Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America

By Plaza, Dwaine | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America


Plaza, Dwaine, Journal of Marriage and Family


Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America. Ruben Rumbaut & Alejandro Portes (Eds.). University of California Press Russell Sage Foundation, 2001. 334 pp. ISBN 0-520-230116. $48.00 (cloth); ISBN 0-520-23012-4. $18.95 (paper).

Since 1965 the United States has been in the midst of a most profound demographic transformation. The non-European immigrant population has increased dramatically and by 1997 approximately 55 million people (20.5%) of the total U.S. population were foreign born. These newcomers are concentrated in California, Florida, Texas, and New York/New Jersey. To study these important demographic and social changes to the foundation of the American landscape, Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut began in 1990 to follow 5,262 students enrolled in the eighth and ninth grades in southern California and southern Florida. Students were eligible to enter the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS) if they were U.S. born but had at least one foreign-born parent (second generation) or if they themselves were foreignborn and had come to the U.S. at an early age (before age 12; 1.5 generation). Five years later in 1995-1996, a second survey of the same group of children was conducted-this time supplemented by separate in-depth interviews with a large sample of their parents.

The outcome of this research was two volumes, one entitled: Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation (2001). This volume focused on the patterns of acculturation, family and school life, language, identity, experiences of discrimination, self-esteem, ambition, and achievement. The weakness of this work is that it does not probe very deeply into the importance of ethnicity and how it influences adaptation patterns and trajectories of the children of immigrants. The second volume entitled Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America (2001) presents seven individually authored case studies in an attempt to provide a closer look at the adaptation patterns and trajectories of youth from Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Haiti, Mexico, Jamaica, and other West Indian origins. To undertake this analysis, Rumbaut and Portes brought together a group of scholars who specialize in each of the major immigrant nationalities, made available to them the CILS data set, and invited them to combine their expertise to explain what each group was experiencing.

The researchers came to a number of similar conclusions. The first was that second and 1.5 generation acculturation is being aggravated by troubles associated with coming of age in an era far more materialistic and individualistic than those encountered by immigrant children in years gone by. Today's youth often find themselves straddling different worlds and receiving conflicting signals. At home, they hear that they must work hard and do well in school to move up; on the street they learn a different lesson-that of rebellion against authority and rejection of the goals of achievement.

Unlike their European origin predecessors, the present second and 1.5 generation is undergoing a process of segmented assimilation in which outcomes vary across immigrant populations and in which rapid integration and acceptance into the American mainstream represent just one possible alternative. A number of factors are decisive in determining this segmented assimilation. They are: (a) the history of the immigrant first generation, including the human capital brought by immigrant parents and the context of their reception; (b) the differential pace of acculturation among parents and children, including the development of language gaps between them; (c) the cultural and economic barriers confronted by second-generation youth in their quest for successful adaptation; and (d) the family and community resources avaliable for confronting these barriers. …

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