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Contrary to many existing stereotypes, Mexican-Americans are the most successful second-generation population in the United States, according to a new study from two professors at University of California, Irvine and UCLA.
But the researchers also turning the definition of "success" on its head by reframing what the term actually means. According to researchers, total success was not just measured by the end result of where the kids of immigrants landed as adults, but also where they started out and how far they had to go to get to the end result.
The study looked at Chinese-, Vietnamese- and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated to the U.S. Although the children of Chinese immigrants outpaced other children of immigrants when it came to academic and educational achievements, they also often had well-educated parents who pushed them into good schools and higher-income professions.
To be sure, while all parents want their children to succeed in life, some parents are definitely more prepared to help their kids achieve that success than others.
Study co-author Professor Jennifer Lee of UC Irvine maintains a baseball analogy to describe how the children of immigrants are able to rise through the ranks. She told Slate that many Asian-American kids are able to make it to the third base of life because their parents are often well-educated and able to help their children more, but that Mexican-American children of immigrants are essentially starting out from behind home base.
Mexicans come to the U.S. "much more poorly educated than the average American," Lee told Slate, so they have to play catch up to be even with the average American. "For Mexican-Americans, the fact that their children make it to first or second base is enormous progress."
While the study's authors aren't saying that the kids of Chinese immigrants don't work hard, they are saying that Chinese-American kids have more advantages to get ahead than other ethnic groups.
And although Mexican-Americans had the lowest level of educational achievement in the study (86 percent were high-school graduates, compared to 100 percent of Chinese-Americans; only 17 percent of Mexican-Americans were college grads), their high school graduation rates were more than double that of their parents, and double their father and triple their mother's college graduation rates.
The saying "it takes a village" also comes into play for Mexican-American kids of immigrants; those with the best educational outcomes and achievement rates had access to programs at school and public resources to help them along the way, as well as teachers or other adults to assist in navigating the college application and acceptance process.
Though Mexican-American kids in Los Angeles aspired to attend an institution of higher education, they generally stayed close to home and often chose community colleges in their neighborhoods to start — some later transferred to four-year universities with the help of guidance counselors who could assist in informing the students' families about everything involved and how to support their student. Although they may not end up at Ivy League schools and with high-income jobs like some children of immigrants, their rate of success outpaces their parents' generation, which makes their success all the more sweet.