By Raoul Lowery Contreras
The images most Americans have of “La Gente (hen-teh” – the 40 million people in the U.S like me from Mexico or are children or grandchildren of people from Mexico — are images decidedly negative.
Those views are reinforced when La Gente is compared to others who have come to the U.S. since the 1960s.
Question: After defining success, what people are more successful? Depends on how success is defined.
Ted Lieu, U.S. Congressman, lawyer, former government prosecutor, from a Chinese immigrant family or the grandson of a Mexican farmworker who walked across the border years ago with a fourth grade education to pick lettuce.
We have some answers to such questions. A study by University of California, Irvine, Sociology Professor Jennifer Lee and UCLA Sociology Professor Min Zhou, suggests that contrary to stereotypes, Mexican-Americans are the most successful second-generation group in the country.
Simple reason: The study considered not just end results, but from where people started. In other words, a person born on third base is not superior to the person born on first base or who tries to lay down a rarely successful bunt to reach first base.
The study combats arguments made by Amy Chua, a Yale Law School professor better known as the Tiger Mom.
She and her husband — Jeb Rubenfeld — argue in a well-known book, The Triple Package, that some groups—namely Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians—are more successful than others because they possess certain cultural traits that enable them to reach success. That is, success as defined by Yale professors.
It should be noted that 1960’s Yale professors graded a senior’s thesis business plan for what became Federal Express with a “C.”
This study’s authors, both from immigrant Asian families, suggest Chua’s “Triple Package” includes: a cultural superiority complex. Combined, the couple asserts, this trait drives the groups to succeed within a broader American culture that is more blue collar than sophisticated.
They base their argument on an analysis of test scores, educational achievement, median household income, and other factors. This, of course, before college matriculation by Hispanics surpassed white college attendance. Hispanics, mostly of Mexican origin, now attend college in greater numbers than Whites and Blacks, according to Pew Research.
The UC study, however, argues that it’s not any specific cultural trait that makes Chinese-Americans more successful than others. Lee and Zhou say both Chinese-American and Mexican-American parents highly value education. Most parents do. But the reason Chinese-Americans get ahead is because they start ahead. Way ahead, in most cases.
The recent pandemic crisis that closed the country’s schools for a year or more provides substance to what the UC Irvine/UCLA study points out as the main differences between Mexican Americans and the Asian and other immigrant groups Mexicans are compared to.
Mexican American children in Los Angeles, for example, were photographed sitting on sidewalks outside fast food restaurants using restaurant wi-fi to reach online studies.
No photos of Chinese American kids on sidewalks or of Jewish kids appeared because there weren’t many, or perhaps, any. Those children had computers at home plus internet services that in Los Angeles can cost more than $150 a month.
The study, called “The Success Frame and Achievement Paradox: The Cost and Consequences for Asian-Americans,” looked at Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated to the U.S.
Initially, the study’s findings seem to reinforce claims made by Chua and her supporters: Sixty-four percent of Chinese immigrants’ children graduated from college, compared to 46 percent of native-born whites in L.A. Of the Chinese-American college graduates, 22 percent went on to attain graduate degrees.
Asian-American kids, the study found, benefit immensely from well-educated parents.
Mexican-Americans, on the other hand, had the lowest level of educational attainment in the study. Eighty-six percent had graduated from high school, compared to 100 percent of the Chinese-Americans, and just 17 percent had graduated from college.
In L.A — 60 percent of Chinese immigrant fathers and 40 percent of Chinese immigrant mothers had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
On the other hand, Mexican-Americans’ high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, and their college graduation rate more than doubled that of their fathers and tripled that of their mothers.
A hundred years ago, the average Mexican immigrant man had a 4th grade education. When I was nine, the average California Mexican American had an 8th grade education.
The study’s results are clear: When success is measured as progress from generation to generation, Mexican-Americans are number 1.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a United States Marine veteran, political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” And, “A Hispanic View of President Donald J. Trump.” He hosts the Contreras Report on Youtube and Facebook…