Immigration Study: 'Second Generation' Has Edge In much of the debate over immigration, there is an underlying question of whether immigrants today are assimilating as easily as past generations. In New York City, the answer is an unqualified "yes," according to a 10-year study involving more than 3,000 young men and women.
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Immigration Study: 'Second Generation' Has Edge

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Immigration Study: 'Second Generation' Has Edge

Immigration Study: 'Second Generation' Has Edge

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. A new 10-year study of the children of immigrants in New York City finds that most have successfully assimilated into mainstream America. Called "Inheriting the City," the study focuses on young men and women in their 20s, the current second generation. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER: There is a belief that lurks underneath all the current debates over immigration that unlike the Europeans before them, the current wave of immigrants is not assimilating into the mainstream. But John Mollenkoph, a professor at the City University of New York says if you look at the current second generation, that is, young people in their 20s whose parents were immigrants...

Professor JOHN MOLLENKOPF (Political Science and Sociology, City University, New York): We found that that was definitely not the case. The kids are doing well vis-a-vis their parents, and they're also doing well vis-a-vis the native-born comparison group.

ADLER: The study, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, looked at five different groups - Russians, Dominicans, South Americans, Chinese and West Indians - and it found that these groups were fluent in English, working in the mainstream economy, and were generally doing better economically than U.S.-born Puerto Ricans and African-Americans.

Because this is New York City and these are the children of parents who came 20 to 30 years ago, we're talking about immigrants who found it relatively easy to become legal, even if they didn't arrive as legal immigrants. Mary Waters of Harvard University says when you look at these five groups...

Professor MARY WATERS (Sociology, Harvard University): What we really find is a very rapid assimilation and becoming American.

ADLER: They also uncovered fascinating cultural differences that they say gives the children of immigrants certain advantages, some groups more than others. Take schooling. It's not a surprise. It's even a stereotype that immigrant parents push their kids to achieve. I sat around with six young people, all in their 20s, all from immigrant families and all alumni of elite New York City public high schools.

Enia Titova and Leo Borofsky(ph) came from Russia when they were 12 and 10. They described what was expected from their families.

Ms. ENIA TITOVA: In a lot of Russian families, if you don't have a graduate degree, it's like frowned upon.

Mr. LEO BOROFSKY: Even at this point, I still kind of hear a little bit of the "we came here for you," you know that.

Ms. TITOVA: When you get a 96, parents will want to know where the other four points went. I mean, that's the question, I think, in a lot of immigrant households.

ADLER: That kind of drive wasn't a surprise. What was unexpected was coming across cultural differences that led some groups to have much more savvy in working the system than others.

Stuyvesant is one of the most competitive public high schools in New York City. Mary Waters says in the Chinese community, you might speak no English but you still would know that. In fact, they found one out of five Chinese students went to magnet high schools.

Prof. WATERS: We interviewed one young woman whose mother worked in a garment factory. She had very little education. She said her mother didn't even know what Stuyvesant was but she knew from the other moms in the garment factory, I need to get my kid into this school. We interviewed some West Indian and Dominican kids who had gotten into Stuyvesant but whose parents wouldn't let them go because they would have to take a subway and go across bad neighborhoods to get there.

ADLER: Ling Wu Kong, who came from China when he was two and is now in law school, says Waters is exactly right.

Mr. LING WU KONG: Every time there's a student who maxes out on the SAT, you know, their picture is prominently placed on the front page in the Chinese newspapers. They give you a pretty good idea of what you should expect. So, even for people whose parents don't speak English, they're able to navigate the system.

ADLER: Cristina Carpio is in medical school. Her parents came from Ecuador. She did go to Stuyvesant but it took some convincing.

Ms. CRISTINA CARPIO: Growing up, my brother and sister were both like, if you get into that high school, that's it, you'll get into a good college and everything will be easier. So at a young age, I wanted to be a doctor. But once I got into Stuyvesant, my mom was a little protective, like, oh, no, she's a girl, she's going to be in the subway alone, what is that going to be like? And during orientation week, my sister took me to Sty just to like kind of ease my mother's fears, like, look, she knows how to take the subway. It's OK. She can do it on her own. And it's for her own good. She has to go to that school, there's no other way.

ADLER: Here's something else they found that gives the children of immigrants in New York City big advantages. Many of them continue to live at home with their parents. Cristina Carpio says when she becomes an intern next year...

Ms. CARPIO: I'll be moving back home because I can save money on rent and pay for my loans.

Mr. WU KONG: I feel like it wouldn't be right if I didn't go home.

ADLER: Ling Wu Kong.

Mr. WU KONG: There's this ideal of the - what's called the (Chinese spoken), which is when everybody lives together. I'm living at home now.

ADLER: Phil Kasinitz, a professor of sociology at City University, brings home the economic point.

Professor PHILIP KASINITZ (Sociology, City University, New York): Black Americans, white Americans, Puerto Ricans, seem to share the idea that you're supposed to leave home in your late teens or early 20s and that there's something really wrong with you if you are still living with your parents in your mid-20s. In that respect, the children of immigrants seem very much more in the immigrant model. They're much more likely to live at home longer. Now, in some housing markets that might not be such a big deal, but in New York, that's a huge advantage in terms of being able to complete their education, being able to get their careers established.

ADLER: The researchers conducted more than 3,000 in-depth interviews, and they also compared people in the five groups with U.S.-born whites, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans. When they looked at economic and educational achievement, they found that West Indians were doing better in general than African-Americans. Dominicans were doing better than Puerto Ricans. The Chinese and Russians were doing as well or better than native-born whites.

So "Inheriting the City" paints an optimistic portrait of this second generation, but it has some warnings about the plight of U.S.-born minorities. It also notes that the children of undocumented immigrants have a tougher time assimilating, and the authors of the study wonder, since it's tougher to legally emigrate today, will the next second generation assimilate as easily? Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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