Abstract: Political Rhetoric during the 2016 Presidential Election: Understanding the Experiences of Discrimination and Coping Among Latinx Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Political Rhetoric during the 2016 Presidential Election: Understanding the Experiences of Discrimination and Coping Among Latinx Youth

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Supreme Court, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Christina Huerta, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Jaime Booth, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background:  One quarter of all youth in the United States are Latinx and will make up nearly one-third of all youth in 2060. Despite their growing numbers, Latinx youth frequently experience prejudice and discrimination associated with their ethnic “minority” status. These experiences are linked to substance use, depression, anxiety, and conduct disorders that can persist over time. In the last presidential election Latinxs were the target of prejudicial language and discriminatory rhetoric. Experiences of discrimination may impact adolescent mental health, but little is known about the impact of the election cycle on Latinx youth perceptions of discrimination and related emotional outcomes. To address this gap this study aimed to answer the following questions: 1) How did youth understand and experience discrimination related to anti-immigrant political rhetoric during the 2016 presidential election? 2) What were Latinx youths’ emotional reactions to the messages that they perceived? 3) How did Latinx youth cope with perceptions of discrimination during the 2016 presidential election?

Methods: To address aims, a sample of Latinx youth (63% first generation, 37% immigrants) age 8-16 (n=30) living in Pittsburgh, PA were recruited to participate in six sessions of Visual Voices, a data collection method in which youth paint pictures based on prompts and discuss the pictures with their peers. Prompts included: 1) What makes you who you are? 2) What does it mean to be Latinx? 3) What are some challenges that you face? Paintings were photographed, and the dialogues were audio recorded and transcribed. A thematic analysis of qualitative data was conducted.

Results: While the prompts in this study were designed to engage youth in a reflection of their ethnic identity, discussion of politics and political issues surfaced frequently among youth of all ages. Thematic analysis indicated that youth experienced direct peer discrimination that they attributed to anti-immigrant political rhetoric during the presidential election and their emotional responses included anger, sadness, and powerlessness. Youth coping responses to discrimination included direct confrontation to discrimination and utilizing their imagination to respond to discrimination. Youth frequently reported using direct confrontation as a response to peer discrimination, and typically attempted to provide education to other youth regarding documentation statuses rather than becoming aggressive or treating their peers disrespectfully.

Implications:   The findings suggest that Latinx youth perceived and were impacted by the anti-immigrant rhetoric that was present during the 2016 presidential election. Youth were particularly concerned with deportation and the potential that they might be separated from their families and related this fear to the need to isolate from the outside world which can further harm the Latinx community. The results suggest that youth are keenly aware of messages that are being conveyed in the political arena, display strong emotional reactions, and are able to relate the larger macro discussions to interpersonal experiences of discrimination. For this purpose, preventative interventions are needed to help Latinx youth cope when discrimination is persistent.