By Andy Wilhide and Justin Schell
Work on the Minnesota 2.0 project is a very different example of "What I'm Reading." Begun in September of 2009, Minnesota 2.0 aims to ...
... document and understand how social networking sites have opened ways for 1.5 and 2nd generation Mexican, Somali, and Hmong youth to express their emerging sense of identity and social connection - to Minnesota and the U.S., to their parents and communities, to each other, and to the homelands from which their families arrived.
The students involved in the project--six undergraduates as well as well the two of us--have spent the majority of our time "reading" Facebook. We are focusing on the more publicly-accessible Fan Pages and Groups of the three ethnic groups, and how themes such as the following are discussed and debated:
• Ethnic identity and pride, as well as connections across a given diaspora
• Gender and sexuality
• Discussions about language as it relates to cultural and ethnic identity
• The struggles of living life as an immigrant and refugee
• Homeland politics
• Americanization and assimilation
The research we are doing overturns assumptions that social networking sites are ephemeral time-wasters that distract youth from more meaningful pursuits. Instead, we have found that participating in discussions on social networking, while potentially a means of distraction, are also crucial spaces of identity formation. Our research has also shown a more popular culture-oriented conceptions of these ethnic groups, whether it be discussions around the Hmong actors in Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, the huge number of Groups and Fan Pages dedicated to Mexican restaurants and vacations, and, on a more depressing note, the often vicious jokes and stereotypes imagined through Somalia. Overall, Minnesota 2.0 has shown how much Facebook is a medium of connection, not only amongst the profiles and pages we've looked at, but also amongst those working on the project.
In the next three blog entries, the undergraduate research assistants working with us on the project will write entries detailing their initial research with Somali, Hmong, and Mexican Facebook materials. As you will find out from their entries, Facebook and other instances of Web 2.0 are a dynamic and wide-ranging platform for immigrant and refugee youth to shape their own identities as well as connect with other youth--and even some adults--across the Twin Cities and across the world.
Andy Wilhide is a Ph.D. Student in History, and Justin Schell is IHRC Graduate Research Assistant and Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature.