Abstract: In Their Own Words: Responses of Latinx Youth to the 2016 Presidential Election (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

In Their Own Words: Responses of Latinx Youth to the 2016 Presidential Election

Sunday, January 14, 2018: 12:14 PM
Congress (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel Wells, MSW, MUP, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Laura Wray-Lake, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

Latinx youth are paying attention to today’s politics and actively reflecting on how the rhetoric and policies could affect their own lives and the communities around them. Policies related to immigration can affect the way youth see the world and how they feel about themselves. Research has found psychological and developmental consequences from immigration laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 for youth, such as greater ethnic discrimination from authorities, lower self-esteem, and higher risky behavior (Santos, Menjivar, & Godfrey, 2013; Santos & Menjivar, 2014). From planning to “build a wall” to calling most Mexicans “rapists and criminals,” Donald Trump has engaged in rhetoric that is derogatory and racist toward Mexicans and immigrants. With this increased rhetoric at a national policy level, it is critical to ask how young people are affected since the 2016 presidential election. Drawing on open-ended responses from a Latinx high school sample, we look at how this election has affected Latino youth and potential changes they made in their lives in response.


This study uses open-ended responses by 515 Latinos students (Mage = 16.0; 69.7% female) at 5 high schools in Southern California. Questions about youth’s feelings (either positive or negative) about the election, reasons for these feelings, and any changes to attitudes and behaviors were part of a larger survey administered in February-March 2017. A coding scheme was derived from a grounded theory approach; responses were coded in DeDoose by multiple coders. Cohen’s kappas of > .7 among coders indicated adequate reliability; discrepancies were discussed until consensus was reached.  


Many students expressed strong concern over Trump being elected; fear and anxiety were among the most salient emotions experienced, which have implications for youth’s well-being. Immigration policy was a very common concern about Trump.  Youth reported fear of family members’ deportation and changes in daily life from being more afraid to go out to decreased trust of others. Xenophobia was also a concern about Trump, and youth pointed to Trump’s derogatory comments to Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, women, and other groups. A small subset of youth had positive or ambivalent views about Trump, with many of these feeling optimistic about the economy during Trump’s presidency. A number of youth reported increased commitment to being civically involved, whether on behalf of themselves or other people.


The strong emotional reactions and changes that were described by youth can have a significant effect on youth’s well-being and how they participate in their school and community. These findings highlight the need for educators, schools and youth organizations to provide critical support for immigrant youth and space for all Latinx youth to express their feelings and opinions about the election. This study also highlights the range of ways that youth would like to be involved and participate, pointing to opportunities to support youth engagement and channel youth’s reactions and concerns into work for social change.