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Coming of age in the new Latino diaspora: An ethnographic study of high school seniors in Nebraska

Jessica Lorene Sierk, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


“New Latino Diaspora” (NLD) describes the temporary and permanent settlement of increasing numbers of Latinos in areas that had not traditionally been home to Latinos (Murillo & Villenas, 1997). The often rapid demographic change associated with NLD communities has frequently resulted in fast-changing and improvisational inter-ethnic interactions (Hamann, Wortham, & Murillo, 2002). However, as time passes, these interactions become more patterned and sometimes the arrival of third populations (mainly African and Asian refugees) further changes these communities. Yet even as NLD communities change, the pattern of an established White population responding to newcomers endures and the need for the study of established community members’ understandings remains because of its power in shaping the opportunities available to newcomers. More information is needed about how whiteness (and insider versus outsider status) is conceptualized by those coming of age and how these conceptualizations influence students’ future goals and aspirations. The purpose of this ethnographic study is to describe and examine how high school seniors from two non-urban, NLD communities in Nebraska conceptualize race, and more specifically whiteness, as they transition from K-12 education to their post-secondary plans. As such, it seeks to answer the question: How does being of a particular community inform students’ understanding of themselves and others? Monological and dialogical data (Carspecken & Apple, 1992) were collected through the use of participant observation and ethnographic interviewing (Spradley, 1979, 1980). Data were analyzed using open and focused coding (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 1995) and domain analysis (Spradley, 1979). Findings indicate that both schools were de facto organized hierarchically along the lines of race, ethnicity, language, and nationality. An emphasis on tolerance and colorblindness, consistent with liberal multiculturalism and ideological whiteness, masked underlying tensions felt by students of color even when they were not the explicit targets of such tension. While diversity was predominantly viewed in a positive light, students and school personnel viewed it in terms of its derived benefits, which were almost exclusively available to the schools’ White students. I conclude this dissertation by proposing that the current one-way, exposure model be replaced by a two-way model advocating, promoting, and facilitating critical solidarity.

Subject Area

Multicultural Education|Secondary education|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Sierk, Jessica Lorene, "Coming of age in the new Latino diaspora: An ethnographic study of high school seniors in Nebraska" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10099952.