Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy Romero-Daza, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Heide Castaneda, Ph.D., MPH

Committee Member

Iraida Carrion, Ph.D., LCSW

Committee Member

Lauri Wright, Ph.D., RDN


adolescent perspective, critical medical anthropology, Hispanic adolescent, neighborhood violence


This study explored how Hispanic youth (ages 13-21 years) living in low-income neighborhoods of Florida defined resiliency and expressed agency navigating personal challenges and neighborhood adversity in pursuit of success. From the standpoint of the participants, this study focused on how youths: 1) judge the quality of life in their neighborhoods and the opportunities available for them, 2) identify personal aspirations for themselves and 3) identify what resilient factors allowed them to face the challenges and barriers of their daily lives to pursue this aspiration. This study takes into account the structural barriers that create inequities to examine how personal assets (e.g., familial and cultural values, self-esteem, and life experience) and external resources (e.g., social support, neighborhood resources, and political climate) affect youth behavior and resilience. Despite the participants living in similar neighborhoods with similar opportunities, the relationship between resources and assets exposed varying levels of resiliency, self-confidence (i.e., self-esteem), and agency against personal and structural challenges in their lives. Drawing from a critical medical anthropology (CMA) theory and resilience theory to examine both agency and resilience, this study designed a model called the “Youth Agency and Resiliency model” which consists of two perspectives: 1) the foundational assets (e.g., life experience, self-esteem, personal talents) and resources (e.g., social support, political climate, neighborhood environment) that contribute to an individual’s sense of agency, defining an aspiration, and perception of their surrounding and own self-worth and 2) how that sense of surrounding and self-worth affects their ability to take action (i.e. agentic action) and sustain resiliency to reach that aspiration.

Participant observation took place over two years (2016-2018), focusing on youth from two adjacent low-income rural communities in Florida. Using community-based participatory research methods, a total of 127 Hispanic youths were included in this study who participated in only one data collection activity. In total, forty-eight participants completed semi-structured interviews, forty-three participated in four focus groups, and thirty-six completed community perception surveys that included questions about neighborhood, opportunities for youth, challenges and barriers, and self-described plans for attaining goals.

This study revealed that out of 127 participants, 18 (14%) were able to both identify a long-term personal aspiration and actively were working towards that goal (displaying resilience) or were close to achieving that goal (“positively resilient”). The improvements youths identified as needed to improve resilience and success included strong social supports (e.g., presence of role models), recreational spaces, and increased educational/ economic opportunities geared towards youths’ interests. For the 18 Hispanic youth who self-identified as resilient and were actively working towards their goals, the factors with the strongest correlations to positive resilience were: 1) access to opportunities (both academic and economic); 2) strong social support from family and mentors and; 3) high self-esteem that supported agentic action to pursue their goals. Youth violence involving fighting was revealed to be a hidden resilience in a large majority of youth studied, enhancing self-esteem and expressions of resilience. All these resilience-enhancing factors played a protective role in overcoming the negative influences of peers or challenges faced within their own neighborhoods and influenced agency and self-esteem amongst youth to take action. The study also examined the individual-level challenges that inhibited resiliency in most of the youth in this study. A sense of hopelessness was the strongest factor that kept many youth from formulating or pursuing a long-term goal, with factors such as lack of opportunities and resources to support those goals (structural), lack of familial support (resources) and low self-esteem (individual capacity), coupled with underlying mental stress and emotional trauma. This study contributes to the literature on resilience and agency amongst minority youths by adding new resilience-enhancing factors to consider when working within disadvantaged neighborhoods. The study made the distinction between family support and family cohesion, with the former being a stronger resilience enhancer when it coincides with youth’s goals and aspirations, a distinction not made in any resilience literature. This study added a holistic and youth-perspective approach to how youths navigate hostile environments in their own defined resilient ways. This study was also the first to fuse resilience theory and critical medical anthropology theory to create a new youth agency and resilience framework model for working with young minority groups.