Parents of global youth: contesting debt and belonging

Lauren Heidbrink, Michele Statz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


In the United States, recently arrived migrant youth encounter competing media and institutional discourses that cast them as dependents who have been rendered ‘left behind,’ ‘on their own,’ or ‘unaccompanied’ by their parents. A corresponding narrative emerges in which young migrants’ parents are framed as abusive, neglectful, and ignorant. Combined, these portrayals may garner specialized services and contribute to success in the legal realm. At the same time, however, they fail to recognize and even imperil the intimate intergenerational networks that facilitate transnational migration. In this article, we trace the homogenizing power of public discourses on young people and their families across two diverse ethnographic contexts, that of Chinese and Guatemalan migration. Focusing in particular on narratives of debt and belonging, we argue that the pervasive pathologization of migrant youths’ parents diminishes and contorts valued relationships over time. It correspondingly demands broader efforts to historicize and to contextualize youth mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)545-557
Number of pages13
JournalChildren's Geographies
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 3 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Parent–child relations
  • comparative research
  • debt
  • social agency
  • unaccompanied migration


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