While research on Asian American students has overwhelmingly emphasized family ties as an important contributor to student success in high school, what it neglects is how family ties can constrain students in their educational endeavors. Based on a study of 30 low-income Hmong American high school students, I argue that poverty can create conditions in which family ties bind students to gender-based expectations and obligations that prevent them from pursuing opportunities for social mobility. In their discussion of mobility obstacles, Hmong students consistently brought up family as a significant barrier. Whereas males were concerned about fulfilling family obligations related to performing cultural and religious rituals, females were distressed about providing social and economic support for their families. Both males and females framed family obligations as obstacles that interfere with their schooling but females were also concerned that family obligations would restrict their ability to pursue opportunities away from home.
Research demonstrates that social class affects where high-achieving students apply to college, but the processes through which such effects come about are not well understood. This chapter draws on 46 in-depth interviews with high-achieving students in the Bay Area to examine how social class impacts college application decisions. I argue that the upbringing and experiences associated with students’ social class shape their narratives regarding how much autonomy or constraints they perceive in making college decisions. Higher-SES students present a narrative of independence about what they have done to prepare themselves for college and where to apply. In contrast, lower-SES students speak of experiences and considerations that reflect a narrative of interdependence between themselves and their parents that is grounded in the mutual concern they have for one another as the prospect of college looms.As a result, higher-SES students frame college as an opportunity to leave their families and immerse themselves in an environment far from home while lower-SES students understand college as a continuation of family interdependence. Consequently, higher-SES students are more likely to apply to selective private universities in other parts of the country, while lower-SES students tend to limit their choices to primarily selective and nonselective public colleges closer to home. This research enhances our understanding of the mechanisms by which social class differences in family experiences contribute to the perpetuation of social inequality.
This is a comparative study of Hmong political participation in Fresno, CA, and St. Paul, Minnesota, home to the two largest concentrations of Hmong Americans in the U.S. I show that the greater levels of political influence achieved by Hmong Americans in St. Paul can be attributed to a Minnesota context that is favorable to fostering Hmong political involvement. Compared to Hmong in Fresno, Hmong in St. Paul have higher levels of socioeconomic resources and are more visible given their large size relative to other minority groups. They live in a region with consistently high levels of political participation and have political candidates and organizations that devote resources to mobilizing the Hmong community. Findings from this research point to the importance of a politically inclusive culture in facilitating political involvement among immigrants.