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Religion and Society

Europe, the Immigrants' Inheritance

Author: Alejandro Portes and Rubén G. Rumbaut

 

Title: Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant

 

Second Generation

 

Editor: University of California Press, Berkeley

 

 

What will the future be like for the second generation of immigrants in Europe? One possible way to answer this question would be to look at research carried out in countries which have had experience with immigrants for some time, not just to satisfy our sociological curiosity, but in order to act so that integration among cultures actually takes place.

 

 

Portes and Rumbaut use both quantitative and qualitative methods in order to illustrate the diverse typologies of cultural assimilation assumed by the children of immigrants in the United States after 1960. The quantitative analysis schematises the second generation immigrants' complex situation, while the descriptions of the real lives of those interviewed give depth to this complexity.The two authors want to know what factors determine the type of cultural assimilation experienced by the second generation. In particular, they ask what determines cultural assimilation on the low end of the scale and what towards the high end, leading therefore towards integration. The study reveals the fundamental role of context, identified by certain factors which determine the type of assimilation experienced by the second generation. Specifically: the human capital of the parents, market conditions, the social capital of the immigrant ethnic group, the family structure, the way the locals perceive the ethnic group and the way in which the state addresses the group. The context, described by these factors, has different effects on different immigrant ethnic communities.

 

 

For all communities there is a sort of "hourglass" job market, that is, one which requests low cost, non-specialised workers or highly specialised professionals. For all of them there is the push towards socio-economic betterment, whether it originates in the second generation or represents pressure exercised by their parents. For access to specialised jobs, the second generation must earn a degree from a higher education institution and here the human capital of their parents is important. The parents' human capital also lessens the effects of discrimination and exercises a higher degree of normative control over the children.

 

 

Beyond the job market, two other external factors influence the second generation's future: the social capital of the ethnic group and the state's attitude towards it. The first factor determines both the resources available to the first and second generation, as well as the level of control the parents have over their children. Dense communities usually promote family unity and reinforce the parents' authority, while the absence of a strong ethnic community can cause parental authority to wane, thereby allowing the children to adopt deviant lifestyles. Furthermore, public policies on immigration determine the way in which the state formally treats immigrants and have a notable effect on the way in which the immigrant community faces the state, as a part of it or in the role of antagonist.

 

 

Portes and Rumbaut recommend public policies aimed at bringing about selective acculturation, in which the immigrant group learns the new language and habits without forgetting their parents' language and culture. According to the authors this situation would bring about cultural integration and therefore a society in which all citizens share fundamental values and commit themselves to respect for the same normative rules.

 

 

Alejandro Portes is professor of sociology at Princeton University, and director of the centre for migration

 

and development studies at the Woodrow Wilson institute of public affairs. He is co-author of The city on the border: the transformation of Miami (California, 1996), and Latin Voyage: Mexican and Cuban immigrants in the United States (California, 1993).

 

 

Rubén G. Rumbaut is professor of sociology at Michigan State University. He is co-author, with Alejandro Portes, of Immigrant America: a portrait(California, 1996), and co-editor of Research for a new century: multidisciplinary perspectives (2000), and Origins and destinies: immigration, race and ethnicity

 

in America (1996).

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