The MexUSCan project brought together three international communities and a diverse group of people and organizations. The premise of MexUSCan was unique in several ways and breaks ground on issues such as, partnerships, technology, methodology, and target population. The MexUSCan research project offered a multi-methodological approach designed to examine the well being of youth within the context of economic globalization and trans-nationalism. MexUSCan aimed to join research efforts in the North American countries of Mexico, United States and Canada to better understand the challenges and benefits of being a Latina/o youth in the new millennium.
The MexUSCan project functioned through collaborative work among participant organizations from three metropolitan areas in North America with similar economic, industrial, and population patterns. Originally promoted as a study of the impact of NAFTA on youth well-being, each collaboratory partner preferred to frame the issue as one of a larger change process that involved NAFTA but they were less inclined to attribute the situation of youth in their region as the sole outcome of NAFTA. Collaboratory partners were somewhat passionate about framing the concerns as more inclusive, which immediately drew attention to the importance of an international focus.
While NAFTA ushered in an increased optimism for economic globalization, little attempt was made to monitor the social impact of of this movement on child and youth well being. MexUSCan results focusing on well-being indicators suggest the impact of NAFTA coinciding with other geo-political changes has had negative consequences, particularly on Latino youth. The North American Freet Trade Act (NAFTA) rocked the economic landscape of Mexico, Canada and the United States. Real wages decreased in all three countries, thousands of jobs were lost in Mexico, and US trade deficits increased. These and other changes have had serious consequences for children and youth.
The MexUSCan model had, as critical components of its design, research, public policy and community organizing goals. The process of collecting the necessary data for the target community's socioeconomic analysis presented an opportunity for local community based organizations to engage political, social, church and economic leaders and Latina/o community members - including youth - in public forums to discuss pertinent community affairs. The issues raised consistently focused on common concerns such as housing quality and availability, criminality rate, substance use and abuse, un/employment, and environmental issues such as exposure to hazardous waste, erosion, and air pollution.
In discussions with youth services leaders, MexUSCan found general agreement that the well being of Latino youth has been negatively affected by persistent economic and educational disadvantages. In the three identified metropolitan areas of the study, Toronto, Detroit and Monterrey, the Latino youth were approximately 30% of the Latino population. As an ethnic minority group in Canada and the US, and, a growing factor in Mexico's demographics, youth groups were seemingly victimized by poor social conditions. However, the effects were manifested differently depending in the country of residence and respective socio-economic circumstances. For example, coinciding with the enactment of (NAFTA) and other socio-political changes, youth unemployment in US and Canada and youth labor exploitation in Mexico grew. Under-education and high dropout rates, juvenile crime, poor housing and homelessness, poor health and mental health outcomes, teen pregnancy, and substance / alcohol use and abuse also grew.
In the case of unemployment and youth labor exploitation, Toronto and Detroit steadily reported youth unemployment rates between 35 and 55% among Latino/a youth while in Monterrey, Mexico almost 200,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 19 were reportedly economically active, 17% were under 14 years of age. Sources in the US and Canada were likely to attribute this rate of unemployment to discriminatory practices while in Mexico the factor was thought to be due to the rentability of youth as cheap labor.
In terms of education, in Toronto as well as in Detroit, the high school dropout rate among Latina/os fluctuated during the MexUSCan study period between 30 and 40 percent with a comparable percentage in Monterrey at the Middle School level (Kampfner and Aparicio, 1998). The difference has historically been attributed to the Anglo dominated systems' inability to address Latina/o's cultural and linguistic needs in the US and Canada, while in Monterrey poor education has often been attributed to the dependence on youth for support in conjunction with the youth's poorly regulated rentability in the unskilled employment sector.
MexUSCan study results also indicated that stereotyping of Latino/a youth as criminals remained high, a lack of affordable housing among working class families persists in each country, and health care, especially preventive care, continues to be unavailable to Latino/a youth. Health services are underutilized and health insurance rates are low.
In Mexico, the maquiladoras thrive on young and mostly female workers. A growing economic disparity has emerged whereby women, seniors, youth and even children increased their presence in poverty. High costs of consumable staples, housing, fuel and other expenses have forced them to join the workforce which predictably resulted in higher incidences of work related injuries, poor school attendance and drop out among the youth, and a dramatic increase in the informal economy by seniors and children.
Cross-national indicators call for the implementation of better measures of accountability, especially focused on social indicators and measures of well-being, to more comprehensively measure the effectiveness of globalization and free trade in North America.
The work of MexUSCan culminated in a Summit in June of 2003 that included collaboratory partners and a wide cadre of interested constituents who hold important social and political leadership positions at the local and national levels. During the Summit, all collaborators were invited to the University of Michigan's School of Social Work to present the background of their work and preliminary findings. Representatives from government, foundations and related programs who demonstrated interest in Latino youth issues, particularly related to Latino youth well-being, were invited to the Summit. The Summit generated excellent discussion and ideas for education, research, and policy.
At the Summit, the implications of MexUSCan work were discussed with respect to policies, program development, services and research and discussion on these important issues continues. The need for better research, improved data and inclusion of Latinos throughout the research process was also discussed. Participants advocated strongly for better linkages with key informants and indigenous leadership. In addition, there was a call for greater respect for the diversity between and among Latinos who carry with them unique and multiple identities beyond being Latino/a. Participants also called attention to the unique histories of Latinos in their own countries of origin and in their movement throughout North America. Above all, there was a call to recognize Latinos for their differences and not just their similarities.
Additionally, MexUSCan - Michigan engaged in a wide range of research activities in Detroit. They collected and reviewed numerous international and national reports focusing on youth well-being from which they were able to extract information on Latino youth. They compiled a bibliography of these resources.
The Canadian partners of MexUSCan have taken the lead in understanding gang problems and in developing a community-wide response to addressing the needs of marginalized youth. They have raised concern within their community about the negative social consequence of stereotyping of Latino/a youth, namely the increased suspicion by law enforcement of Latino/a youth behavior, resulting in a disproportionate rate of suspicion and detention. Their efforts have been aimed at drawing attention to the value and worth of Latino/a youth.
Last updated: 04/26/05
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