“Stagnant Dreamers” in Southern California

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María Rendón's award-winning book, "Stagnant Dreamers: How the Inner City Shapes the Integration of Second-Generation Latinos," is reveiwed in The American Interest. An excerpt:

The conundrums facing working-class Mexican immigrants, even in a state run by Democrats, are detailed by another California sociologist in Stagnant Dreamers: How the Inner City Shapes the Integration of Second-Generation Latinos. María Rendón seeks to refute unduly pessimistic appraisals of migration streams that, according to earlier researchers, are at high risk of “downward assimilation” into the “underclass,” a term that sociologists now avoid.

The dreamers of Rendón’s title are not exactly the undocumented youth who, brought to the United States as children and seeking citizenship through the Dream Act, won temporary legal status through an executive order by President Barack Obama (the program has just survived a Supreme Court challenge from the Trump Administration).

Instead, her sample of 42 young men in south and east Los Angeles are mainly U.S.-born citizens. She interviewed them and their parents in 2007, when they were between 17 and 23 years-old. Five years later she reinterviewed half of them, to learn how they weathered the 2008 financial crisis and its sequel. Crucially, she also has a home-turf grasp of the challenges they face thanks to her own upbringing in similar neighborhoods.

Rendón’s character sketches go far to explain contradictory stereotypes about Mexican immigrants. The first generation usually earns a reputation as hard workers who sacrifice for their families. The second generation usually achieves higher levels of education and income, only for progress to stall in the third and fourth generation—a mysterious phenomenon known as the “Hispanic U-Turn.” Also, why do some of these seemingly sturdy families disintegrate into single-parent households, gangs, and prison? Could something about moving to the United States wreck Mexican family values?

Some of Rendón’s findings will reassure anxious Anglos. In her sample, even youth involved with gangs or addicted to drugs are firm believers in the American credo that hard work will lead to a better life. Most maintain an upbeat narrative through thick and thin, their employment rates are high, and they blame themselves for economic failures.

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