Pioneer Scholar Spotlight: Ethan

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“Ultimately, research, especially psychological research, is about helping our communities, helping people around us.”

Pioneer scholar Ethan, a third-generation Mexican-American from Austin, Texas, found his family background important to his Pioneer Research Program. With a broad interest in social sciences—he included psychology, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies on his Pioneer application—Ethan was “really excited” to be offered a place in a cohort with a research concentration focusing on the psychology of immigration. “I’m just overjoyed that I was able to participate in it.”

When considering the overall field of immigration, Ethan knew he did not share his grandparents’ experience. He also didn’t know a great deal about it. Unlike people with European heritage who can sometimes trace their ancestors back for generations or even centuries, when it comes to immigrants from Mexico, “nobody seems to care about that history.” However, Ethan had his own experience to draw on, one he sees as a “micro-migration.”

Austin is, Ethan says, much more economically and racially segregated than he had been aware of until he began to attend a magnet school in a different neighborhood. The culture shock of moving just a small distance, from the school in his home area of southeast Austin to the new school in northeast Austin, gave Ethan insight into some of the challenges that confront immigrants to a new country—challenges of language and accent, of acculturation and assimilation, of deciding what parts of the immigrant’s native culture should be preserved. “We can have so much stress when we don’t feel someone understands our culture, and how to bridge that gap that can become like wanting to shed a part of yourself.” But Ethan is proud of his culture, and wanted to examine this phenomenon as part of his Pioneer Research Program.

Another of Ethan’s interests also played a major role in his choice of research topic: language, especially bilingualism. “Bilingualism is something that’s like a sliding scale,” he said, and “linguistic acculturation” formed the basis for his research. Ethan researched and wrote about an experience that he and his friends had all had, and that many second- and third-generation children of immigrant families experience: language brokering. This is “the process of translation, interpretation that kids do for their parents,” which coincides with “cultural brokering,” navigating the intersection between two cultures. The specific focus of Ethan’s work was the stress that this experience causes young people, and the negative effect that can have on family dynamics. One interesting result of his research was that children who have more positive attitudes toward their cultures are less likely to experience family conflict as a result of their language brokering activities.

When he begins his studies at Yale, where he hopes to continue exploring “the intersection between anthropology, sociology, psychology, cultural studies, and how those all relate,” he will be the first member of his family to go to college. He hopes he might be a professor himself some day, and would like to stay in touch with his community in Austin, perhaps being able to help make positive changes.

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