The immigration experience as a Latino-American is as diverse as the manifold cultures that the pan-ethnic identity, Latino, aims to subsume. With regards to the immigration experience, Zavella (1991) lays an emphasis on the notion of social location. The difference among Latinos in American society is embedded in their “social location within the social structure”, in which identity, or one’s sense of self, is emergent from the intersected social spaces formed by class, race/ethnicity, gender, and culture. In order to gain a sufficient understanding of the identity of the Latino-American immigrant, it is necessary to consider the subjective conditions under which individual experiences have shaped behaviors and attitudes. Through examining social location, this essay aims to reveal the significance that an individual immigration experience has had in shaping a sense of self in relation to American culture. In this essay, I discuss his immigration process in light of themes such as Latino identity, assimilation, legal status, immigrant social network in reception context, and family obligations to demonstrate how Mr. Raya’s personal experiences have constructed his identity as a proud American. In particular, I will consider how these themes contribute to his relation to the Latino community, how an active effort to learn English and familiarize with legal boundaries constituted a sense of belonging, perspective roles in U.S. society, and the influence of family values on his behavior.
Suarez-Orozco, Marcelo and Paez (2002) explain how the Spanish language acts as the unifying agent across Latinos in American society. The Latino population is made up of those whom originate, or are descendants from, a vast array of Latin-American countries that ranges from Mexico, reaches oversea to the Caribbean Islands, and down through Central to South America. The cultural difference among immigrants and the way in which American society receives them contributes to their social location and differs greatly between individuals of the Latino community. The ethnic category of Latino is one in which the United States has adopted in an attempt to racially define a particular sect of society. The Latino identity has been crafted by the U.S. government and gains its meaning solely in relation to the experience in U.S. society. Although Latinos are often misrepresented by their pan-ethnic title, “the Spanish language generates a powerful gravitational field bringing them together.” The assimilation experience as a Latino immigrant may be divided largely by structural forces associated with cultural origins, however, the Latino identity stands united under the Spanish language.
Originally from South America, Mr. Raya is a proud Peruvian who associates himself with others from Latin American backgrounds due to their common cultural use of the Spanish language. Mr. Raya elucidates, “I want to begin by clarifying what the term Latinos means. So Spanish comes from Latin…so our roots are from Latin. That’s why our language is latino. The language. Not our race. Because I’m from South America, Rigo for instance is from Mexico, but if you see us together then you can call us Latinos. Because it is the general idea.” (p.1, l.1-4). Mr. Raya clearly states that his connection to other Latinos, such as his co-worker Rigo, is solely due to their use of the Latin-base language, Spanish. Similar to the experience expressed in the literature, Mr. Raya’s identity as a Latino is only in relation to his association with other Latinos living in America.
Chavez (2008) demonstrates how the assimilation process of Latinos migrating to the U.S. has been compromised and restricted due to the “Latino Threat Narrative”. He argues that the popularly held idea that the Latino presence in the U.S. challenges American ideals and society on the whole accounts for the stunted rates of assimilation among Latinos in America....
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