A quarter of young adults in the U.S. today are the children of immigrants, and Latinos are the largest group. In Stagnant Dreamers, sociologist and social policy expert María Rendón follows 42 young men from two high-poverty Los Angeles neighborhoods as they transition into adulthood. Based on in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations with them and their immigrant parents, Stagnant Dreamers describes the challenges they face coming of age in the inner city and accessing higher education and good jobs, and demonstrates how family-based social ties and community institutions can serve as buffers against neighborhood violence, chronic poverty, incarceration, and other negative outcomes.
Neighborhoods in East and South Central Los Angeles were sites of acute gang violence that peaked in the 1990s, shattering any romantic notions of American life held by the immigrant parents. Yet, Rendón finds that their children are generally optimistic about their life chances and determined to make good on their parents’ sacrifices. Most are strongly oriented towards work. But despite high rates of employment, most earn modest wages and rely on kinship networks for labor market connections. Those who made social connections outside of their family and neighborhood contexts are more likely to have higher quality jobs. However, a middle-class lifestyle remains elusive for most, even for college graduates.
Rendón demonstrates the importance of social supports in helping second-generation immigrant youth succeed. To further their integration, she suggests investing in community organizations, combatting criminalization of Latino youth, and better integrating them into higher education institutions. Stagnant Dreamers presents a realistic yet hopeful account of how the Latino second generation is attempting to realize its vision of the American dream.