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Between Two Worlds: Hmong Youth, Culture, and Socio-Structural Barriers to Integration

Abstract

Studies on the children of post 1965 immigrants recognize that there are various paths to incorporation due to race and class barriers and suggest that a strong adherence to traditional immigrant culture and values helps contemporary immigrants achieve integration. These studies acknowledge that there is not a single core culture of American society into which these immigrants are assimilating. The concept of segmented assimilation has been used to suggest that the process of assimilation is not as linear, simple or inevitable as classical assimilation suggests. Despite its important contribution to the theoretical debates on immigrant integration, segmented assimilation continues to use a cultural argument, suggesting that immigrant culture can explain and account for immigrant integration. Regardless of whether immigrant culture is present to buffer and mediate youth behaviors, some youth still take a path toward downward assimilation due to race, class and gender barriers. Based on data from a survey distributed to Hmong youth at a youth conference and interviews with community members, this study examines the role of race, class and gender and their impact on the incorporation of Hmong youth into American society. The Hmong community, whose migration to the United States was a direct consequence of their participation and involvement in the Vietnam War as U.S. allies, provides an important lens to understand the broader conditions that contribute to the incorporation of other racialized, poor immigrants into American society.

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