- “Allá en Guatemala”: Transnationalism, Language, and Identity of a Pentecostal Guatemalan-American Young Woman
This article examines the transnationalism of a Pentecostal Guatemalan-American young woman who is a second-generation immigrant. Amalia traveled to Guatemala from when she was six months old until her sophomore year in college. These visits to Guatemala have helped her maintain her Guatemalan language, culture, and identity in the larger Southern California context in which Central Americans’ language and culture are often subsumed by the majority Latino group: Mexicans/Mexican Americans and Chicanos/ as. In addition, attending Pentecostal churches both in the U.S. and in Guatemala has strengthened her religious identity. The data for this article come from: 1) a longitudinal case study of Amalia carried out over a period of eleven years, and 2) a four-year ethnography of the Pentecostal church Amalia and her family attend. These data include structured and semi-structured interviews with Amalia collected from age eight to twenty-one.
In the U.S., Latino births are outpacing immigration as the key source of growth, causing a tremendous impact on the educational system (Suro & Jeffrey, 2003). Over the next twenty years, the Latino second generation, the U.S.-born children of immigrants, will be the largest component of this population. There are important differences with respect to education—English fluency, and cultural attitudes between foreign-born and U.S. Latinos; yet too often, first- and second- generation immigrant categories get collapsed, and issues specific to the second generation are obscured by those of the first generation. Additionally, the Central American population is transforming once Mexican and Chicano communities into heterogeneous Latino/a communities. In Los Angeles in 2000, for example, Central Americans constituted 14% of the 1,719,073 Latinos/as in the city (U.S. Census, 2000). Together Salvadorans and Guatemalans represent 80% of the Central American population in Los Angeles. These demographics highlight the need to focus on understanding the social worlds of second-generation Central American students to better meet their educational needs. Examining their [End Page 67] transnational practices can shed light on these worlds.
This article focuses on transnationalism as engagement in practices that are conducted and linked across borders (Levitt & Waters, 2002). As studies on transnationalism continue to grow, many researchers closely examining immigrants’ lives have found the need to more exactly describe the impact of transnationalism on second-generation children. For example, Menjívar (2002) wrote: “Since current notions of transnationalism, and perhaps the concept itself have been based on the experiences of the parent generation, it will be fruitful to assess the long-term relevance of those experiences as the next generation reaches adulthood in the host country” (p. 532). As Menjívar’s statement implies, definitions of and research on transnationalism have tended to focus more on the experiences of the first generation, particularly adult males, than on children and youth. In addition, transnationalism is a lens to examine the ways in which globalization influences and shapes identity construction (Levitt & Waters, 2002). Although the work of such scholars as Levitt and Waters (2002), among others in their edited volume, attempts to fill the gap in this area, more research with second-generation immigrants is still lacking. In addition, there is a dearth of educational research on the transnational experiences of second-generation Central Americans living in the United States.
Specifically, this article explores how transnationalism influences and shapes the language, religion, and identity of second-generation Central Americans by examining the transnational experiences of a Guatemalan-American young woman who is a member of the Pentecostal church. Amalia Gramajo is presently a junior at a college in the Midwest. She has traveled repeatedly to Guatemala since she was six months old. I explore her transnational experiences during and across her childhood, adolescence, and now young adulthood and how these have helped maintain her language, culture, and religion. Findings point to the role of transnationalism in reinforcing her Guatemalan language and identity in the larger Southern California and United States contexts in which Central Americans’ language and identity are often subsumed by the majority Latino group: Mexicans / Mexican Americans and Chicanos/as. First, traveling to...