Citizenship politics : Latino civic participation across generations
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The field of Latino politics has traditionally explained relatively low rates of Latino political participation as rooted in several factors—low socio-economic status, a large immigrant share of the population, and nascent levels of acculturation. However, instances of vibrant civic activity among immigrants (many undocumented) abound, from the mass mobilization of the 2006 immigrant rights marches to examples of direct action by immigrant youth. This challenges many of the field’s assumptions about civic engagement. As a consequence, this dissertation reexamines the civic integration process from a multi-generational and institutional perspective. The objective of this dissertation project is to address how social institutions foment civic activity among Latinos and how that process differs across generations. I propose an original theory of ‘Generational Political Incorporation’ as an analytic tool that highlights the way immigrant generation interacts with institutional accessibility to structure pathways to incorporation. I detail how Latino participation in society’s major social institutions—churches, schools, the military, labor unions, and political parties—varies according to generational status. I show how limited access to some institutions during the immigrant generation hinders the incorporation process while those with expanded access help spur political engagement. Through a mixture of quantitative and qualitative analysis I find that Latino non-citizens, who have the greatest need for pathways to American civic life, quickly learn that few American institutions are willing or able to introduce them to supportive networks. As first generation immigrants, their relationship to American civic life is largely structured by the opportunities found in the most accessible institutions, namely churches and the public education system. By contrast, the acculturative experiences of the children of these immigrants are very different; as they enter adulthood and look to engage in civic activities, they are welcomed by the same institutions that were closed to their parents. By the third and subsequent generation, I find that levels of involvement are more dependent on socioeconomic status than their institutional affiliations. The dissertation illustrates how the acculturation process unfolds beyond traditional measures related to the immigrant experience and incorporates the all-important role of civic institutions in the integration process.