Our “Meet the Graduate Student” interview for the upcoming Spring 2017 Sociology of Children and Youth (CY) newsletter is with Stephanie Canizales, a PhD Candidate at the University of Southern California. Stephanie is the daughter of Salvadoran refugees who arrived in Los Angeles, California as unaccompanied minors. Her research areas include international migration, migrant youth incorporation, unaccompanied minors, and illegality. Stephanie’s on-going dissertation work examines the unaccompanied migration and integration experiences of unauthorized, unaccompanied Latino immigrant youth in Los Angeles. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Haynes Foundation, ASA Minority Fellowship Program, and more recently, the Ford Foundation. Findings from this research have been published by Ethnic and Racial Studies, Youth Circulations, the Conversation, and in various policy reports. Stephanie will be finalizing her dissertation, entitled Finding Home, during the 2017-2018 academic year.
Ann Beutel (CY Publications Committee Member) asked Stephanie the following questions:
Ann: You study child migrants, including unaccompanied child migrants. How and why did this become a research interest for you?
Stephanie: I was really involved in the LA immigrant youth movement in the years leading up to starting graduate school. I planned to spend my graduate years studying undocumented student support groups. During my first year, my advisor sent me off to “learn the landscape of Los Angeles” before starting fieldwork, which simultaneously seems vague and specific. I really had no idea what that meant, so I did it all. I tried to get as plugged in with different immigrant youth advocacy and support groups as possible.
My introduction to the unaccompanied migrant youth population in Los Angeles was that summer, when I began observing and participating in an informal support group for unaccompanied Guatemalan youth who came to the U.S., and Los Angeles specifically, looking for work to support their impoverished families abroad. These youth work predominately in the garment industry and are exposed to extreme forms of exploitation and violence in the workplace, including wage theft, denial of breaks, being locked in during work hours without proper lighting and ventilation, and the like.
Having only known of the undocumented immigrant student or adult worker narrative up until that summer, I was immediately stirred by the stories these youth workers shared. The term ‘unaccompanied’ brings to mind a different image in 2017 than it did back in 2012, when I first started to work with these youth who not only migrated alone but continue to live alone. This group is unaccompanied in the truest sense. They have come of age in the U.S. without a parent or guardian. In fact, they work to support their families that remain in their home country. As young adults, they are stuck in limbo. They do not qualify for Deferred Action because they have not saved documentation proving their arrival date or that they have been in the U.S. consistently since their arrival as minors (something that parents typically do). And they are now too old to receive the services that contemporary child migrants have access to. They have come of age completely invisible, but contributing to the U.S. economy through their labor in the garment industry or domestic work, and to civil society through their participation in churches, youth groups, community gardens, etc. Aside from all of this, I continue to be interested in the lives of unaccompanied child migrants because it is my own family history. I grew up not knowing the details of my parents’ migration stories. After about a year and half of fieldwork, when I would share my respondents’ stories with my family, my parents slowly started to open up about their childhoods and first years in the U.S. I learned that my dad arrived in Los Angeles at 17 and immediately began working in the garment industry to support himself. He proudly talks about sewing labels onto Guess jeans just after the question mark logo was created. My mother arrived in Los Angeles at the age of 9, and she bounced around between relatives and acquaintances, never really feeling safe or welcomed. I didn't know any of this when I started my research in 2012, but it inspires me daily.
Ann: What can you tell me about your dissertation?
Stephanie: Finding Home gives a glimpse into the lives of the thousands of unaccompanied Latino youth who enter the U.S. without documentation, many of whom remain “unparented,” and live without a biological parent. Contemporary assimilation theories use parents’ background to predict youth’s socioeconomic outcomes, but we know little about how immigrant youth construct social worlds and incorporate into a new land without parents. Finding Home draws on four years of participant observation and in-depth interviews to understand the ways undocumented, unparented Central American and Mexican migrants experience incorporation. I examine patterns of participation in school, work, family, and community—sites of interaction among immigrants and the host society— among three groups of unparented young people: 1) youth with supportive non-parent relative(s), 2) youth without relatives but with supportive mentor(s), and 3) youth bereft of support. I trace the ways undocumented, unparented immigrant youth navigate financial, political, and social insecurity as they settle in the U.S.
Finding Home contributes to scholarship by investigating how immigrant youth without parents to guide their incorporation access familial and community resources to navigate financial, social, and health instability and participate in U.S. society. I argue that unparented youth strategically patchwork their financial, social, and emotional capital to achieve stability, and counter marginalization by developing narratives around overcoming trauma, giving back practices, and transregional citizenship. Rather than draw on traditional socioeconomic markers of incorporation, I find that unparented migrant youth are remaking the meanings of belonging to include personal narratives of success. This study provides a window to examine how unaccompanied migrant youth fare in U.S. society. The incorporation of undocumented young people who arrived as unaccompanied minor migrants is pressing given current debates on immigration reform and the socioeconomic mobility of the Latino population, as well as the increased migration and displacement of children.
I am so excited and very fortunate to have received a Ford Foundation Dissertation Completion Fellowship for the 2017-2018 academic year and will be focusing on writing the dissertation over the next year.
Ann: You are on Twitter and write a blog. How has being on social media in these ways affected you as a scholar? What advice do you have for other children and youth scholars who would like to engage in social media?
Stephanie: When I first joined Twitter, I intended to use it to keep up with the work of others. Twitter is an especially great way to stay in the loop with my favorite scholars, news outlets, and join conversations around policies or events. Most publishers, university departments, faculty and graduate students, community organizations, and public figures have Twitter accounts. When you get a together a strong network of accounts to follow, Twitter can be a great information hub and a platform to engage with others. Over the years, social media has become one of my favorite ways to share my own writing and articles related to my own research. When I post a new report or article it's great to see it be shared, retweeted, favorited a few times. I know I’m reaching at least a handful of folks.
My website is ever-evolving. I was not sure what my website was for when I first published it. I thought it important to reserve the URL during my first year in graduate school with the hope that one day StephanieCanizales(dot)com would have some significance—a first-year graduate student’s dream. Now my website serves as a sort of center for my publications, stories my work is featured in, a public CV, and projects and stories related to the work that I do. It really is incredible to see the traffic on my site after my research is mentioned in a report or news story, or after I give a talk somewhere. It is a great way to track what people are most interested in (by tracking the pages that are clicked and shared the most). I have also gotten a few emails over the past two years from people outside of academia who have reached out because of a story they read or simply to thank me for the resource. I love that!
I think sharing my work and that of others that is at least tangentially related to my own is important for contextualizing my research for the public and giving a sense of not only the work that I do but also why it is important. If a news story is released about unaccompanied minors that it is being widely shared on Facebook, the LA Times writes a story about Guatemalan youth labor, or NPR releases a segment on Central American migration, I share the story on my website and give a brief reflection on how my research relates to that story.
Connecting research to the public conversation and vice versa is one of my priorities when it comes research. I have really appreciated being able to connect with community organizations or advocacy groups through Twitter and linking them to reports or essays I’ve written, or those written by others, that might be useful for the work these organizations are doing. For example, I recently had an essay published by the Conversation and because the link was shared so widely via Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets my article Ethnic and Racial Studies article was made open access. I can now re-share the article and reach more people.
Some quick advice about using social media: With increasing connectivity and evolving social networks I think it is important for scholars, especially graduate students and those of us going on the job market, to be mindful of what we are uploading onto social media. I am the first to say I have a personal Twitter account that is private and what I tell my friends is my “professor” account that is searchable. I tell all incoming first years in my department to be aware of who their audience is when uploading status updates, photos, memes, etc. on Twitter, Facebook, or any other outlet. Of course, be yourself! But also be aware that Google knows all and everything is searchable.
Finally, having a consistent image for profiles and bios is really useful for being recognized in academic settings. This is something I noticed about scholars I am connected with
through Facebook who are going on book tours, giving lectures, winning awards, and publishing in public news outlets. These people tend to use one image on most, if not all, websites and flyers. Having a consistent image (that isn’t a selfie with a sepia tone filter) goes a long way for graduate students looking to create a recognizable public image. Just last summer, I was at a Starbucks near the ASA conference venue and someone came up to me in line and said, “Hi, you’re Stephanie, right? I recognized you from your website.” Now, the trick is being up-to-date enough with other people’s websites to say, “Oh, hey, [person on a future job search committee]!”
Ann: Do you have any hobbies or other interests that you would like to share with the Children and Youth newsletter readers?
Stephanie: You mean besides research, writing, and teaching?
Being born and raised in Southern California, I love anything that gets me out by the ocean. Add a dog or two? Even better.
I’ve only recently started to be intent about having a work-life balance. And honestly, it’s much easier said than done! As I’ve moved out of the field and into writing, it seems even harder to break away and not feel guilt or pressure to get back to work. A few months back, I completed a 14-day writing challenge through the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity and much to my surprise each participant had to say what they rewarded themselves with after meeting their writing goal for the day. I found that the most rewarding things I could do were those that made me slow down and be present. Over the past few months, my favorites have been yoga and dog walking. I’m a novice on a yoga mat, but it really is relaxing and breaks me away from the office chair. I’ve started listening to audiobooks while dog walking, which I feel gets my creativity flowing and helps my storytelling when I sit back down to write. I’d love to hear what other people do to break up their work schedules!
Section on Children and Youth