The Political Incorporation Through Citizenship of Salvadoran Forced Migrants in the Washington Metropolitan Area
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Sociology. American University
This qualitative study explores the political incorporation through citizenship of Salvadoran forced migrants who fled armed violence in El Salvador from 1975 to 1991 and settled in the Washington metropolitan area. Snowball sampling sought maximum representativeness and produced a quota sample of 60 men and women. Using an interview guide, data were collected about their migration and legalization process in the United States (U.S.), and about their civic and political participation and sense of belonging towards El Salvador and the U.S. The forced migration of these Salvadorans was gendered. More men than women departed when state repression targeted mostly men involved in confrontational political activism. During armed conflict, the vulnerability of women increased, leading to their flight. The mode and date of U.S. entry stratified Salvadorans into those without legal status or with conditional status and those with permanent residency and a path to citizenship. Most of them sought a "right to security," or the freedom to rebuild and sustain dignified lives. Many achieved permanent residency through social ties that made them eligible via employment, marriage, or family. Others had to await suitable U.S. immigration law reform. Driven by a "giving-back" obligation, these Salvadorans participate civically and politically toward the U.S. and El Salvador. Pre-migration experiences help them establish ethnic organizations in the U.S., mostly led by men. Exposure to the U.S. political system reinforces gendered participation. Women and men participate equally in U.S. elections. More women than men engage in advocacy and volunteerism, and more men than women, in partisan activities. To connect from the U.S. with communities back home, men head hometown associations, and men and women lead other homeland groups. Women are more inclined than men to use their resources to travel in order to vote in Salvadoran elections. Salvadoran forced migrants exhibit an "acculturated homeland identity," a middle-class and uniquely American fusion, and they practice dual citizenship. Love and rootedness represent their homeland identity. Gratitude and U.S. cultural competence constitute their U.S. identity. Salvadoran forced migrants believe that they are negatively perceived as Latinos in the U.S., and that they are disenfranchised citizens in their homeland.
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