Anandini Dar* - Department of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University
Recreation spaces and after-school centers for children and youth in urban cities of the US have predominantly been informed by a moral discourse on "safe space," "stranger-danger," and the anxieties over keeping children and youth off the city streets (Adams & Van Slick, 2004; Cahill, 1990; Valentine, 1996). This physical separation of children's spaces from other avenues of social and adult life is argued to be a form of "islanding of children and childhood" (Zeiher, 2000). However, at the same time, urban recreation spaces also function to create politically active and engaged teenagers through programs for social change, resistance, and organizing that such sites offer in this contemporary global economy. This suggests the creation of political geographies of childhood that bridge worlds of adults and young people rather than island children. Both these converse trends nevertheless, inform and affect the lives of immigrant children who attend such centers in diverse and complex ways.
Using observations and conversations from my ethnography at an immigrant South Asian youth center in Queens, NY, I explore these two contrary trends and particularly, ask, how do youth themselves use such spaces, and to what ends? What boundaries do these youth navigate in their efforts to attend the center? What bridges and networks are they creating? I argue that young South Asian teenagers find these recreation places as sites for escape from home and school, as well as, sites of "fun" to build an intergenerational and a political community in the diaspora.