Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More on Immigration as Ascription

In response to Prof. Domina's "Immigration as Ascription," post last week, Group 5 wrote:
A lot immigrants came from collectivist cultures that view education as beneficial to the society as opposed to individuals. As a result, parents of immigrants do not see education as a main priority.
Immigration is one of the most important and debated issues in a wide array of policy circles, among educators, social and human rights activists, and lay citizens. This is a complex and multifaceted issue but for the purpose of this blog I will focus on the education of immigrants as a response to the aforementioned blog post.

First, generalizing immigrants' home cultures is a task that has challenged scholars for years because of the diversity of immigrants in this country; in addition to the diversity in country of origin, the following considerations further complicate the attempt to generalize immigrants: (a) generation, i.e. first, second, third, (b) political relationship between the US and the immigrants' country of origin, (c) political and social climate in US, i.e. distinct stereotypes/perceptions are associated with immigrants from different countries (d) immigration status e.g. undocumented v. documented, Permanent Resident v. Student Visa, etc. Already, a much more complex process becomes apparent and these are just a few considerations.

Second, although it is true that "a lot [of] immigrants came from collectivist cultures" this does not necessarily equate with the value they place on education. A perfect example of this contradiction is the Latina/o community; one of the most oft-cited reasons that Latina/o immigrants come to the United States is to improve the educational opportunity structure for their children. Education is highly valued in this community, yet Latinas/os (immigrant and US-born) are severely underrepresented in higher education and have the lowest educational attainment rates of all ethnic groups. Again, here is a group that values education very highly but has not found success at the same rate as their Asian counterparts, for example. In her book, "Unequal origins: Immigrant selection and the education of the second generation" Cynthia Feliciano of UCI has examined this issue and finds that the educational success of immigrants is influenced by structural, economic, and political factors. With care not to generalize, she finds a strong correlation between immigrants' social class status in the country of origin and their consequent success in the US--higher social class in the country of origin is highly correlated with subsequent educational success in the US.

Drawing from our readings on cultural capital, the connection between educational success of some immigrants and not others can be more readily appreciated as a function of class. In an attempt to simplify a comparison, picture two recently arrived immigrants who are identical in every way (gender, age, country of origin, language, cultural customs, religion, values, personality, etc.) except for their social class -- one benefitted from an upper/middle class upbringing, while the other lived in poverty/working class. Without overanalyzing, do you think one has a better chance of tapping into the cultural capital that is valued in the US educational system? Which one?


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