Life choices and Life Chances

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A presentation I gave at an Undergraduate Research Conference in 2005.

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Life choices and Life Chances

  1. 1. Life Choices and Life Chances: Intersections ofLife Choices and Life Chances: Intersections of Acculturation and Stratification AmongAcculturation and Stratification Among Mexicans in Union CountyMexicans in Union County Nancy Horak RandallNancy Horak Randall AndAnd Seth AllenSeth Allen Wingate University Department of SociologyWingate University Department of Sociology
  2. 2. BackgroundBackground  Union County, NC is not only the 24Union County, NC is not only the 24thth fastestfastest growing county in the nation, but is experiencinggrowing county in the nation, but is experiencing a surge in Spanish-speaking residents.a surge in Spanish-speaking residents.  Union County’s 2003 population is estimated atUnion County’s 2003 population is estimated at 145,986.145,986.  The Census Bureau estimates that 6.2% of theseThe Census Bureau estimates that 6.2% of these residents are “persons of Hispanic or Latinoresidents are “persons of Hispanic or Latino origin.”origin.”  The Census Bureau estimates that 77% of LatinosThe Census Bureau estimates that 77% of Latinos in Union County are Mexican (6970 persons).in Union County are Mexican (6970 persons).
  3. 3. Research QuestionsResearch Questions  Why have Mexicans moved to Union County?Why have Mexicans moved to Union County?  Do Mexican immigrants intend or plan toDo Mexican immigrants intend or plan to acculturate?acculturate?  What choices are Mexican residents making whichWhat choices are Mexican residents making which would improve their chances of socio-economicwould improve their chances of socio-economic stability in Union County?stability in Union County?  Are structural barriers to success, such as a lackAre structural barriers to success, such as a lack of transportation or an inflated housing market orof transportation or an inflated housing market or the Immigration Reform and Control Act,the Immigration Reform and Control Act, perceived by Mexican residents?perceived by Mexican residents?  Do Mexicans perceive discrimination in UnionDo Mexicans perceive discrimination in Union County?County?
  4. 4. Source of DataSource of Data  Personal interviews of MexicanPersonal interviews of Mexican residents were conducted in theresidents were conducted in the summer of 2004 by Allen andsummer of 2004 by Allen and Randall. Twenty-nine interviews wereRandall. Twenty-nine interviews were completed. Seven persons declinedcompleted. Seven persons declined to be interviewed. All respondentsto be interviewed. All respondents provided informed consent.provided informed consent.
  5. 5. Life Chances and Life Choices:Life Chances and Life Choices: Intersections of Acculturation andIntersections of Acculturation and Stratification among Union CountyStratification among Union County MexicansMexicans  Acculturation-cultural integration into theAcculturation-cultural integration into the larger society (e.g. learning English,larger society (e.g. learning English, watching TV in English)watching TV in English)  Stratification-structured social inequalityStratification-structured social inequality (e.g. laws and customs that rank people(e.g. laws and customs that rank people on social characterstics such as language,on social characterstics such as language, ethnicity that influence persons’ lifeethnicity that influence persons’ life chances)chances)
  6. 6. InterviewsInterviews  Questions focused on choices made orQuestions focused on choices made or knowledge of services/opportunitiesknowledge of services/opportunities leading to acculturation (e.g. Englishleading to acculturation (e.g. English classes) or socioeconomic stability (e.g.classes) or socioeconomic stability (e.g. buying a home, opening a bank account)buying a home, opening a bank account)  Consisted of 27 questions concerningConsisted of 27 questions concerning education, work, goals, form ofeducation, work, goals, form of transportation, use of social services,transportation, use of social services, perception of discrimination, reasons forperception of discrimination, reasons for moving to Monroe, etc.moving to Monroe, etc.
  7. 7. How interviews were obtainedHow interviews were obtained  Dr. Randall and I began by findingDr. Randall and I began by finding contacts in area churches, schools, andcontacts in area churches, schools, and the Union County Public Librarythe Union County Public Library  In these cases, we agreed to meet withIn these cases, we agreed to meet with individuals in a public setting or conductindividuals in a public setting or conduct the interview via telephonethe interview via telephone  The most common source of interviewsThe most common source of interviews were our frequent trips to local Mexicanwere our frequent trips to local Mexican stores and restaurantsstores and restaurants  In most cases, we explained our intentIn most cases, we explained our intent clearly and asked informants if they wouldclearly and asked informants if they would participate, almost all didparticipate, almost all did
  8. 8. State of Origin of RespondentsState of Origin of Respondents  GuerreroGuerrero 38%38%  Mexico CityMexico City 21%21%  MichoacanMichoacan 10%10%  TamaulipasTamaulipas 7%7%  PueblaPuebla 7%7%  Vera CruzVera Cruz 3%3%  GuanajautoGuanajauto 3%3%  GuadalajaraGuadalajara 3%3%  ZacatecasZacatecas 3%3%  MorelosMorelos 3%3%
  9. 9. General ObservationsGeneral Observations  86% claimed to be Catholic86% claimed to be Catholic  Only 1/3 sent remittances monthly, the majorityOnly 1/3 sent remittances monthly, the majority remitted less often or not at allremitted less often or not at all  3/4ths owned cars3/4ths owned cars  Vast majority consider themselves Mexicans;Vast majority consider themselves Mexicans; however, 14% were uncertain of their nationalityhowever, 14% were uncertain of their nationality  Several participants used percentages whenSeveral participants used percentages when describing aptitude in English, even when notdescribing aptitude in English, even when not promptedprompted  Almost all spoke optimistically about theAlmost all spoke optimistically about the opportunities in the U.S. and the ability to “saliropportunities in the U.S. and the ability to “salir adelante,” or move up in American societyadelante,” or move up in American society
  10. 10. Why they come?Why they come?  62% migrated to Union County primarily62% migrated to Union County primarily because of family, 1/5 came because ofbecause of family, 1/5 came because of friendsfriends  1/3 lived in other parts of the U.S. (mainly1/3 lived in other parts of the U.S. (mainly Chicago and Los Angeles) before movingChicago and Los Angeles) before moving to Union Countyto Union County  1/5 cited “tranquility” of semi-rural Union1/5 cited “tranquility” of semi-rural Union County as reason for living hereCounty as reason for living here  Only 1/3 moved to this area primarily forOnly 1/3 moved to this area primarily for workwork  One respondent met her boyfriend online!One respondent met her boyfriend online!
  11. 11. Perception of DiscriminationPerception of Discrimination  Contrary to popular belief, few perceivedContrary to popular belief, few perceived or were victims of discriminationor were victims of discrimination  Some respondents were denied jobs orSome respondents were denied jobs or housing for lack of documentation andhousing for lack of documentation and limited English proficiencylimited English proficiency  Others noted impatience when dealingOthers noted impatience when dealing with Anglos, rude expressions, and refusalwith Anglos, rude expressions, and refusal of host society to embrace Hispanics whenof host society to embrace Hispanics when opportunities did existopportunities did exist  Respondents who had lived in the UnitedRespondents who had lived in the United States for several years noticed increasedStates for several years noticed increased tolerance and respect for Latinostolerance and respect for Latinos
  12. 12. Myth Vs. Reality: Union CountyMyth Vs. Reality: Union County LatinosLatinos  Over 3/4ths intended to learn English at someOver 3/4ths intended to learn English at some point, nearly 20% spoke it at least proficientlypoint, nearly 20% spoke it at least proficiently  Roughly 60% had 12 years of education or moreRoughly 60% had 12 years of education or more  35% own homes35% own homes  Over half came from middle class families inOver half came from middle class families in Mexico*Mexico*  A substantial majority enjoyed English languageA substantial majority enjoyed English language media as much as they did Spanish radio andmedia as much as they did Spanish radio and televisiontelevision  Over 90% had plans for the next year (e.g.Over 90% had plans for the next year (e.g. buying home, starting a business, learningbuying home, starting a business, learning English, etc.)English, etc.)
  13. 13. ConclusionsConclusions  Contrary to popular belief, MexicanContrary to popular belief, Mexican immigrants are making a consciousimmigrants are making a conscious effort to adapt to North Americaneffort to adapt to North American culture. These immigrants areculture. These immigrants are maximizing their socio-economicmaximizing their socio-economic well-being and subsequent successwell-being and subsequent success through employment and financialthrough employment and financial planning, e.g. opening bankplanning, e.g. opening bank accounts, buying homes.accounts, buying homes.

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