Erika Hernandez, Doctoral Candidate, Virginia Tech

Personal Spotlight
We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latinx youth and families, or another topic that is important to you now? Who was an important mentor to you in this work, or was there a particularly influential study in the field or in a related field?

My career path may be a little different than that of others in the Latinx Caucus. This is because when I decided to apply to graduate school, I had a general interest to investigate parent-child conversations and their impact on children’s socio-emotional development. It wasn’t until my 3rd year of graduate school that I began to incorporate into this work the perspective of the Latinx youth and family, and in general, ethnically and culturally diverse families. In fact, it wasn’t until my 3rd year of graduate school that I, myself, began to truly embrace my own Latinx background. The transition from living in San Antonio, Texas to Southwest Virginia was tough, which made my Latinx background salient to me. When I moved to Southwest Virginia and began my graduate work, I began to spend time and energy thinking about my own status as a historically underrepresented student of color. It was this self-reflection that drew me to conduct my current research on Latinx youth and families from culturally diverse backgrounds. Now, I consider my identity as a Latina to be a central component of my work, as well as my advocacy for diverse and inclusive developmental science.

There have been two mentors who have been influential in my development. First, my graduate mentor, Dr. Julie Dunsmore, has always supported my exploration of identity in my personal life and research activities. I would not have been able to continue on this research trajectory without her support. Second, I was fortunate to have met Dr. Linda Halgunseth during my 3rd year of graduate school, just as I was struggling to connect my personal identity to my research. She helped immerse me in the Latinx Caucus and jumpstart my research involving Latinx youth and families. She was my gateway into this group of scholars and this work, and continues to support me in my career.

Is there any particular advice that you would give to someone starting out in the field and doing work in your area?

My advice to someone starting out in this area is to understand that it is perfectly fine to be interested in a research topic because it impacted your personal life. That’s where passion originates.

Research Spotlight
We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.

I am currently working on my dissertation, which is a mixed-methods project focused on intergenerational reminiscing in underrepresented families in the U.S. (African American, Latinx, and Appalachian). In this project, families (grandmother-mother-child triads, grandmother-child dyads, and mother-child dyads) are asked to discuss past emotional events. Grandmothers and mothers participate in an open-ended interview about their cultural values as they relate to their view of emotions in their family. Grandmothers and mothers also report on their own experiences as historically underrepresented minorities as well as their child’s/grandchild’s social behavior.

I am excited about this project because most prior work in this field is conducted with middle-class White families. As a result, conceptualizations of normative developmental processes have not been inclusive of ways that minority families may teach children about emotions. Further, by focusing almost exclusively on parents’ contributions, prior research has missed the importance of extended kin networks that is common in minority family structures. I aim to address this gap by investigating grandmothers’ role in teaching children about emotions, both as an individual socializer and within the family system. I also am excited that by involving African American, Latinx, and Appalachian families in my research, I am able to examine multiple components of underrepresentation. Although very different in history and experiences, these families all share the status of underrepresented in the U.S., so I will be able to examine similarities and differences within and across these different groups.

Both quantitative and qualitative analyses are underway, with results expected in April for my defense in May! The results will highlight the importance of considering the ecological context of how underrepresented families teach children about emotion, and how this may translate to gaps in past research that is largely based on middle-class White families.

Any upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about?

I have a paper coming out in the Journal of Rural Mental Health about how my team implemented a parenting group related to emotions in a small, rural Appalachian town. We focused on successes and barriers of the program, and found that culturally-relevant adjustments made by the facilitator fostered parents’ progression in their emotion-related parenting practices. The team I collaborated with was interdisciplinary, utilizing theory and methodology from Developmental Psychology, Linguistics, Appalachian Studies, and Marriage and Family Therapy. We’ve been working on this project for quite some time now, so we’re excited that others will get to read it soon!

Hernandez, E., Carmichael, K., Satterwhite, E., Yanuaria, C., & Dunsmore, J.C. (Accepted). “Lots of prayer, lots of emotional coaching, and pray it works out the best”: Tuning in to KidsTM in a rural Appalachian community. Journal of Rural Mental Health.

Reflections on Latinx Caucus Experiences
Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latinx Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latinx Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.

The Latinx Caucus has also been influential in my career development, particularly for two reasons. First, the caucus creates a sense of community for Latinx researchers. This caucus brings together a group of people within the same professional domain and with similar backgrounds and experiences. Given the underrepresentation of Latinx individuals in the field, I believe the connections we are making within the caucus are necessary. Many of us have social support in our networks of Latinx individuals outside of the field, such as family and friends, as well as social and professional support from our colleagues in the field, but many of whom have very different backgrounds. The Latinx Caucus brings together scholars who can connect over both their professional and personal lives, which is important for our success. Scholars who are not from underrepresented backgrounds often enjoy this luxury. Second, the Caucus fosters diverse thinking in the field. As Latinx individuals, we come from different backgrounds than that of many of the individuals who have conducted the majority of science in child development and as such, the field benefits from the unique perspectives that Latinx caucus members foster.



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