Mexican Origin Parenting in Sunnyside
Harris, Elizabeth Caroline
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Over the last several decades, Mexican origin immigrants have dispersed across the United States (Massey, Durand and Malone 2002). One community that has experienced particular growth in its Mexican origin population is Sunnyside, an agricultural city in the Yakima Valley. In this new destination community, Mexican origin families confront problems of gangs, violence, concentrated poverty and drug abuse, along with the challenges of surviving in a community that offers few pathways for mobility to Latinos.In this study, I draw on 43 qualitative interviews and participant observer data to consider how Mexican origin parents, in two parent homes, go about the act of parenting in the context of Sunnyside. I query couples' parenting styles, with attention to how they develop aspirations for their children and to what models they use to inform their parenting. I look at how the structure of the community helps to perpetuate gendered parenting practices. Finally, I explore how these parenting approaches operate in the school system.I argue that while much of the parenting that I observed deviates from that advocated by child development specialists (e.g. Baumrind 1968; 2012), the parenting was well designed to protect children from the particular forms of risk that were prominent in Sunnyside. The parenting was typically authoritarian and drew on models that families brought with them from Mexico. Other research on immigrant acculturation suggests this was probably an effective way to keep children safe by promoting selective acculturation (Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Zhou 1997). The parenting, however, was ill-designed to help the children to succeed educationally. Although parents wanted their children to get an education, they could offer little direct help to their children around educational tasks. Instead, they used discipline and engaged their children in physical labor to encourage the children to want to do well in school. This descriptive study helps to demonstrate how the characteristics of one particular new immigrant destination shape family life, parenting styles and children's life chances.