Begun in September of 2009, Minnesota 2.0 aims to document and understand how 1.5 and 2nd generation Mexican, Somali, and Hmong youth use social networking sites 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 two graduate students—have spent the majority of our project time “reading” Facebook. We are focusing on the more publicly-accessible Fan Pages and Groups initiated by the three ethnic groups, in order to see how themes such as the following ones 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
Our 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 social networking discussions, while potentially a means of distraction, opens crucial spaces of identity formation. Overall, Minnesota 2.0 has shown us 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. Facebook and other types of Web 2.0 constitute a dynamic and wide-ranging platform for immigrant and refugee youth to shape their own identities as well as to connect with other youth—and even some adults—across Minnesota and across the world.