The American Dream Deferred: Education and Immigrant Incorporation in the Nuevo South
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Penn, Daphne M.
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CitationPenn, Daphne M. 2020. The American Dream Deferred: Education and Immigrant Incorporation in the Nuevo South. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractSince 2014, roughly 285,000 unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America have resettled throughout the United States. Because the U.S. educational system is responsible for educating all children—regardless of immigration status—scholars have suggested that schools are a critical locus of incorporation for newcomers. Unfortunately, immigrant-origin children are increasingly educated in segregated, high-poverty schools that are already ill-equipped to address the needs of native-born minorities. This pattern calls into question whether education is a promising pathway for newcomers to achieve the American Dream. Moreover, as immigrant youths continue to settle into regions characterized by anti-immigrant sentiments and policies, schools could become a new battlefield within the larger immigration debate. While scholars have explored how different “contexts of reception” shape immigrant incorporation, the literature seldom situates schools as an important feature of this framework. Additionally, research on education in new immigrant destinations highlights the contested nature of educational policymaking in response to demographic change; however, scholars have not examined the politics of immigrant incorporation into hypersegregated schools. Without an understanding of how this particular context shapes immigrant incorporation, we lack insight into the processes that (a) constrain adolescent immigrants’ ability to use education as a tool for social mobility and (b) perpetuate educational inequality for newcomers and native-born minorities.
Building on insights from segmented assimilation theory, this dissertation explores how the educational incorporation of unaccompanied minors complicates and is complicated by the ongoing quest for equity in educational policy and practice at an under-resourced, de facto segregated high school in Tennessee. Drawing on archival, interview, and ethnographic data, I demonstrate how immigrant youths’ integration into a highly stigmatized school contributes to their invisibility within the broader educational landscape and their misrecognition as potential beneficiaries of education reform. Additionally, due to school resource constraints, institutionally embedded practices, and the social construction of older adolescent immigrants as low-wage workers, newcomers to the school begin to age into exclusion from educational opportunity. Ultimately, I argue that the interaction between unaccompanied minors’ backgrounds and their educational contexts of reception established school as an impediment, rather than a pathway, to achieving the American Dream.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365926
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