Theses Doctoral

Living the American Dream? Second Generation Dominican High School Students in a Diverse Suburban Community

Duran, Jacquelyn Nely

My dissertation examines second generation Dominican high school students and their parents in a diverse, middle-class suburb. At a moment when immigrant families are arriving directly to suburban locations, and the number of second generation immigrants in our public schools is growing, it is important to examine how they are making sense of their experiences in this new context. In my study, I consider how one sub-group of Latinx high school students, with at least one parent born in the Dominican Republic, are experiencing a new place. Specifically, I look at their experiences within their community, school and family influence their assimilation processes, their ideas about future success, and the role of education in reaching that success. I also explore how the parents’ experiences in this community inform their definitions of success for their children and the role that education plays in achieving it, and how those beliefs affect their children. I examine the parents’ accounts through in-depth interviews and the students’ accounts through pre and post in-depth interviews two years apart, as well as photo elicitation interviews.
I found that the location of this suburb, adjacent to an ethnic enclave, provides a context that supports the process of selective acculturation, whereby the students are learning English and American customs while also developing and maintaining their Dominican cultural practices, including speaking Spanish. I also uncovered nuances to their understanding of the role of education in securing future success, through the use of open-ended questions. I found that the students with college-educated parents were more cautious about believing in the American Dream, and the idea that education guarantees success. Despite this, all of the families in the study approached education in similar ways, a style typically attributed to low-income families. And lastly, I found that the families lacked the social and cultural capital to gain educational advantages, specifically in the college application process. My study challenges the assumption that immigrant families arriving to middle-class suburbs are equipped to take advantage of the resources that their place of residence can afford them. Living in this type of place signals an achievement of the American Dream, but we have to question whether their children will be able to maintain it.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Pallas, Aaron
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 23, 2018