As the son of two Dominican immigrants Daniel Vasquez ’16 has long been concerned with how the U.S. media and political parties talk about Hispanics as one monolithic voting block. “[It] trivializes the unique cultural, political, historical, and social facets of each Hispanic nationality,” he says. So the political science major and Spanish minor used his capstone experience to conduct research that gave voice to the voiceless.
His thesis, “Divided Political Allegiances? Understanding Hispanic Opinion Formation and Opinion Variation Toward Immigration Reform in the United States,” examined the variations in opinion across Hispanic communities on undocumented immigration. In order to probe why there was such a diversity of attitudes, Vasquez conducted interviews with 12 different individuals and analyzed survey data from the Pew Research Center.
“By understanding what accounts for the opinion variation, this thesis, to a certain extent, examines the relationship between public opinion and public policy,” says Vasquez. “If we understand the factors influencing Hispanic opinion on the issue of immigration reform, we can expect to gain insight on Hispanic political behavior. An insight on Hispanic political behavior can illuminate how policymakers can best interact with and serve Hispanic constituents.”
Vasquez hopes to serve those constituents himself. This summer, he is working as a paralegal in an immigration law firm in preparation for his own law education and career. His long-term objective, though, is simply to serve.
“My goal in life is to become a public servant,” he says. “My parents have sacrificed everything they have for the sake of improving my life. Their story has motivated me to give back to the voiceless, marginalized, and oppressed.”
What did you learn from your thesis?
[My] paper finds that the “bottom-up school” of thought offers the most compelling insight to understanding Hispanic opinion formation and variation on undocumented immigration and immigration reform. In particular, this paper illuminates the following compelling explanations:
- A focus on generational status reveals how foreign-born Hispanics espouse more pro-immigration attitudes with respect to undocumented immigration than second and third generation Hispanics. It was also found that higher levels of acculturation led to more negative attitudes towards undocumented immigration. For instance, Hispanics whose primary language was English were found to think that undocumented immigrants posed a negative effect at a higher rate than Hispanics whose primary language was Spanish dominant or a mixture of both languages.
- A focus on nationalities shows how Mexicans and Central Americans tend to espouse more pro-immigration attitudes with respect to undocumented immigrants than do other Hispanics, whereas Cubans express more conservative views. A focus on transnational relationships demonstrates how Hispanics who enter their destination country form their political opinions on certain issues based on the political opinions they have formed in their country of origin on a corresponding issue. For instance, the paper includes testimony from an interviewee about how the Dominican-Haitian Migrant Issue of 2014 affected his opinion on immigration reform in the U.S.
- While Hispanics utilize the media, there was no evidence found to suggest that Hispanics form their opinions on the issue of immigration via exposure to the media. What I find, instead, is how Hispanics rely on personal experiences and relationships to the issue of immigration to formulate their opinion on the issue. Hispanic use of the media, thus, is meant to seek an advocator and defender of their interests and values.
- While Hispanics participate in the two-party system and identify with a political party, there is no evidence to suggest that Hispanic affiliation with a political party determines their political views on the issue of immigration. The interview data presents numerous instances where individuals who align themselves with the Democratic Party deviate from the party’s platform on the issue of immigration.
How did your thesis advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, or interpret your results?
I had the pleasure of working under the advisement of [Assistant Professor] Zachary Oberfield. He provided me with unwavering support and guidance throughout the strenuous-yet-rewarding process of writing this thesis. Since my first day of classes at Haverford, Professor Oberfield has inspired and challenged me to become a better critical thinker and writer. He has supported my selection of a thesis topic and helped me solidify a methodological approach to understanding public opinion formation. Professor Oberfield greatly assisted in providing me with survey data that can be used to understand Hispanic political views, and providing me with insight on how to analyze the data. Throughout the entire process, Professor Oberfield has extremely flexible with his guidance and support.
Photo: Elvert Barnes
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.