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Getting Ahead

Getting Ahead: Social Mobility, Public Housing, and Immigrant Networks

Silvia Domínguez
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Getting Ahead
    Book Description:

    Getting Ahead tells the compelling stories of Latin-American immigrant women living in public housing in two Boston-area neighborhoods. Silvia Dominguez argues that these immigrant women parlay social ties that provide support and leverage to develop networks and achieve social positioning to get ahead. Through a rich ethnographic account and in-depth interviews, the strong voices of these women demonstratehow they successfully negotiate the world and achieve social mobility through their own individual agency, skillfullynavigating both constraints and opportunities.Dominguez makes it clear that many immigrant women are able to develop the social support needed for a rich social life, and leverage ties that open options for them to develop their social and human capital. However, she also shows that factors such as neighborhood and domestic violence and the unavailability of social services leave many women without the ability to strategize towards social mobility. Ultimately, Dominguez makes important local and international policy recommendations on issue ranging from public housing to world labor visas, demonstrating how policy can help to improve the lives of these and other low-income people.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8507-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    We woke up on September 11, 1973, an early spring day, to the radio broadcasts describing troop movements all over Chile. My parents had been working for several years against the far Right, an elite influence in Chile, and were at that time working with President Allende. My mother cofounded and directed a party based on liberation theology, and my father, who was educated at Harvard, worked in the Department of Agriculture and taught sociology of law. Salvador Allende was the first socialist president elected democratically in Latin America and in the context of the cold war; this was not...

  5. 1 Social Flow
    (pp. 11-44)

    The “American Dream” that Martina refers to attracts immigrants to the United States; it celebrates the individual who works hard, pulls herself up by her bootstraps, and demonstrates a tremendous self-determining ideology on her way to social mobility.¹ Inherent in this cultural ideology is a strong and highly willed individual agency that is free from the effects of structural barriers. This ideology supports the notion that the poor are to blame for their condition, but researchers have found that structural barriers can inhibit social mobility and that their influence is powerful, depending on the intersectionality of race, class, and gender....

  6. 2 The Neighborhoods
    (pp. 45-64)

    Despite their proximity and geographic similarities, South Boston and East Boston are distinctive neighborhoods that have been largely shaped by different histories of immigration. South Boston is best known as a tightly bonded and defended Irish American neighborhood, whereas East Boston is best known as a receiving neighborhood that has integrated various waves of immigrants. Because these two neighborhoods are distinctive, they have provided different contexts for the integration of Latin American immigrants. This chapter describes the historical development of the neighborhoods that set the stage for the integration of Latin Americans into public housing.

    The histories of the two...

  7. 3 Social Support and Family Life
    (pp. 65-102)

    As this epigraph demonstrates, Josefa has an outstanding capacity to negotiate social relationships. She is a first-generation Afro-Honduran immigrant mother who lives in public housing in South Boston with her husband, Alberto, and their three children—Katrina, Yolanda, and Albertito. Josefa has very dark skin, is of average height and weight and wears her hair in a short Afro. As a woman of African phenotype who lives in public housing, Josefa’s social location is among the most disadvantaged in American society. But being an immigrant positions her for social mobility in a way that is inconsistent with her social location....

  8. 4 Leverage-Based Social Positioning
    (pp. 103-119)

    I got to know Lisa through her the eyes of her son, Martin. I was sitting across from Martin while I talked with his mother. His deep brown eyes stared at me for most of the interview, and at one point he started to look at me with anger. This look signaled to me that it was time to wrap up and leave.¹ I asked Lisa about it, and she said, “He is jealous of you; he thinks that you are spending too much time with me.” I initially interpreted his reaction as being proper for an only child, a...

  9. 5 “I Got the Job:” Family and Work Support
    (pp. 120-151)

    This quotation is from Camila, whom I initially met when she was eighteen years old. As I began to write this chapter, she answered an e-mail I sent asking how she was doing. It had been more than a year since we last communicated, and I was pleased by her quick response. Camila is happy and stable, but she is also saving money to buy a condominium and continues to take advantage of her employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement program by enrolling in college-level courses with the longer-term goal of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in finance. As usual, she had her eye...

  10. 6 When Social Positioning Is Not Enough
    (pp. 152-184)

    In this statement, Marta, a twenty-four-year-old second-generation Puerto Rican mother of two, demonstrates the difficulty of retelling traumatic events. She is not able to say “domestic violence,” and she conveys the helplessness of a child who witnesses violence. Marta, like many others who are traumatized, does not normally talk about her trauma, and in this way it remains invisible. Instead, Marta camouflages it with entitled anger. One of the most significant effects of this anger is that Marta is unable to sustain relationships and employment, despite having good opportunities for both.

    The previous chapter presented the story of Camila, who,...

  11. 7 When Intervention Is Necessary
    (pp. 185-207)

    Marcela, a first-generation Puerto Rican mother of one, provides a window into patriarchal control dynamics that include violence against women becoming normative and serving to diminish the drive and imperil the lives of women, leaving them traumatized. This normalization of gendered violence is prevalent in many societies, and it is ignored through silence (Hall 2000). In much the same way as terrorism, domestic violence inflicts fear and trauma not only on the intended victims but on entire communities.¹ In this chapter I will explore how Marcela’s trauma inhibited her social mobility until she was able to access mental health treatment....

  12. 8 Immigrant Networks
    (pp. 208-226)

    This chapter brings together the stories that embody the Social Flow framework, explores the dynamics that restrict the framework, such as gendered roles and homophobia, explains how transnational dynamics facilitate the framework, and discusses the relevance of assimilation theories to social mobility. I also apply the framework to domestic and international migration and demonstrate how Social Flow captures key aspects of the social world, including the balance of efficiency and inefficiency within and across borders, and the incorporation of immigrants in receiving countries. Finally, I discuss how migration can be used as a policy tool to improve the prospect of...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 227-234)
  14. References
    (pp. 235-258)
  15. Index
    (pp. 259-268)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 269-269)