Dreams Achieved and Denied

Mexican Intergenerational Mobility

Smith Robert Courtney Smith

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U.S.-born Mexicans in New York City have achieved one of the biggest one-generation jumps in mobility in American immigration history. In 2020, 42-percent of U.S.-born Mexican men and 49-percent of U.S.-born Mexican women in New York City had graduated from college. This high level of educational attainment is dramatically higher than their U.S.- and foreign-born counterparts in other places. How did U.S.-born Mexicans in New York City achieve such remarkable mobility? In Dreams Achieved and Denied, sociologist Robert Courtney Smith examines the laws, policies, and individual and family practices that promoted-and inhibited-their social mobility. For over twenty years, Smith followed nearly one hundred children of Mexican immigrants in New York City to learn what determined their ability to move up the social ladder. Smith finds that legal status was fundamental in shaping opportunities for mobility. Having or gaining legal status enabled individual and family efforts for mobility to be rewarded and by allowing efficacious use of New York City and New York State policies and practices that support mobility. Lacking legal status, however, blocked mobility, even for those individuals and families engaging in the same strategies, limiting the benefit derived from those mobility-promoting city and state policies.The young people that Smith followed employed a number of strategies to pursue advancement. Smith finds that having strong mentors, picking better high schools, and the desire to keep the immigrant family bargain the expectation that children of immigrants will redeem their parents sacrifice by doing well in school, helping their parents and younger siblings, and becoming ethical, well-educated people all led to better adult lives and outcomes. The ability to successfully utilize these strategies was aided by New York City and State policies that are immigrant-inclusive and mobility promoting, including New York State laws that offers undocumented New Yorkers in-state tuition at public universities, allows them to get standard driver s licenses, and access state health insurance programs, as well as New York City s school choice system, which allows for students to attend better schools outside of their designated school catchment zone.Dreams Achieved and Denied is a fascinating exploration of the historic upward mobility of Mexicans in New York City, which counters the dominant story research and public discourse tell about Mexican mobility in the United States.