Beating the Odds: the Undocumented Youth Movement of Latinos as a Vehicle for Upward Social Mobility

by Dirk Eisema, Tara Fiorito and Martha Montero-Sieburth
(University of Amsterdam)

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Drawing upon ethnographic research of in-depth interviews, life histories, attendance at rallies, festivities, and informal conversations with over 150 undocumented Latino youth activists in Los Angeles, we argue in this paper that the political and civic engagement of marginalized and stigmatized undocumented youth enables them to have social mobility prospects. Contrary to the U.S. literature on undocumented Latino 1.5 generation, which tends to focus on their socio-economic and educational disadvantages and overlooks the ways in which undocumented youth movements in the US enhance their social mobility through higher education, our findings indicate that Latino youth from low income neighborhoods embrace their undocumented identity, to become individually and collectively de-stigmatized and empowered. Re-appropriating education to their advantage, they develop professional activist dispositions that fuel their self-confidence, and overcome fear of governmental authorities. Moreover, they also use the movement’s networks for jobs, internships and funding, which in turn enhances their collective action towards beating the odds and climbing the ladder of social mobility.

Keywords: undocumented youth, the DREAMers, social mobility, social movements, educational advancement

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:
Eisema, D., Fiorito, T., & Montero-Sieburth, M. (2014). Beating the Odds: the Undocumented Youth Movement of Latinos as a Vehicle for Upward Social Mobility. New Diversities, 16(1), 23-39. Retrieved [todaysdate] from
16-01_CoverNew Diversities • Volume 16, No. 1, 2014
Social Mobility and Identity Formation
Guest Editors: Jens Schneider (University of Osnabrück) and Maurice Crul (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
ISSN-Print 2199-8108
ISSN-Internet 2199-8116