Thresholds of liminality: discourse and embodiment from separation to consummation among Guatemalan Maya youth workers in Los Angeles

Brendan H. O'Connor, Stephanie L. Canizales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This paper brings contemporary scholarship on youth migration, Indigeneity, race, and language into conversation with formative work on liminality and rites of passage. Drawing on six years' worth of participant observation and interviews with L1 Maya (primarily K'iche') speaking Guatemalan youth workers in Los Angeles, we theorize the transformations that characterize urban immigrant life for Indigenous Latinxs in the contemporary United States as a passage through the liminal state from separation to consummation. We first analyze participants' language behavior during the separation phase following migration, when youth sought to defend themselves from anti-Indigenous harm and discrimination through discourse practices such as cloaking or denying Maya proficiency, claiming to be Mexican or non-Indigenous Guatemalan, or avoiding speaking Spanish or K'iche' in public. Participants also employed techniques of bodily concealment that were believed to make them less racially identifiable in physical terms. As time went on, youth felt less of a need to defend themselves from stigmas attached to Indigeneity and Guatemalan identity and began to consider possibilities for expressing ethnic and linguistic pride in communal settings. This reflection was enabled by youth's growing embeddedness in Los Angeles's multicultural society along with coethnic small group settings that valorized Indigeneity and invited youth to compare their trajectories to those of other immigrant groups. We acknowledge the distinctive challenges that Indigenous youth encounter as immigrants to the US. However, our findings point beyond Indigenous Latinxs' post-migration experiences of shame, fear, and discrimination to possibilities for language maintenance and cultural pride in the context of long-term sobrevivencia, or survival, in diaspora.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-179
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number279
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Guatemala
  • language
  • Maya
  • migration
  • unaccompanied minors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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