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Abstract

How do aspects of one's humanity link to their nation's structure of opportunity? One aspect of the human experience is the ability to develop cognitive frameworks and self-perceptions of one's physical being based on interactions with the environment. Researchers have indicated that self-perceptions as well as judgments about others are often determined by physical appearance, suggesting that lighter skin is associated with attractiveness, privilege, and higher socio economic status, while darker skin is associated with inability, poverty, and unattractiveness (Glenn, 2009; Hunter, 2007). Contrary to popular discourse, empirical data links economic inequality to physical appearance, particularly in countries with national ideologies emphasizing multiculturalism. From the mid-1900s onward, constitutions and state legislations in Brazil and Colombia have implemented policies that pronounce representations of unique pluriethnic societies as democratic symbols for political and economic utopias. However, the two nations hold the lowest rates of educational mobility in the Latin American region (Viáforo López & Serna Alvarado, 2015). This dissertation takes an identity focused, ecological approach to explore how experiences within one's social environment conflict with larger national agendas and consequentially shape self-identities and postsecondary goals of emerging young adult citizens. Quantitative and qualitative measures were conducted among 737 high school seniors in two urban cities, Salvador, Brazil, and Cartagena, Colombia. Findings revealed that a), socioeconomic status significantly related to race and skin tone for both samples, b) those of African and Indigenous ancestry from the Brazilian sample and of darker skin tones from both samples were more likely to experience higher rates of discrimination, and c) Brazilian participants of African descent and darker skin tones reported the lowest academic performance in grammar courses. Thematic analyses illustrated that the most common barriers to college access were discriminatory practices, insufficient funds, and college entrance exams, however family support was the most common reason attributed to resiliency. In examining how national discourses of multiculturalism impact academic outcomes for marginalized Brazilian and Colombian youth, this study offers new ways of understanding the interplay between patriotic agendas and ethnic difference that impact social mobility, the future directions of nations, and international relations at large.

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