Norma Perez-Brena

Personal Spotlight:

We asked scholars to describe some of the following: what drew them to work with Latino youth and families? Who was an important mentor to them in their work, or was there a particularly influential study? Do they have advice or tips to someone starting out in the field? 

My research interests are informed by my direct life experiences as a young immigrant and the mentorship of Dr. Jeff Cookston and Dr. Kimberly Updegraff. I immigrated to the U.S. at age twelve with my family. As a result of this immigration experience, my family dynamics changed, my self-identity changed, and my relationship to the Mexican and American culture changed. I never fully understood why this happened, as stories like mine were not often discussed in the classroom. When I joined Dr. Cookston’s qualitative research lab, I discovered that these topics were under study! Knowing that I could explore topics relevant to my own experience sparked my passion for the field. Later Dr. Kim Updegraff mentored me through my doctoral training and I learned how to conduct quantitative, longitudinal, and family research with Mexican American families. Finally, the seminal work of Drs. Cynthia García Coll, Alejandro Portes, Rubén Rumbaut, and Carola Suárez-Orozco have influence my work and interest in the psychological and sociological processes that impact immigrant families.

My advice for new scholars would be to be willing to take chances, be different, and think differently. Nurturing unique perspectives and methods are what help build innovation. Being true to yourself and your interests are what will keep you passionate about your work.

Research Spotlight:

We invited scholars to share short paragraph describing a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it. We also invited them to highlight an upcoming talk, presentation, or publication that may interest members.

I am excited about an upcoming study that will be published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology focused on the changes in Mexican-origin youths’ educational expectations from early to late adolescence. My colleagues and I explored the intersection of gender, immigrant status, and socioeconomic status to disentangle the unique association of each of these social position variables while also exploring how they work together to create a promotive or inhibiting developmental niche. In particular we find that immigrant boys and girls report higher educational expectations than U.S-born youth in early adolescence but these expectations lower over time. The rate of change and pattern of change differ for immigrant boys and immigrant girls, while U.S.-born boys and girls show no changes. I am excited for this study, because it provides a direct test of many elements suggested in Garcia Coll and colleagues (1996) cultural-ecological model and help extend our understanding of the immigrant paradox as an intergroup (immigrant vs. U.S.-born) and intragroup (changes in outcomes over time) phenomena.  Our findings also provided clear suggestions for at-risk subgroups as well as sensitive periods for targeted interventions.

Besides the above mentioned article, my colleagues and I are also excited for two other longitudinal studies that will be published in Developmental Psychology. One study explores the changes in adolescents’ risky behaviors and the protective role familism values (Lead author: Lorey A. Wheeler). The other study explores changes in adolescents’ cultural orientations and the role of neighborhood ethnic context (Lead author: Rebecca M. B. White). I also look forward to seeing everyone at SRCD!

Reflections on Latino Caucus Experiences

The SRCD Latino Caucus has provided a venue for me to meet and collaborate with colleagues who are just as passionate about research with Latino families. I have met new colleagues and caught up with old friends at the various conference meet and greets, I have developed collaborative relationships by using the panel presentation spreadsheet, and I have discovered new scholars in my field using the Latino Caucus google-scholar site. I am so proud to be a part of this organization and I am happy to serve on the communications and publications subcommittee. I look forward to seeing the growth and further development of the Latino Caucus – especially the development of a Latino caucus website! I am also excited for the upcoming development of the Tri-Caucus, a collaborative initiative by the Asian, Black, and Latino Caucuses, to promote research on racial/ethnic minority and immigrant youth.

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