Indigenous Immigrant Youths Understanding of Indigeneity: Language, Power Inequities, and Self-Understanding

by Chon David Barillas

Institution: University of Washington
Year: 2018
Keywords: Coloniality of Power; Immigration; Indigenous Youth; Language; Latinas/Latinos/Latinx; Education; To Be Assigned
Posted: 02/01/2018
Record ID: 2212818
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/40824


This qualitative study seeks to address the question of how indigenous immigrant youth from Latin America make sense of indigeneity in their countries of origin and in the United States. For the last couple of decades, there has been a great expansion of scholarship in the area of Latina/o education. As the field has proliferated, studies focusing on the variation within Latina/o populations have also emerged, including variation based on different countries of origin (e.g., Darder & Torres, 2014; Surez-Orozco, 1987) and gender (e.g., Ginorio & Huston, 2001; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2003). One highly significant yet under-investigated source of variation within the Latina/o population are indigenous immigrants from Latin America (Barajas & Ruiz, 2012). This group has been routinely silenced in their countries of origin and subsumed within the study of Latina/os in the U.S. (e.g., Stephen, 2007; Urrieta, 2013). While their identities may be collapsed, their struggles are unique and persist. Because of the systematic ways indigenous populations have been rendered invisible, I use a coloniality of power lens (Dussel, 1995; Lugones, 2010; Maldonado-Torres, 2007; Mignolo, 1995, 2000; Quijano, 2000) to foreground systems of oppression and power and the construction of the self and other (Corntassel, 2003, 2012; Holm, Pearson, & Chavis, 2003). In order to better understand the experiences of indigenous Latin American youth who had migrated to the U.S., I conducted a qualitative study of eight self-identifying indigenous youth from Mexico and Guatemala. Primary data for this study consists of interviews with focal youth. Other data gathered include interviews with non-self-identified indigenous Latino youth, two teachers, and one Bilingual Student Services Facilitator. Analysis of the youths interviews yielded three important findings. The first relates to asymmetries of power based on language. The youth described hierarchies of language, the economic opportunities afforded to Spanish speakers, and the subordinate position of indigenous languages. The second finding relates to their understanding of the discrimination indigenous peoples experienced in countries of origin and in the United States. In particular, the youth identified the use of indio as a racial epithet. Indio is an important vestige of coloniality as it positions indigenous peoples as inferior. The third finding elaborates on how the youth made sense of themselves and others. Participants relied on the use of indicators for making sense of the category indigenous; through these indicators, the youth revealed a partial understanding of their own indigeneity. I posit that the process of sense making the youth engaged in exhibited particular kinds of understanding and awareness of indigeneity, including their own and of others. This dissertation is an important contribution to the field of Latina/o education because it fills empirical and conceptual gaps. First, it shows the forms of oppression and systems of power indigenous youth understand andAdvisors/Committee Members: Jackson, Kara J (advisor), Dabach, Dafney B (advisor).