Let's dive into the life of Ana, who is a sixteen year old student with little confidence in being able to write a paper. Right now, she has a fear of being labeled inadequate in school. Ana walks into class knowing that her education is important and wants to do well. During lunch time, Ana sits with her closest girl friends as they chat in about their aspirations to teach elementary school. These are the group of friends that give Ana a sense of value.
Having emigrated from Mexico when she was very young, Ana was required to adapt to American culture, facing a great deal of what is known as acculturative stress. One of Ana's biggest concerns throughout her academic career has been her capability to speak English well enough.
Ana is particularly creative and bright but lacks the support from her teachers in order to overcome her language barrier. She does not want to be seen as different by her classmates. Additionally, Ana wishes she could relate to a broader group of students at her high school.
These are the barriers that stand in the way of Ana's academic success as a Latina.
Many studies indicate that Latinos have higher drop-out rates and lower academic achievement compared to some other groups. Typically, as Latino youth receive traditional American education, they are surrounded by and learn about the dominant culture. Some assimilate completely into American culture and abandon their cultural roots, while others look more deeply at their group in the context of the larger society.
An adolescent such as Ana is in the process of exploring her ethnic identity as a Mexican American female student. This exploration can include things such as learning about Latino history and traditions as well as facing issues of discrimination and prejudice. She is starting to ask questions such as "Who am I?" in order to give meaning to her life. Ana is also figuring out what it means to keep her cultural values that make up her ethnic identity. If Ana continues to give value to being Latina, she will gain self-esteem because of the value she perceives in her culture.
Studies have suggested that the formation of ethnic identity plays a vital role in the self-esteem of Latino adolescents. In order to support youth in spite of the academic barriers they face, we, as adults, should engage in daily positive social interactions with them as it supports their psychological health. The presence of adult encouragement is especially important in guiding adolescents towards academic success.
Studies also encourage counselors working with Latino adolescents to assess their ethnic identity with activities such as community events or field trips. Perhaps teachers may also collaborate with counselors and social workers to gain a better understanding of these barriers that affect Latino students even at a young age.
Psychology student at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, CA