Bad Genes, Hunger, and Homelessness
This chapter describes the ways in which marginalized young Americans manage hunger, the threat of eviction, untreated illnesses, and the untimely death of loved ones, and how this shapes their chances of upward mobility. Growing up under the constraints of poverty requires that children learn to live in highly uncertain and precarious conditions and to readily deal with various types of crises and disruptions, often unforeseen, that occur on a regular basis. This chapter shows that marginalized youth internalize a valuable lesson: life is uncertain. They “normalize” these uncertainties by drawing on highly individualistic and often uncontrollable and otherworldly accounts, such as “bad genes,” “fate,” and “unknown conspiracies”—accounts that help them deal with the unpredictability of life. For example, in Port City, youth developed and enacted a guarded perception of what home means—often imagining home through a symbolic connection to the place where they were born or the country from which their parents or even grandparents immigrated to America—which left them always prepared and eager to move. Strategies like these enable meaning making among youth amid their struggles and uncertainties, but they also create additional obstacles for upward mobility.
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