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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Redefining “Immigrants”: The Transmigrant Educational Experience of 1.5-Generation Chinese youth

  • Author(s): Liu, Xiangyan
  • Advisor(s): Gordon, June A
  • et al.

Through the intersection of immigrant education, diaspora studies, theories on transnational migration and transnational social field, this dissertation investigates the variation within the Chinese immigrant community and nuances resulting from the interplay between immigration and education in the United States. The group of 1.5-generation youth is defined as those born in Mainland China (i.e., excluding Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau) who immigrated to the United States before the age of 13, having had some schooling in China.

The research for the dissertation came in two phases: Phase I was conducted in San Francisco in 2010-2013 and was followed by Phase II in Silicon Valley in 2013-2015. In total, 60 people were chosen to participate in the research. It combines an ethnographic approach with narrative inquiry and includes extensive use of the Internet, leading to a redefinition of the research field and traditional boundaries between researcher and participants. Cyberspace has been an essential tool in providing a more thorough examination and analysis of the responses from these youth. Extensive data analysis for Phase I generated four main themes: 1/ changing perceptions of U.S. schooling; 2/ belonging to two countries; 3/ communicating globally; and 4/ a desire for insular grouping. In Phase II, three main themes were generated: 1/ variation in backgrounds of Chinese immigrant families; 2/ youth’s perceptions on transmigrant status; and, 3/ parents’ educational aspirations and desires.

This research focusing on the educational experiences of contemporary 1.5-generation Chinese youth compels us to rethink the complexity of diaspora, immigration, education and the interplay of historical, cultural, social, political and economic factors. Perspectives offered by the youth, their parents, and school educators provide alternative lenses through which we can interrogate differences between the mentalities held by a range of Chinese recent immigrant families. Hopefully the nuanced findings from this research will enable us to critically redefine the term “immigrant” in the context of globalization and transnationalism.

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