American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 107–130 | Cite as

Coming out of the shadows: Harnessing a cultural schema to advance the undocumented immigrant youth movement

Original Article

Abstract

Using the case of the undocumented immigrant youth movement, we examine how successful political mobilization depends upon the availability and adaptation of symbolically powerful cultural schemas. Analyses of 33 in-depth, semi-structured interviews and participant observations suggest that the existence of a cultural schema of ‘coming out,’ and the undocumented immigrant youth movement’s innovative use of it, allowed movement leaders to address potential adherents’ fears of publically revealing their immigration status and promote social movement participation. In adapting this cultural schema to the needs of this new movement context, national leaders increased the resonance of ‘coming out’ by pairing it with the schema of immigrants living in ‘the shadows.’ California leaders practiced additional cultural innovation by using ‘coming out’ to refer specifically to public and risky forms of disclosure and using other language to identify safer or more private forms of disclosure. We show how talk of coming out is shaped by positionality, so that movement leaders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals are more likely than others to speak of coming out as undocumented. This extends previous research on the importance of culture for facilitating successful political mobilization.

Keywords

cultural schemas resonance undocumented immigrants DREAMers social movements 

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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chicano/Latino StudiesUniversity of California IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Sociology and Gender StudiesUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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