Revisiting Ethnic Niches
Drawing on in-depth interviews with Korean and Mexican undocumented young adults in California, my findings show that the respective locations of principal ethnic niches, and ready access to these labor market structures, lead to divergent pathways of employment when no legal recourse exists. Despite both groups of undocumented young adults using similar strategies for job searching and having comparable academic backgrounds, my Korean respondents had more diverse options due to the occupational breadth of the Korean ethnic enclave, where access was often not contingent on legal status. In comparison my Mexican respondents were forced into low-wage jobs conventionally associated with undocumented status due to more limited occupational diversity in Mexican niches. This study shows how the collective capital of some Asian immigrant groups, particularly with regard to legal status and economic resources, has consequential spillover effects for their co-ethnoracial counterparts who are undocumented. The relative impact of documentation on work, therefore, is shaped by the broader proportion of documentation of one’s co-ethnic community. This work is published in a Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences issue edited by Roberto Gonzales and Steven Raphael with the title “Revisiting Ethnic Niches: A Comparative Analysis of the Labor Market Experiences of Asian and Latino Undocumented Young Adults."
My dissertation draws primarily on in-depth interviews with Asian and Latino undocumented young adults in California to address the question: How do race and ethnicity shape pathways of incorporation for undocumented young adults? The racialization of undocumented status that equates “illegal” with “Latino” not only has significant consequences for those who fit within the physical imagery of this identity, but also for those who fall outside of it. Hence, I specifically ask: How do those who can “pass” as documented navigate their every day lives? Asian undocumented immigrants serve as an interesting case to explore this question in particular, as they reside at the intersection of two racialization processes - the invisible stigma of undocumented immigration status and the visible identity of a non-threatening model minority.
The findings show that race indeed operates to simultaneously shield Asian undocumented young adults from and expose them to the detriments of their precarious immigration status in diverse institutional and relational contexts. Therefore, they navigate a delicate position of invisible illegality that is produced, reproduced, and maintained by the broader systemic landscape of racialization and its manifestations in concrete action and inaction by various actors, including immigration enforcement, community members, and even other undocumented immigrants.
My research interests in invisible stigma and intersectional identities will extend to the lives of young adults of color who identify as LGBTQ+ and Christian, exploring the implications of being marginalized sexual minorities in a predominantly conservative social context.