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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reaching for the American Dream: The Role of Parental Mobility on the Children of Immigrants in Higher Education


This study compares children of Latino immigrants whose parents have experienced upward mobility to those whose parents have not experienced upward mobility, with a focus on three stages of these students’ educational experiences: their pre-college experience, their adaptation to the university, and their future prospects. Analyzing data from multiple in-depth interviews with twelve incoming freshmen at UCLA and at least one of each of their parents, this study demonstrates that even when the economic differences are narrow, there are visible differences in the way these children experience their education and adapt to mainstream institutions. First, material resources available to youth, such as safe environments, better resourced secondary programs, school supplies, and other resources significantly affected how these youths experienced their education. Second, parental optimism rooted in experiences with upward mobility lent credence to the American system of opportunities, making these parents optimistic about their own endeavors and their aspirations for their children.

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