Should Immigrants Assimilate? Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou Public Interest, 116 (Summer, 1994),18My name is Herb / and I'm not poor / I'm the Herbie that you're looking for / like Pepsi / a new generation / of Haitian determination / I'm the Herbie that you're looking for."
A beat tapped with bare hands, a few dance steps, and the Haitian kid was rapping. His song, entitled "Straight Out of Haiti," was performed at Edison High, a school that sits astride Little Haiti and Liberty City--the largest black area of Miami. The lyrics capture well the distinct outlook of his immigrant community. In Little Haiti, the storefronts leap out at the passersby. Bright blues, reds, and oranges vibrate to Haitian merengue, blaring from sidewalk speakers. Yet behind the gay Caribbean exterior, a struggle goes on that will define the future of this community. As we will see, it involves the second generation --children like Herbie--who are subject to conflicting pressure from parents and peers, and to pervasive outside discrimination.
Growing up in an immigrant family has always been difficult. Individuals are torn by conflicting social and cultural demands, while facing the challenge of entry into an unfamiliar and frequently hostile world. Yet the difficulties are not always the same. The process of "growing up American" ranges from smooth acceptance to traumatic confrontation, depending on the characteristics that immigrants and their children bring along and the social context that receives them. We believe that something quite disturbing is happening to the assimilation or, if you will, the "Americanization" of the second generation of new immigrants.
Research on the new immigration--that which arose after passage of the 1965 Immigration Act--has focused almost exclusively on the first generation, which is composed of adult men and women who came to the U.S. in search of work or to escape political persecution. Little noticed until recently is the growth of the second generation. Yet by 1980 , second-generation immigrants made up 10 percent of the children counted by the U.S. Census. Another survey in the late 1980s found that 3 to 5 million American students speak a language other than English at home.
While there has been a great deal of research and theorizing on post- 1965 immigration, it offers only tentative guidance on the prospects and paths of adaptation of the second generation, whose outlook may be very different from that of the first. For example, it is generally accepted among immigration experts that entry- level menial jobs are performed without hesitation by newly arrived immigrants, but that these same jobs are shunned by the immigrants' U.S.-reared offspring. The social and economic progress of first- generation immigrants often fails to keep pace with the material conditions and career prospects that their American children grow to expect.
What literature on second-generation adaptation that exists is based largely on the experience of the descendants of pre -World War immigrants. The last sociological study of the children of immigrants seems to have been Irving Child's Italian or American? The Second Generation in Conflict, published fifty years ago. Conditions at the time were quite different from those that confront settled immigrant groups today. Two such differences deserve special mention. First, the descendants of European immigrants who confronted the dilemmas of conflicting cultures were uniformly white. Even if they were of a somewhat darker hue than the natives, their skin color permitted them to skirt a major barrier to entry into the American mainstream. As a result, the process of assimilation depended largely on the individual's decision to leave the immigrant culture behind and to embrace American ways. This advantage obviously does not exist for the black, Asian, and mestizo children of today's immigrants.
Approximately 77 percent of post-1960 immigrants are non-European: 22 percent are Asian, 8 percent are black, and 47 percent are Hispanic. (The latter group, which originates in Mexico and other Latin American countries, poses a problem in terms of classification since Hispanics can be of any race.)
The immigrants of recent years also face economic opportunities different than those in the past. Fifty years ago, the United States was the premier industrial power in the world. Its diversified industrial labor requirements offered the second generation the opportunity to move up gradually through better-paid occupations while remaining part of the working class. Such opportunities have grown scarce in recent years as the result of rapid national de-industrialization and global restructuring. This process has left entrants to the American labor force confronting a growing gap between the minimally paid menial jobs commonly accepted by immigrants and the high-tech and professional jobs generally occupied by college-educated native elites. This disappearance of intermediate opportunities has contributed to the mismatch between first- generation economic progress and second-generation expectations.
Assimilation as a problem
We see these processes occurring under particularly difficult circumstances among the Haitians of Miami. The city's Haitian community is composed of some 75,000 legal and clandestine immigrants, many of whom sold everything in order to buy passage to America. Haitians of the first generation are strongly disposed to preserve a robust national identity, which they associate both with community solidarity and with social networks promoting individual success. But in trying to instill in their children national pride and an orientation toward achievement, they often clash with the youngsters' everyday experiences in school. Little Haiti is adjacent to Liberty City, the main black inner-city area of Miami, and Haitian adolescents attend predominantly inner-city schools. Native-born black youth stereotype the Haitian youngsters as docile and subservient to whites, and make fun of the Haitians' French and Creole as well as their accents. As a result, second- generation Haitian children find themselves torn between conflicting ideas and values: to remain "Haitian," they must endure ostracism and continuing attacks in school; to become "American" (black American in this case), they must forgo their parents' dreams of making it in America through the preservation of ethnic solidarity and traditional values.
An adversarial stance toward the white mainstream is common among inner-city minority youth, who instill in the newcomers consciousness of American-style discrimination. Also instilled is skepticism about the value of education as a vehicle for advancement, a message that directly contradicts that from immigrant parents. Academically outstanding Haitian-American students, Herbie among them, have consciously attempted to retain their ethnic identity by cloaking it in black American cultural forms, such as rap music. Many others, however, have followed the path of least resistance and thoroughly assimilated. In such instances the assimilation is not to mainstream culture, but to the values and norms of the inner city. In the process, the resources of solidarity and mutual support within the immigrant community are dissipated.
As the Haitian example illustrates, adopting the outlook and cultural ways of the native born does not necessarily represent the first step toward social and economic mobility. It may, in fact, lead to exactly the opposite. Meanwhile, immigrant youth who remain firmly ensconced in their ethnic communities may, by virtue of this fact, have a better chance for educational and economic mobility.
This situation stands the common understanding of immigrant assimilation on its head. As presented in innumerable academic and journalistic writings, the expectation is that the foreign born and their offspring will acculturate and seek acceptance among the native born as a prerequisite for social advancement. If they did not, they would remain confined to the ranks of the "ethnic" lower and lower- middle classes. This portrayal of the path to mobility, so deeply embedded in the national consciousness, stands contradicted today by a growing number of empirical studies.
A closer look at these studies, however, ines that the expected consequences of assimilation have not changed entirely, but that the process has become segmented. In other words, the question is to what sector of American society a particular immigrant group assimilates. In the absence of a relatively uniform "mainstream" whose mores and prejudices dictate a common path of integration, we observe today several distinct forms of adaptation. One of them replicates the time-honored portrayal of growing acculturation and parallel integration into the white middle -class; a second leads straight in the opposite direction to permanent poverty and assimilation to the underclass; still a third combines rapid economic advancement with deliberate preservation of the immigrant community's values and solidarity. This pattern of "segmented assimilation" immediately raises the question of what makes some immigrant groups susceptible to the downward route and what resources allow others to avoid this course. In fact, the same general process helps to explain both outcomes. We will advance next our understanding of how this process takes place and how the differing outcomes of the assimilation process can be explained. In the final section, this explanation will be illustrated with recent empirical evidence.
Vulnerability and resources
While individual and family variables are influential, the context that immigrants encounter upon arrival plays a decisive role in the course that their offspring's lives will follow. This context includes such broad variables as political relations between the sending and receiving countries and the state of the economy in the latter, and such specific variables as the degree to which the immigrant group meets discrimination and finds a pre- existing ethnic community. Thus, Cuban immigrants of the 1960s came under perhaps the best circumstances: they were welcomed by the government, did not meet great prejudice, and soon formed a supportive community. On all three dimensions, the contrast with the Haitians is great.
To explain second-generation outcomes and their "segmented" character, however, we need to consider in greater detail the various paths of assimilation. There are three features of the social contexts encountered by today's newcomers that create vulnerability to downward assimilation: the first is color, the second is location, and the third is the absence of mobility ladders. As noted above, the majority of contemporary immigrants are non-white. Although this feature may at first glance appear to be an individual characteristic, in reality it is a trait of the host society. Prejudice is not invariably suffered by those with a particular skin color or racial type, and indeed many immigrants never experienced prejudice in their native lands. It is by virtue of moving into a new social environment, marked by different values and biases, that physical features become redefined as a handicap.
The concentration of immigrant households in cities and, in particular, central cities, gives rise to a second source of vulnerability because it puts new arrivals in close contact with concentrations of native-born minorities. This leads the majority to identify both groups-- immigrants and the native poor--as identical. Even more importantly, it exposes the children of immigrants to the adversarial subculture that marginalized native youth have developed to cope with their own difficult situation. This process of socialization may take place even when first-generation parents are moving ahead economically and, hence, when their children have no "objective" reasons for embracing a countercultural message. If successful, this socialization can effectively block parental plans for inter-generational mobility.
The third source of vulnerability results from changes in the economy that have led to the elimination of occupational ladders for inter-generational mobility. New immigrants form the backbone of what remains of labor- intensive manufacturing in the cities, as well as of the growing personal services sector, but these are niches that seldom offer channels for upward mobility. The new "hourglass economy" created by economic restructuring means that the children of immigrants must cross a narrow bottleneck to occupations requiring advanced training if their careers are to keep pace with their U.S.-acquired aspirations. This "race" against a narrowing middle demands that immigrant parents accumulate sufficient resources to allow their children to cross the bottleneck (and, simultaneously, to believe that they can cross the bottleneck). Otherwise, "assimilation" may be not to mainstream values and expectations, but to the adversarial stance of impoverished groups confined to the bottom of the hourglass.
We have painted the picture in such stark terms for the sake of clarity, although in reality things have not yet become so polarized. Middle-evel occupations that require relatively modest educational achievement have not vanished completely. As of 1980, skilled blue-collar jobs (classified by the U.S. Census as "precision production, craft, and repair occupations") had declined by 1.1 percentage points compared to a decade earlier, but still represented 13 percent of the experienced civilian labor force, or 13.6 million workers. Administrative support occupations, mostly clerical, added another 16.9 percent of the jobs. Meanwhile, occupations requiring a college degree increased by 6 percentage points from 1970 to 1980, but still employed less than a fifth of the American labor force (18.2 percent). Even in the largest cities, occupations requiring only a high school diploma were common in the late 1980s. In New York City, for example, persons with twelve years or less of schooling held just over half of the jobs in 1987. Yet despite these figures, there is little doubt that the trend toward occupational segmentation has reduced opportunities for upward mobility through well-paid, blue-collar positions. This trend forces today's immigrants to bridge in one generation the gap between entry-level and professional positions, a distance that earlier groups took two or three generations to travel.
At the same time, there are three types of resources that ease the assimilation of contemporary immigrants. First, certain groups, notably political refugees, are eligible for a variety of government programs including educational loans for their children. The Cuban Loan Program, begun by the Kennedy administration as part of a plan to resettle Cuban refugees beyond south Florida, gave many impoverished first- and second- generation Cuban youth a chance to attend college. The high proportion of professionals and executives among Cuban-American workers today, a figure on par with that for native white workers, can be traced, at least in part, to the success of that program. Passage of the 1980 Refugee Act gave subsequent refugees, in particular Southeast Asians and Eastern Europeans, access to a similarly generous benefits package.
In addition, certain foreign groups have managed to escape the prejudice traditionally endured by immigrants. This has facilitated a smoother process of adaptation. Political refugees such as the early waves of exiles from Castro's Cuba, Hungarians and Czechs escaping the invasions of their respective countries, and Soviet Jews escaping religious persecution, provide examples. In other cases, it is the cultural and phenotypical affinity of newcomers to ample segments of the host population that ensures a welcome reception. The Irish who came to Boston during the 1980s provide a case in point. Although many were illegal aliens, they came into an environment where generations of Irish- Americans had established a secure foothold. Public sympathy effectively neutralized governmental hostility in this case, and led to a change in the immigration law that directly benefited the newcomers.
Third and most important are the resources made available through networks in the co-ethnic community. Immigrants who join well-established and diversified ethnic groups have access to a range of moral and material resources well beyond those available through official assistance programs . Educational help for second-generation youth may include not only access to college grants and loans, but a private school system geared to immigrant community values. Attendance at these private ethnic schools insulates children from contact with native minority youth, while reinforcing the authority of parental views and plans.
In addition, the economic diversification of some immigrant communities creates niches of opportunity that members of the second generation can occupy, often without need for an advanced education. Small-business apprenticeships, access to skilled building trades, and well-paid jobs in local government bureaucracies are some of the many ethnic niches documented in the recent literature. In 1987, average sales per firm of the smaller Chinese, East Indian, Korean, and Cuban enterprises exceeded $100,000 per year, and jointly they employed more than 200,000 workers. These figures omit medium-sized and large ethnic corporations whose sales and work forces are much greater. Fieldwork in these communities indicates that up to half of recently arrived immigrants are employed by co-ethnic firms and that self-employment offers a prime avenue of mobility for second-generation youth. Through the creation of a capitalism of their own, some immigrant groups have thus been able to circumvent outside discrimination and the threat of vanishing mobility ladders.
In contrast to these favorable conditions are those faced by foreign minorities who lack a community already in place or co-ethnics capable of rendering assistance. The Haitians in south Florida, cited above, must cope with official hostility and widespread social prejudice, as well as the absence of a strong receiving community. Yet in some cases the existence of a large but downtrodden co-ethnic community may be even less desirable than no community at all. That is because newly arrived youth enter into ready contact with the reactive subculture developed by earlier generations. Its influence is all the more powerful because it comes from individuals of the same national origin, "people like us" who can effectively define the proper stance and attitudes of the newcomers. To the extent this occurs, the first generation's aspirations of upward mobility through school achievement and attainment of professional occupations will be blocked.
The case of Mexican-Americans
"Field High School" is located in a small community in central California whose economy has long been tied to agricultural production and immigrant farm labor. About 57 percent of Field's students are of Mexican descent. An intensive study of the class of 1985 by M.G. Matute-Bianchi revealed that the majority of U.S.-born Spanish-surname students dropped out by their senior year. Yet of the Spanish-surname students originally classified by the school as Limited English Proficient (LEP), only 35 percent dropped out. (LEP status is commonly assigned to recently arrived Mexican immigrants.) This drop out rate was even lower than the 40 percent rate for native white students.
Intensive ethnographic fieldwork at the school identified several distinct categories into which the Mexican-origin population could be grouped. "Recent Mexican immigrants" were at one extreme. They dressed differently and unstylishly. They claimed a Mexican identity and considered Mexico their permanent home. The most academically successful of this group were those most proficient in Spanish, reflecting their prior levels of education in Mexico. Almost all were described by teachers and staff as courteous, respectful, serious about their schoolwork, and eager to please, as well as naive and unsophisticated. They were commonly classified as LEP.
"Mexican-oriented students" spoke Spanish at home but were generally classified as Fluent English Proficient (FEP). They had strong cultural ties with both Mexico and the U.S., reflecting the fact that most were born in Mexico but had lived in the U.S. for more than five years. They were proud of their Mexican heritage, but saw themselves as different from the first group, the recien llegados (recently arrived) as well as from the native-born Chicanos and Cholos who were derided as having lost their Mexican roots. Students from this group were active in soccer and the Sociedad Bilingue and in celebrations of May 5th, the anniversary of the Mexican defeat of French occupying forces. Virtually all the students of Mexican-descent who graduated in the top 10 percent of their class were members of this group.
"Chicanos" were by far the largest group of Mexican descent at Field High. They were mostly U.S.-born second- and third- generation students whose primary loyalty was to their in- group, seen as locked in conflict with white society. Chicanos derided successful Mexican students as "schoolboys" and "schoolgirls" or as "wannabes." According to Matute-Bianchi:
Chicanos merged imperceptibly into the last category, the "Cholos," who were commonly seen as "low riders" and gang members. They were also U.S.-born Mexican-Americans, easily identifiable by their deliberate manner of dress, walk, and speech, and other cultural symbols. Chicanos and Cholos were generally regarded by teachers as "irresponsible," "disrespectful," "mistrusting," "sullen," "apathetic," and "less motivated," and their poor school performance was attributed to these traits. According to Matute-Bianchi, Chicanos and Cholos were faced with what they saw as a choice between doing well in school and being Chicano. To study hard was to "act white" and so be disloyal to one's group.
The situation of these last two groups exemplifies a lost race between first-generation achievements and later generation expectations. Seeing their parents and grandparents confined to menial jobs, and increasingly aware of discrimination by the white mainstream, the U.S.- born children of earlier Mexican immigrants readily join a reactive subculture as a means of protecting their sense of self-worth. Participation in this subculture erects serious barriers to upward mobility because school achievement is defined as antithetical to ethnic solidarity . Like the Haitian students in Miami, newly arrived Mexicans are at risk of being socialized into a reactive stance, with the aggravating factor that it is "other Mexicans," not native-born strangers, who convey the message. The principal protection of mexicanos against this type of assimilation lies in their strong identification with the home country's language and values, which brings them closer to their parents' cultural stance.
The case of Punjabi Sikhs
"Valleyside" is a northern California community in which the primary economic activity is orchard farming. Farm laborers in the area often come from India and are mainly rural Sikhs from the Punjab. In the early 1980s, second- generation Punjabis made up 11 percent of the student body at Valleyside High. Their parents were not only farm laborers; about a third were orchard owners themselves and another third worked in factories in the nearby San Francisco area. An ethnographic study of Valleyside High between 1980 and 1982 by M.A. Gibson revealed a very difficult process of assimilation for Punjabi Sikh students. According to Gibson, Valleyside is "redneck country" and white residents are extremely hostile toward immigrants who look different and speak another language:
Despite these attacks and some evidence of discrimination by school staff, Punjabi students performed better than the majority "Anglo" students. About 90 percent of the immigrant youth completed high school, compared to 70 to 75 percent of native whites. Punjabi boys earned above- average grades, were more likely than average to take advanced science and math classes, and often aspired to careers in science and engineering. Punjabi girls tended to enroll in business classes, but were less interested in immediate career plans than in satisfying parental wishes that they first marry. This gender difference reflects the strong influence exercised by the immigrant community over its second generation. According to Gibson, Punjabi parents pressured their children to avoid too much contact with white peers who might "dishonor" the immigrants, and defined "becoming Americanized" as forgetting one's roots and adopting various frowned-upon traits of the majority-- such as leaving home at age eighteen, making decisions without parental consent, dating, and dancing. Instead, Punjabi parents urged their children to abide by school rules, ignore racist remarks, avoid fights, and learn useful skills including full proficiency in English.
The overall success of this strategy of "selective" assimilation to American society is remarkable. Punjabi immigrants were generally poor when they arrived and confronted widespread discrimination. They did not benefit from either governmental assistance or a well-established co-ethnic community. In terms of our typology of vulnerability and resources, the Punjabi Sikh second- generation was very much at risk except for two crucial factors. First, immigrant parents did not settle in the inner city nor in close proximity to any native-born minority whose offspring could provide an alternative model of adaptation to white majority discrimination. In particular, the absence of a downtrodden Indian-American community composed of children of previous immigrants allowed first-generation parents to influence decisively the outlook of their offspring, including their ways of fighting white prejudice. There was no equivalent of a Cholo-like reactive subculture to offer an alternative blueprint for the stance that "people like us" should take.
Second, Punjabi immigrants managed to make considerable economic progress, as attested by the number who became farm owners, while at the same time maintaining a tightly knit ethnic community. The material and social capital created by this first-generation community compensated for the absence of an older co-ethnic group and had a decisive effect on the outlook of the second generation. Punjabi teenagers were shown that their parents' ways "paid off" economically and this fact plus their community's cohesiveness endowed them with a source of pride that counteracted outside discrimination. Through a strategy of selective assimilation, Punjabi Sikhs appear to be winning the race against the inevitable acculturation of their children to American-style aspirations.
The case of Caribbeans in south Florida
Miami is arguably the American city that has been most thoroughly transformed by post-1960 immigration. The Cuban revolution had much to do with this transformation, as it sent the entire Cuban upper-class out of the country, followed by thousands of refugees of more modest backgrounds. Over time Cubans in Miami have created a prosperous community. Signs of this prosperity abound: by 1987, Cubans owned more than 30,000 small businesses, which formed the core of the Miami ethnic enclave; by 1989, Cuban family incomes approximated those of the native-born population; the Cuban community has also developed a private school system oriented to its values and political outlook. In terms of the above typology of vulnerability and resources, well-sheltered Cuban-American teenagers lack extensive exposure to outside discrimination and have little contact with youth from disadvantaged minorities. Moreover, the development of a Cuban enclave has created economic opportunities beyond those in the narrowing industrial and tourist sectors on which most other immigrant groups in the area depend. Across town, Haitian-American teenagers face exactly the opposite set of conditions.
Among the other immigrant groups in Miami, two deserve mention because they face situations intermediate between those of the Cubans and Haitians. Nicaraguans escaping the Sandinista regime during the 1980s were not as welcomed in the U.S. as Cuban exiles, nor were they able to develop a large and diversified community. Yet Nicaraguans shared with Cubans a common language and culture, as well as a militant anti-communist outlook. This common outlook led the Cuban-American community to extend its resources in support of the Nicaraguans, smoothing their process of adaptation. For second-generation Nicaraguans, this has meant that the pre-existing ethnic community providing a model for their own assimilation is not a downtrodden group, but rather one that has managed to establish a firm presence in the city's economy and politics.
Members of a second group, West Indians from Jamaica, Trinidad, and other English-speaking Caribbean republics, generally arrive in Miami as legal immigrants. In addition, many bring along professional and business credentials as well as the advantage of English fluency. These advantages are diminished, however, by the fact that these immigrants are seen by whites as identical to native-born blacks and discriminated against accordingly. The recency of West Indian migration and its limited numbers have prevented the development of a diversified ethnic community in south Florida. Hence new arrivals experience the full force of white discrimination without the protection of a large co-ethnic group, and with constant exposure to the situation and attitudes of the inner-city population. These disadvantages put the West Indian second generation at risk of bypassing white or even black middle-class models and instead assimilating to the culture of the underclass.
A recently completed survey of eighth and ninth graders in the Dade County (Miami) and Broward County (Fort Lauderdale ) schools by the senior author of this article and Lisandro Perez included sizable samples of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan , and West Indian second-generation children. The study defined youth of the "second generation" as those born in the U.S. who have at least one foreign-born parent, and those born abroad who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. The survey included both inner-city and suburban public schools, as well as private schools and those in which particular foreign-origin groups were known to concentrate. The sample was divided evenly between boys and girls and included children ranging in age from twelve to seventeen.
There were, as expected, large socio-economic differences among the four national groups. Cuban children in private schools had the best educated parents and those with the highest status occupations. Haitians in public schools had parents who ranked lowest in both dimensions. Nicaraguans and West Indians occupied intermediate positions, with parents whose average education was often higher than that of public-school Cubans, but whose occupational levels were roughly the same. While more than half of private-school Cuban respondents defined their families as upper-middle class or higher, only a third of Haitians and Nicaraguans did so.
Most interesting were the differences in ethnic self- identification. Less than one-fifth of the second- generation students identified themselves as non-hyphenated Americans. The proportion was highest among higher-status, private-school Cubans, but even among this group almost two- thirds saw themselves as "Cuban" or "Cuban-American." Very few Cubans opted for the self-designation "Hispanic." Nicaraguan students, on the other hand, used this label almost as frequently as "Nicaraguan."
While none of the Latin students identified themselves as "black American," roughly one-tenth of Haitians and West Indians did so. The self-identification of Haitians was similar to that of Nicaraguans in that both attached less importance to the country of origin and more to pan-national identity than did Cubans or West Indians. In total, about half of the Haitian children identified themselves as something other than "Haitian."
Aspirations were very high in all groups. Although there were significant differences in expectations of completing college, at least 80 percent in each group expected to achieve this level of education. Similarly, roughly 70 percent of the students from each nationality aspired to professional or business careers. This uniformity contrasts sharply with the wide variation in socio-economic background and reported experiences of discrimination. The Haitians and West Indians reported discrimination two to three times as frequently as did the Cubans. Majorities of both Haitian and West Indian youth reported having been discriminated against and about 20 percent said that their teachers had done so. In contrast, only 5 percent of Cubans in private school reported such incidents; Nicaraguans occupied an intermediate position, with half reporting discrimination and 13 percent reporting discrimination by their teachers.
Unsurprisingly, Haitian and West Indian teenagers were the most likely to agree that there is racial discrimination in the U.S. economy and to deny that non-whites have equal opportunities. Interestingly, they were joined in these negative evaluations by private-school Cubans. This result may reflect the greater information and class awareness of the latter group relative to their less privileged Latin counterparts. However, all Cuban students parted company with the rest of the sample in their positive evaluation of the United States. Roughly three- fourths of second-generation Cubans endorsed the view that "the United States is the best country in the world"; only half of Nicaraguans did so and the two mostly black groups took an even less enthusiastic stance.
The results of this survey illuminate with numbers the "race " between generalized career aspirations and the widely different vulnerabilities and resources created by first- generation modes of assimilation. Aspirations are very high for all groups, regardless of origin; however, parental socio-economic background, resources of the co-ethnic community, and experiences of discrimination are very different. These factors influence decisively the outlook of second-generation youth, even at a young age, and are likely to have strong effects on the course of their future assimilation. The importance of these factors is illustrated by the enthusiasm with which children of advantaged immigrants embrace their parents' adopted country, and by the much less sanguine views of those whose situation is more difficult.
A final intriguing fact about today's second generation as revealed by this survey: the best-positioned group (private- school Cubans) is the one least likely to step out of the ethnic circle in inter-personal relationships, while the group in the most disadvantaged position (Haitians) is the most likely to do so. Overall, the three Latin groups overwhelmingly select friends who are also the children of immigrants and who are mostly of the same nationality. Less than half of Haitians and West Indians do the same.
Assimilation and the future
Fifty years ago, the dilemma of the Italian-American youngsters studied by Child consisted of assimilating to the American mainstream and thus sacrificing their parents' cultural heritage versus taking refuge in the ethnic community and forgoing the challenges of the outside world. In the contemporary context of "segmented assimilation," the alternatives have become less clear. Children of non- white immigrants may not even have the opportunity to gain access to middle-class white society, no matter how acculturated they become. Yet joining those native circles to which they do have access may prove a ticket to permanent subordination and disadvantage. Remaining securely ensconced in their co-ethnic community may, under these circumstances, be not a symptom of escapism but the best strategy for capitalizing on otherwise unavailable moral and material resources. As the experiences of the Punjabi Sikh and Cuban-American students suggest, a strategy of paced, selective assimilation may prove the best course for immigrant minorities. But the extent to which this strategy is possible depends on the history of each group and its specific profile of vulnerabilities and resources.
ALEJANDRO PORTES is the John Dewey Professor of Sociology and International Relations at Johns Hopkins University. MIN ZHOU is an assistant professor of sociology at Louisiana State University.