The New Second Generation
The children of the past decade's influx of immigrants comprise a second generation far different than any this country has known before. Largely non-white and from the world's developing nations, these children struggle with complex problems of racial and ethnic relations in multicultural urban neighborhoods, attend troubled inner city schools, and face discriminatory labor markets and an economy that no longer provides the abundant manufacturing jobs that sustained previous generations of immigrants. As the contributors to The New Second Generation make clear, the future of these children is an open question that will be key to understanding the long-range consequences of current immigration.
The New Second Generation chronicles the lives of second generation youth in Miami, New York City, New Orleans, and Southern California. The contributors balance careful analysis with the voices of the youngsters themselves, focusing primarily on education, career expectations, language preference, ethnic pride, and the influence of their American-born peers. Demographic portraits by Leif Jensen and Yoshimi Chitose and by Charles Hirschman reveal that although most immigrant youths live at or below the official poverty line, this disadvantage is partially offset by the fact that their parents are typically married, self-employed, and off welfare. However, the children do not always follow the course set by their parents, and often challenge immigrant ethics with a desire to embrace American culture. Mary Waters examines how the tendency among West Indian teens to assume an American black identity links them to a legacy of racial discrimination. Although the decision to identify as American or as immigrant usually presages how well second generation children will perform in school, the formation of this self-image is a complex process. M. Patricia Fernandez-Kelly and Richard Schauffler find marked differences among Hispanic groups, while Ruben G. Rumbaut explores the influence of individual and family characteristics among Asian, Latin, and Caribbean youths.
Nativists frequently raise concerns about the proliferation of a non-English speaking population heavily dependent on welfare for economic support. But Alejandro Portes and Richard Schauffler's historical analysis of language preferences among Miami's Hispanic youth reveals their unequivocal preference for English. Nor is immigrationan inevitable precursor to a swollen welfare state: Lisandro Perez and Min Zhou and Carl L. Bankston demonstrate the importance of extended families and ethnic community solidarity in improving school performance and providing increased labor opportunities.
As immigration continues to change the face of our nation's cities, we cannot ignore the crucial issue of how well the second generation youth will adapt. The New Second Generation provides valuable insight into issues that may spell the difference between regeneration and decay across urban America.
ALEJANDRO PORTES is the John Dewey Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University.
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