An exploration of Internet use by Salvadoran immigrants
Aldridge, Emuel Lonnie
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The recent influx of Latin American immigrants into the U.S. poses challenges for both the immigrants, who must adapt to a different society and language, and for the U.S., which faces the development of a new underclass if this challenge goes unmet. The Internet offers unprecedented access to informational resources for addressing this mutual problem, but there is little evidence of studies that examine potential benefits, or how Latino immigrants can access and learn to use this resource. The purpose of this study was to address this knowledge deficit by examining how one group of Latino immigrants, Salvadorans, gained familiarity with and became competent users of the Internet. This study integrated a participatory approach into a descriptive qualitative design. Instructional sessions were held with participants in their homes, public library, and computer lab. Data were collected through observations and semi-structured interviews and analyzed using the constant comparative method of data analysis. The study's sample consisted of twelve Salvadoran men and women from age 19 to 48 living in or near the same Southeastern U.S. city. Analysis of the six research questions that guided this study yielded the following findings: (1) Children provided the clearest motivation for acquiring Internet access. (2) Barriers to Internet use included lack of home access, computer inexperience, lack of facilitation and time, and rural origin. (3) Participants' conceptions of the Internet were both functional and systemic. (4) The Internet was used for communication, information, learning English and entertainment. (5) The process of gaining familiarity and competence consists of awareness, assisted interaction, foraging, and focused exploration. (6) Internet use impacts participants' adaptation to this country by removing informational barriers, strengthening the home country connection, and providing information in Spanish. These findings led to four conclusions: (1) This study's participants shared similar barriers to Internet use as other Latino immigrants, and (2) they acquired competence through a process common to most novices. (3) For regular Internet use to occur both access and interest must be present. (4) The Internet is both a facilitator and a barrier to adaptation. Implications for practice and suggestions for future research are presented.