Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

School of Education

Abstract

This study extends what is known about the experience of mid-childhood immigration. Fifteen participants, college students who immigrated to the U.S. from Latin America between the ages of 8 and 16 and who had completed at least a semester of transferable college-level coursework, provided their narratives by way of an open-ended interview focusing primarily on academic performance and achievement. Interviews were conducted using a life story methodology which seeks to maximize participant control over responses. Participants recounted their experiences from arrival through school completion and at college, and described which variables - circumstances, characteristics, behaviors, attitudes, events - they perceived as being most supportive of and most threatening to their academic success.

A broad and nuanced picture of the experience of mid-childhood immigrants emerged. Variables supporting academic success were seen to include a stable home setting (providing continuity during the tumultuous post-migration period), the motivational power of the struggle narrative (the memory of difficulties faced in connection with the migration experience), and participation in extracurricular activities and college bridge programs (which support acculturation and feelings of connectedness). Working against academic success were inconsistent mentoring and advising, a lack of reliable information about educational options, unevenly executed bilingual education upon arrival, and (for roughly half the participants) undocumented immigrant status.

Among the most striking of the findings is the substantial uniqueness of the mid-childhood immigrant identity and of the processes which contribute to the development of that identity as opposed to other immigrant and non-immigrant identities. Though diverse, mid-childhood immigrant identity involves key shared and particular characteristics. During the immediate post-migration period, participants experienced isolation and withdrawal due to the unfamiliar setting, a condition which served the protective function of preventing affiliation with unproductive or oppositional peer groups. Most reported structured engagement (i.e., in sports and other activities) which permitted the development of beneficial relationships and feelings of connectedness with the new academic and social communities. Though participants reported strong influences from both original and host cultures, this was not seen to be a source of particular distress. A view of mid-childhood immigrant identity emerges as defined by (a) liminality, inhabiting the space between cultural influences, and (b) motility, having the ability and tendency to move between those influences bidirectionally and intentionally.

Undocumented mid-childhood immigrants were seen to exhibit two striking and paradoxical characteristics: First, their inability to travel reduces the influence of the culture of origin while the length of residence encourages assimilation, resulting in a possible tendency to identify more strongly with the new culture despite being denied full membership; this is termed the affiliation paradox. Second, the increased difficulty they face due to their status has the effect of increasing the motivational power of the struggle narrative. Thus, the most significant hurdle to their success also becomes their most significant motivator, a phenomenon termed the incentive paradox.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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