Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Cho, Jane J.
Pub Date: 12/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Winter, 2010 Source Volume: 44 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Kasinitz, Philip; Mollenkopf, John H.; Waters, Mary C.; Holdaway, Jennifer
Accession Number: 248907028
Full Text: Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age. By Philip Kasinitz, John H. Mollenkopf, Mary C. Waters, and Jennifer Holdaway. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008. pp. 432, $45.00).

Inheriting the City shows how immigration pervades every aspect of American life: it is about how immigrants alter American society and how they are in turn changed. The authors write that this volume stemmed from their concern over the possible downward mobility of the children of post-1965 immigrants. So began a decade-long project that analyzed five immigrant groups with three native comparison groups in New York City. Kasinitz, Mollenkopf, Waters, and Holdaway chose South American Hispanics (Peruvians, Colombians, Ecuadorians) Dominicans, Chinese, Russian Jews, and West Indians as immigrant groups to be juxtaposed against native born Puerto Ricans, blacks and whites. They matched each immigrant group with a native group based on racial and socioeconomic characteristics. Their fact finding mission involved 3,415 telephone surveys, 333 face-to-face interviews, and commissioned ethnographies of sites where many immigrant and native youths interacted. This book and its companion volume Becoming New Yorkers (2004) are the results of their investigation.

The authors' findings and analysis tell a rich story about the intersection of immigration, youth culture, and New York City. Inheriting the City is an insightful addition to the growing body of literature that questions how Americanization and economic integration are related in the lives of immigrants. It presents a dizzying array of charts that refute the notion that rapid assimilation in today's immigrant youths causes their underperformance. On the contrary, the most common route to economic well-being for the young adults is to join the mainstream. These youths speak English, attend integrated schools, and seek jobs away from ethnic enclaves. This meticulously researched project shows that immigrant youths in fact fare better than both their parents and their native counterparts. Russian Jews and Chinese are doing particularly well, outperforming native white youths. Second-generation South Americans and Dominicans are better off than native born Puerto Ricans; and West Indians have achieved more than native blacks. These young adults, born to at least one immigrant parents, have what the authors call "the second generation advantage." They benefit from being a part of two cultures by "combining American and parental cultural beliefs and practices and creating new norms and beliefs about how to live in the world (87)." They have options.

This second generation advantage reflects the systematic differences between immigrant and native groups in certain coming of age milestones such as how and when they leave home, finish their education, and find work. For example, adult children of immigrants are more likely to live at home in multigenerational households than native borns. Given New York City's high real estate cost, this can make the difference between going to school full-time or part-time and when they complete their schooling. Moreover, the presence of extended family members could allow for more working adults to pool income together, and thus make more resources available per child. Also these "extra" adults could compensate for an absent parent and provide material and psychological advantage over those with a smaller support group.

Nine substantive chapters cover a wide range of topics including family background, ethnic identity, transnational ties, labor force participation, and political engagement. The voices of the young adults can be heard clearly. They are not mere subjects, but actors of this story. It is their multi-faceted perspectives that best support the argument that for these youths, their "identity is situation, variable and often hybrid (67)." Their experiences also show major differences among immigrant groups, which the authors attribute in part to the immigrant parents. The authors credit the parents for having the drive, courage, and strength to move to a foreign country. Thus, these young adults are children of exceptional parents (352). On a more practical level, their immigration status and social networks positively affect their children's incorporation in to American society. In the case of Russian Jews, they used public assistance available to refugees and received aid from Jewish organizations to get on their feet. Chinese benefited from the social connection of a very diverse ethnic community. Regardless of class or origin, Chinese parents gained information about the American system needed to help guide their children through it. These were a few of the contributing factors of their offspring's second generation advantage. Yet the optimism expressed about the second generation youths is tempered by the stark contrast of poverty, discrimination, high incarceration rate, and limited opportunities of the native minority youths. Kasinitz and his colleagues argue the negative outcome is telling of the ethnic and racial lines that still matter in the U.S. society. They draw the reader's attention to not only the structural constraints but also the cultural expectations that limit positive outcomes for native minority youths.

The authors are keenly aware of the current debates and their public policy implications, but it seems that they chose to let their data, rather than theoretical assertions, take center stage. This choice, along with their clear writing, makes this book very accessible. Yet it is a lengthy volume overflowing with statistics that may discourage a reader from casually picking this book up. Another not so small shortcoming is that this book is a case study based on one of the most diverse, dynamic cities in the United States. The reasons that make New York City an interesting subject make it not representative of most parts of the United States. As enumerated in the book, about 45% of the city's black population, 40% of the white population, 59% of the Hispanics, and 95% of the Asian population are immigrants or children of immigrants. There is no single immigrant group that dominates the city, as in other metropolitan areas like Miami and Los Angeles. Such diversity can only be found in New York City. Its real estate is among the nation's most expensive, and one wonders if the higher rate of immigrant youths living at home than of native youths would be found in other parts of the United States. Moreover, New York City has had a long history of rewarding change and cultivating difference. But despite its shortcomings, Inheriting the City itself is an exceptional book. It provides a window into how today's immigrant youths in New York City are successfully integrating into today's society.

Jane J. Cho

University of California at Berkeley
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