Networked and disconnected : Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths, digital media, and assimilation into the U.S
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This study examines how a group of second- and 1.5-generation Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths (14-18) navigate the uneven process of assimilation into the United States by using digital tools and networks. Understanding Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth as social actors and creative agents, I investigate how their new media practices and skills help them assimilate into multiple dimensions of the host country. For this purpose, I use a transdisciplinary framework that combines sociocultural theories of media practice, critical theories of digital inequality, and sociological theories of assimilation. Through a series of case studies of five immigrant youths with Mexican origins (two girls and three boys, ages 14-18) and working class socioeconomic backgrounds, I analyze the mediated activities they have developed in the contexts of their homes, an after-school program, and social media networked spaces. I draw on qualitative data that I helped collect as a member of the Digital Edge project during a longitudinal ethnography (2011-2012) conducted at Freeway High School, a large, ethnically diverse, low-performing, and economically disadvantaged public school in the Austin Metropolitan Area. By revealing the local conditions and structural forces that shape how these Latino/Hispanic immigrant youths use technology in their everyday life, my analysis provides: new insights into digital divides and participation gaps; a grounded understanding of the role of new media practices and skills in the process of assimilation; and a nuanced description of the diverse media environments accessed by minority youth. My findings suggest that Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth use digital media technology to assimilate into cultural, linguistic, and social dimensions of U.S. society. Particularly, as the five youths developed new media practices and gained new media skills, their process of adaptation to the culture and language of the host country accelerated. However, although they obtained skills that helped them to advance in their process of assimilation, their abilities were not developed to high levels of expertise and their participation in new media cultures often remained peripheral. Evidence reveals that digital inequalities and participation gaps persist and continue to evolve in complex ways.