Interpretive Social Science and the Experiences of Latino Professionals

One of the problems with academic social science research is the idea that good political analysis requires an emphasis on the “facts” and a de-emphasis on values or recommendations. This notion argues that social scientists should remain neutral observers who are limited to reporting empirical findings offering no policy recommendations.

However, this is simply not true. Rigorous auto-ethnographic research can give voice to marginalized communities and can lead to insights with meaningful societal implications. Auto-ethnography is defined as both:

the personal story of the author as well as the larger cultural meaning for the individual’s story” (2013 : 73).

This is what I’ve set out to do in Latino Professionals in America: Testimonios of Policy, Perseverance, and Success.

Through my own personal story and well-selected personal interviews, I engage in what Ron Schmidt, Sr. calls interpretive social science. According to Schmidt, interpretive political analysis

centers on approaches to political understanding that aim to clarify or illuminate the meaning and/or significance of political phenomena. (Schmidt 2016: 367).

This method is especially useful in doing research on racial and ethnic politics because it addresses barriers people of color face. With a growing racial gap along so many measures such as employment, earnings, poverty, housing, education, health, incarceration, and wealth, according to Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality’s Pathways magazine, it is unethical to ignore policy solutions that address the real obstacles to making the U.S. a multiracial democracy.

My book is about my personal journey and that of 31 other Latinos who are the first in their families to graduate from college and enter the professions. As a first-generation Latina professional, I could have never earned my PhD and eventually become a university professor without the guidance and support of mentors, combined with concrete supportive public policies. Why? Because by the time I was sixteen years old I was a pregnant, high school dropout who was kicked out of my home. I had my first child at the age of seventeen and married the father, who was an undocumented immigrant.

In this book, I document the paths of Latinos from across the nation — in a variety of professions—and explore their experiences as professionals amid family struggles and the country’s enduring racism, and include a discussion of the public policies and programs that would help increase the presence of Latinos in the professional world. Latinos and other people of color are the demographic (near) future of the United States, predicted to be 56% of the population by 2060, yet we continue to be underrepresented in key professions and in political institutions. This underrepresentation has implications for the health of our democratic institutions and society.

There are great risks in revealing our personal stories. We expose ourselves to criticism from our families, culture, colleagues, and friends. And we fully expect this. However, the potential benefits will be worth it. In this unique scholarly book, we have turned our negative experiences and disappointments into fuel in the hopes that they will help, inspire, and empower others. Our experiences hold the potential to become empowering for first-generation and students of color, especially, and to provide meaningful, concrete policy solutions for increasing the number of Latino professionals, which remains extremely low in America today. As Schmidt argues,

interpretive methods can articulate and address important dimensions of the question of the breadth of racialization in the contemporary polity that cannot be addressed from within a scientistic research paradigm (p. 372).

After sharing our revealing and important stories, I conclude the book on Latino professionals with the following statement:

Will enough people do what is required to open opportunities for Latinos and expand the number of Latino professionals by strongly advocating for equity-enhancing public policies and participating in mentoring programs that empower and support Latinos, and challenging the white racial frame that provides them so many advantages, so that Latinos and other oppressed people of color in the United States can pursue their dreams? Only time will tell if we will be finally welcomed as equals in America (p. 187).

In the spirit of interpretive methods, our numerous detailed accounts illustrate how supportive equity-enhancing public policies like affirmative action opened up opportunities for us, and how dedicated teachers and mentors helped us guided us towards successful and rewarding lives.

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