we had hoped for.Research Design Themajor benefit of a small qualitative study is that it clarifies hypotheses and provides new insight for future exploration in larger studies and pilot projects to improve the lives of the participants and their community. As these goals were achieved, we have no further comment on the research design for the present study.Training Therewas no formal training component within this study. However, the research assistants received informal training and experience in one or more aspects of the data collection and analysis, such as conducting focus group interviews, preparing and analyzing interview transcripts, designing and conducting a survey, and so on. In each case this contributed to their training as students or professionals, as follows:Carrillos completed a four year certificate as a Youth Worker at George Brown Luis College in 1999. He continues to work at the Hispanic Develoopment Council as Director of the HDC Youth Program. BlancaSerrano completed her undergraduate degree in Social Work at Ryerson as this project was just getting started and used the parttime work in this project to further develop her professional skills. She is now employed full time with the Ontario Ministry of Health in relation to health outreach to minority communities.Torres is now writing her dissertation in the PhD programme in Social Gabriela Anthropology at York University. Her topic concerns human rights in Guatemala, but she continues with an interest in Latin American transmigration and Latino youth. BrigidoGalvan was not originally part of the research team and entered only at the end with an effort to fill a gap in the original study with respect to the evident importance of expressive culture (music and dance) for Latino youth. This theme is part of his ongoing PhD dissertation in Ethnomusicology at York University. Severalof the youths who participated in the project, particularly those who continued to assist with the questionnaire design and interviewing, also received indirect training in this aspect of the project.Future Research and Program PrioritiesThe present study suggests the following future steps:dissemination project in which the findings of this study are communicated through A workshops and short reports to relevant organizations within the Latin American community in Toronto and to various service organizations working with youths and with the Latin American community. The project would include the preparation of materials for this outreach, the organization of workshops and meetings for presentation and discussion of the findings, and an a summary of the reaction of targeted groups to these materials. Aproject designed to incorporate youths and young adults from the Latin American community in programs intended to address the issues they feel are most important. These would naturally include efforts to overcome prejudice and stereotypes affecting them. Participants in the study point to the positive role that Latinoyouth popular culture (original music, rap lyrics, expressive dance) can play in bringing youths together to reflect actively on their identity and to plan events within and for their community that would serve to build pride and favourable external compare the findings from the present study with what is taking place in Research other places in Canada where there are large Latin American communities, and to assess with other data sources (such as the census data analysis originally planned for the current study) the broader context for understanding the findings of small, qualitative studies.
SUPPORTING DOCUMENTSBelow is a list of documents, conference presentations and draft papers based on the study. The papers need further editing for scholarly publication and for feedback to the community.Research Methodology1.Questions used to guide the groups discussion.2.Questionnaire applied by Latino youths to other youths in the Latin American community.Analytic PapersThe following three papers by are closely related: they build on one another as the analysis unfolded:Simmons, Alan. "Violence and Safety: Latin American Youth in Toronto." Paper presented at the conference, Finding the Way Home:Young People’s Landscapes of Safety and Danger in Multicultural Cities. Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 911 July 1999.Simmons, Alan and Luis Carrillos. "Home and Heart: Identity Politics Among ‘Latino’ Youths in Toronto." Paper presented at theConference on Immigrants and Immigration, organized by the Society for the Psychological study of social Issues, Toronto, august 1316,1999. This was also presented to the fourth National Metropolis Conference,Working Together for the Future, Toronto, March 2225, 2000.Simmons, Alan. "Cultural Identity Among ‘Latin" Youths in Toronto." Paper presented at Session 44, "Making Connections: The Construction of Youth’s Identity as a Key to Integration and Globalization,"Fifth International Metropolis Conference, Vancouver, Canada. November 1317, 2000.The following papers were prepared by Research Assistants for their own professional and academic work related to the projectGalván, Brígido. "Racial Soundscapes and Toronto’s Latino Hip Hop: Culture, Music, and the Challenges of Multiculturalism." (Mimeo. Fall 2000)Serrano, Blanca. "Latin American Youth Asserting Their Culture: Challenges and Conflicts." (Spring 2000)Torres, Gabriela. "Constructing ‘Youth Cultures" in Toronto: The Use of Lived expereince with Violence in the Production of New Identities in a Canadian ‘Space". Paper presented at the meetings ofthe Canadian Society for Cultural Anthropology(CASCA), Laval University, Quebec City, May 1999.Torres, Gabriela. "Schools as Primary Sites for Integration into Canadian Society." (Mimeo, March 2000).Torres, Gabriela. "Asserting a Viable "Space" for Belonging in Canada: An Exploration of Latin American Youth Discourses—Part I." Paper presented atthe Conference on Immigrants and Immigration, organized by the Society for the Psychological study of social Issues, Toronto, august 1316,1999
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