What it is
Culturally responsive youth programs are non-formal learning environments in which young people feel safe, valued and empowered, as their cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives are represented and included in program structure and staffing.
Culture is a way of being, thinking, organizing knowledge, and relating to others. It can shape one’s attitude toward people from different cultures.
Immigrant origin youth are children of immigrants. They may be first-generation (born in different country) or second-generation (born in the U.S. with a parent from a different country).
Why it matters
Twenty-six percent of school-aged children today are either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. Immigrant origin youth tend to have educational aspirations that are ultimately unmet. This is because structural inequalities in society keep immigrant origin youth from gaining resources (e.g. material, financial, and social) that could help them achieve the lives they aspire for themselves and their families.
These inequitable social conditions create a lack of social and cultural belonging among immigrant origin youth in U.S. society. A lack of belonging promotes a false sense of inferiority that strips away youths’ sense of hope and their agency to redress the inequalities along their pathways towards thriving futures.
Immigrant-origin youth need opportunities to assess their lives, reclaim hope, dignity, and make a plan to achieve the lives they want for themselves and for their communities.
What effective practice looks like
High quality, organized youth programs are well positioned to be the opportunity-making spaces immigrant origin youth because they:
- Are youth-centered
- Offer opportunities for youth to explore their passions and identities
- Prioritize youth belonging
- Emphasize the importance of developmental relationships
When these elements are in place, research suggests that youth become more prepared to chart their pathways to valued futures and make a difference in their communities. But youth only experience the benefits of youth programming when they participate in programs that value and match their culture. If their culture is absent from their youth program experience, they are likely to feel socially isolated and inferior to others. This requires that program staff take on the critical role in making sure these program elements are culturally responsive for immigrant origin youth by:
- Acknowledging immigrant origin youths’ cultural assets,
- Helping immigrant origin youth examine the challenges they face in society,
- Supporting immigrant origin youth in building a positive cultural identity
By participating in culturally relevant youth programs, immigrant origin youth are more likely to develop a strong sense of self-worth and agency (an ability to take action on their world in order to achieve future aspirations).
Tips for program staff
- Examine your own cultural identity and cultural assumptions.
- Take the time to learn about youths’ cultural backgrounds, heritages and languages;Then, show them that you recognize and value their strengths.
- Be flexible with program policies and structures that might not align with youths’ culture.
- Co-create program activities with youth in order to bring their stories and histories into the program.
- Create opportunities for youth to reflect on their own identities and place in society.
- Help youth take action to make a more equitable world where all young people feel valuable and like they belong.
- Engage immigrant oriented youth workers.They might be of immigrant origin themselves, be bilingual, or have done the hard work of critically reflecting on their own identities.
- Provide opportunities for families to be involved in program activities; Prioritize family outreach as part of your program plan.
More from Extension
- From Context to outcomes: A thriving model for 4-H Youth Development Programs. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension.
- Naming Their World in a Culturally Responsive Space: Experiences of Hmong Adolescents in an After-School Theatre Program. Journal of Adolescent Research.
- Introduction: The importance of culture in youth programs. Journal of Adolescent Research.
- Positive youth development as a strategy for addressing readiness and equity: A commentary. Child development.
- Designing culturally responsive organized after-school activities. Journal of Adolescent Research.
- A Culturally Responsive Guide to Fostering the Inclusion of Immigrant Origin Students. University of California.
Reviewed in 2020