Street working girls in Mexico City: pathways to resilience in an adverse world

Pérez Carreón, José Gustavo
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This dissertation presents the findings of a one-year ethnographic investigation of how 23 adolescent girls working as vendors in the streets and public markets of Mexico City coped with adversity in their lives. The investigation focuses on the girls’ constructed meanings about adversity, their pathways to resilience, and the contextual factors that promoted or hindered their resilience across four ecological systems of development: the girls themselves, their families, their community, and their country. In this study, resilience was defined as the girls’ ability to sustain adaptive functioning in the face of contextual risks. To facilitate interaction with participants, the researcher joined a non-profit social services organization specializing in working with street youth, and accompanied the organization in their operative work. Data included observations and recorded interviews with the girls and adult participants, typically members of the girls’ families. Interviews vii were viewed as a co-construction of meanings between the participants and the researcher, facilitated by the establishment of trusting relationships and prolonged engagement in the field. Two female team members conducted interviews with the researcher to reduce gender difference tensions. Analysis revealed three major types of adversity experienced by the girls: 1) poverty, 2) community violence and 3) emotional ruptures and stressors. In facing adversity, the girls embodied an active orientation towards life, which they expressed in their work activity. The girls perceived work as an adaptive response to reduce the effects of poverty and as a preparation for future financial and emotional hardships. The girls adhered to a collective life orientation in which they saw their work as a way to protect their family unit, which represented a sense of belonging and safety in the face of identified violence. Finally, the girls adopted a self-reliant orientation, grounded in their life experiences and cultural expectations. They felt they had to solve problems by themselves, particularly healing from emotional ruptures. The analysis positions the girls’ narratives against the narratives of family members, primarily mothers, and community actors. The use of multiple voices illustrates how cultural beliefs and practices both precede and sustain the girls’ adaptive responses.