College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-8-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bernadette Sanchez, PhD

Second Advisor

Anne Saw, PhD

Third Advisor

Antonio Polo, PhD


During adolescence, youth gain sociocognitive skills to think abstractly about inequalities which may propel critical civic engagement (CCE, i.e., civically engaged behaviors aimed to transform systems of inequality). Latinx immigrant-origin youth must uniquely decipher their place within U.S. political contexts, considering their hyphenated multi-national identities and potential familial obligations, which may differ drastically from the experiences typically captured in the civic engagement literature that are often based on non-immigrant, White, middle-class American young adults. Additionally, previous research on the Latinx immigrant community has bypassed nuances of their civic engagement by failing to consider within-group differences (e.g., nationality, generational status), or by primarily focusing on civic engagement as an outcome and little on its developmental processes. Further, only a small number of studies have focused on the role of supportive non-parental adults, such as mentors, in facilitating civic engagement, with even less focusing on Latinx youth.

This study employed a qualitative approach, Constructivist Grounded Theory, to explore the CCE of Latinx immigrant-origin youth through the framework of youth sociopolitical development. I examined the following research questions: (1) How do Latinx immigrant-origin youth conceptualize and participate in critical civic engagement? (2) How do mentors shape the critical civic engagement of immigrant-origin Latinx youth? (3) How do adults hinder critical civic engagement? Participants were recruited from U.S. regions with large but varying Latinx populations in collaboration with two large universities and the affiliate offices of a national mentoring organization, which is a resource and advocate for mentoring. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a diverse sample of Latinx immigrant-origin youth (N = 21) between the ages of 18 and 24 years. Interview data were analyzed by three coders. Results revealed that Latinx immigrant-origin youth’s critical civic engagement encompassed actions that raised social consciousness and established collective pressure. Participants’ CCE was positively shaped by natural mentors who modeled community engagement and activism, provided emotional support, equipped youth through instrumental support, provided space for reflection and dialogue, and arranged opportunities for action. Findings also revealed that adults can be an impediment to CCE by discouraging the discussion of social issues or creating a difficult environment for frank conversations, minimizing youth concerns about social issues, and becoming barriers for youth to take action. This study provides an in-depth understanding of the critical civic engagement of this population. Additionally, through a deeper understanding of the role of mentors, future interventions can be developed to better equip, support, and mobilize Latinx immigrant-origin youth in creating structural change for the betterment of their community.

SLP Collection


Included in

Psychology Commons