New Book Investigates Educational Mobility Within Immigrant Communities

September 14, 2021

In her new book, The Succeeders: How Immigrant Youth Are Transforming What It Means to Belong in America, cultural anthropologist and PSTC Faculty Associate Andrea Flores examines the complex relationship between US immigrant communities and educational mobility. The book follows a group of immigrant high schoolers enrolled in a non profit college readiness program for Latino youth in Nashville, Tennessee. 

“Often the stories we hear about immigrant young people focus on the extreme—the valedictorian who triumphed over adversity or the drop-out who didn’t,” says Flores. “These kinds of narratives leave out the everyday, but still extraordinary, ways that young people like the Succeeders make big impacts on their families, schools, and communities.” 

Flores, whose father immigrated to the US from Guatemala and whose mother was the first in her family to attend college, feels an especially strong connection to this group of high schoolers, whom she refers to as “The Succeeders,” and their overlapping experiences as young Latinos and first generation college students. 

“I was, in many ways, drawn to do this kind of research to make sense of my family’s experiences as immigrants and first-gen college students, and the research definitely deepened my gratitude to my family and my admiration of them,” she says. 

Flores’s grandmother was the child of immigrants as well, but unlike the Succeeders, she was not able to graduate from high school. “I feel like this project and book allow me—in a very small way—to right the wrong of her thwarted education,” she added. 

The Succeeders also examines some more tenuous aspects of educational mobility, including the pressure many young immigrants feel to reinforce harmful stereotypes about the Latino community in order to set themselves apart from these negative assumptions. 

“If educational mobility means vilifying your immigrant community and distancing yourself from them, it can be painful,” says Flores. “Like one student told me, you can become a ‘self-hating Brown girl’ in the process.” 

Paradoxically, however, Flores also finds that Succeeders exhibit uniquely strong feelings of kinship towards their communities, challenging classic American narratives about the importance of individual success. 

“That’s what’s so powerful about the Succeeders’ refusal to fully engage in that distancing process as they pursue educational mobility,” Flores says. “They are standing up to big, unchallenged cultural norms of what it means and what it takes to be a successful person and showing us there are other ways we can support immigrant young people and their educations—ways that don’t ask them to blindly assimilate and degrade where and who they come from.”