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Keeping the Immigrant Bargain

Keeping the Immigrant Bargain: The Costs and Rewards of Success in America

Vivian Louie
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    Keeping the Immigrant Bargain
    Book Description:

    Most nineteenth and early-twentieth-century European immigrants arrived in the United States with barely more than the clothes on their backs. They performed menial jobs, spoke little English, and often faced a hostile reception. But two or more generations later, the overwhelming majority of their descendants had successfully integrated into American society. Today’s immigrants face many of the same challenges, but some experts worry that their integration, especially among Latinos, will not be as successful as their European counterparts. Keeping the Immigrant Bargain examines the journey of Dominican and Colombian newcomers whose children have achieved academic success one generation after the arrival of their parents. Sociologist Vivian Louie provides a much-needed comparison of how both parents and children understand the immigrant journey toward education, mobility, and assimilation. Based on Louie’s own survey and interview study, Keeping the Immigrant Bargain examines the lives of thirtyseven foreign-born Dominican and Colombian parents and their seventy-six young adult offspring—the majority of whom were enrolled in or had graduated from college. The book shows how they are adapting to American schools, jobs, neighborhoods, and culture. Louie discovers that before coming to the United States, some of these parents had already achieved higher levels of education than the average foreign-born Dominican or Colombian, and after arrival many owned their own homes. Significantly, most parents in each group expressed optimism about their potential to succeed in the United States, while also expressing pessimism about whether they would ever be accepted as Americans. In contrast to the social exclusion experienced by their parents, most of the young adults had assimilated linguistically and believed themselves to be full participants in American society. Keeping the Immigrant Bargain shows that the offspring of these largely working-class immigrants had several factors in common that aided their mobility. Their parents were highly engaged in their lives and educational progress, although not always in ways expected by schools or their children, and the children possessed a strong degree of self-motivation. Equally important was the availability of key institutional networks of support, including teachers, peers, afterschool and other enrichment programs, and informal mentors outside of the classroom. These institutional networks gave the children the guidance they needed to succeed in school, offering information the parents often did not know themselves. While not all immigrants achieve such rapid success, this engrossing study shows how powerful the combination of self-motivation, engaged families, and strong institutional support can be. Keeping the Immigrant Bargain makes the case that institutional relationships—such as teachers and principals who are trained to accommodate cultural difference and community organizations that help parents and children learn how to navigate the system—can bear significantly on immigrant educational success.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-779-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book recounts the journeys to college of young people living in America. By itself, this story would not be remarkable—except that it is a story of the children of Latino immigrants, a group whose educational success is nearly invisible in popular accounts and not often studied in academic ones. How do children who are typically not expected to achieve very much end up doing so well? This book helps us answer this important question and sheds light on how we can increase the odds of immigrant educational success. Before we can understand these children’s journeys to college, however,...

  6. Chapter 2 In Two Worlds: The Immigrant American Dream
    (pp. 23-42)

    The immigrant bargain begins with the parents’ journey and the degree to which they succeed (or not) in the United States. How do the parents actually experience social and economic mobility, and how do they understand it? A dual frame of reference is crucial to both processes. In contrast to the dramatic upward mobility typically associated with the immigrant American Dream, the accounts of the parents in this study were far more complex. More than half of the parents had enjoyed upward mobility, but by no means to the same degree. Others only replicated the status they had had before...

  7. Chapter 3 Being an Immigrant: Alone in America
    (pp. 43-68)

    The parents in our study experienced bifurcated immigrant incorporation—they were optimistic about their mobility regardless of their actual economic gains or losses. And they shared an abiding faith in the American Dream and the promise that the next generation would achieve what had remained out of the parents’ reach. Yet they were also pessimistic about their assimilation. As the parents learned who they were in the United States, they grew to understand that regardless of how they felt or how much success they had, they would never be accepted by others as American.

    The immigrant parents conceived of mainstream...

  8. Chapter 4 Children on Their Own in School
    (pp. 69-91)

    The comments of Carmen Merced, the mother of two sons in public schools, underscore the widespread views that Latino immigrant parents are not involved in their children’s education. Low-income Latinos who do not speak much English are thought to be especially disengaged. In this chapter, I argue that such views are overly simplistic and inaccurate. The immigrant parents offered crucial supports to the children we interviewed, just not in ways that were visible to or valued by schools. We need to understand the parents’ access to the appropriate guidance and capacities to develop concrete and effective steps for their children...

  9. Chapter 5 Beyond the Family: Constellations of Support
    (pp. 92-114)

    I was in the Blue Room of Faunce House, a graceful early-twentieth-century building at Brown University that counts John D. Rockefeller Jr. as one of its original donors. I was finally meeting José, a thoughtful twenty-year-old Colombian American student who had kept in touch with me as he moved from Washington, D.C., where he had done a summer congressional internship, to a semester abroad in Barcelona, then back to Brown in Providence, Rhode Island. When I asked José how he chose Brown, the young man—the son of a single mother who raised him less than six miles from the...

  10. Chapter 6 How the Bargain Was Won: Higher Education and Mobility
    (pp. 115-132)

    I met Alejandro, a sophomore at Northeastern University, in the school’s student center. Everything looked new at the gleaming student center, a hub of commercial and social activities—the downstairs food court was joined upstairs by a Friendly’s and a Starbucks, along with a hair salon, a travel agency, a mini-mart, an art gallery, and a space for quiet. Colorful flags representing the university’s student organizations—including the African Club; Hillel; the bisexual, lesbian, and gay association; and students for environmental action—draped the railings of the upper floors, which were visible from below. Alejandro and I sat in an...

  11. Chapter 7 Assimilation Processes: Who We Are
    (pp. 133-158)

    The question of identity is central to immigration. In popular debates about assimilation, the question has typically been framed as follows: will the new immigrants become American, or will they challenge what it means to be American? The reality, of course, has been more complex. Both the concept of assimilation and the American mainstream have been subject to change over time. “Mainstream” America once meant being white and Protestant, but Judaism and Catholicism have both been incorporated into today’s American mainstream. This transformation happened gradually and contrasts with the suspicion and hostility that greeted Jews and Catholics arriving in the...

  12. Chapter 8 Conclusion: Institutions and Individual Agency
    (pp. 159-176)

    A key debate in contemporary immigration research centers on how the children of immigrants are faring educationally, the extent to which they are upwardly mobile in relation to their parents, and the reasons for variation in their outcomes. Segmented assimilation has been a foundational theory to describe and explain the diversity in these outcomes (Haller, Portes, and Lynch 2011a). A core contribution of this theory is the idea that second-generation individuals are assimilating into different segments of American life. Upward mobility characterizes two pathways of assimilation, the first being classic assimilation into the white, middle-class segment; the second includes children...

  13. Appendix: Methodological Notes
    (pp. 177-198)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 199-210)
  15. References
    (pp. 211-242)
  16. Index
    (pp. 243-248)