Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

For children of immigrants, can family trump opportunity?

Photo by Stephen Zacharias/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An intriguing post on the Being Latino website today points out, if unscientifically, the tug-of-war between family and career that pulls at some young Latinos - and which I suspect pulls at other children of immigrants, too.

In the post, contributor Orlando Rodriguez connects the dots between a Pew Research Center report from a couple of years ago titled "Who Moves? Who Stays Put? Where's Home?" and Latino mobility, examining whether family ties hinder the sort of mobility that could lead to greater professional achievement.

According to the Pew report, U.S-born Latinos are "markedly more likely" than other Americans to have lived in only one state, with 72 percent doing so. When they do move, family reasons are an issue as well: Nearly half (48 percent) of the Latinos surveyed who moved said it was because their community was a good place to raise their children, compared to only a third or so of black and white Americans.

And there's another factor: People who are college graduates are more likely to move away from where they were raised, and Latinos are still at a disadvantage in that department.

Rodriguez writes:

An unscientific sample of my family confirms the Pew findings. The majority of my extended family is from New Orleans and remained there even after hurricane Katrina. Among them, the majority do not have a college education. My oldest brother, niece, and I are the only ones who left (long before Katrina), and we have graduate degrees. My other brother, who stayed in New Orleans and did not go to college, warned me not to get too much education or I would not be able to get a job. He must have been thinking of the type of local jobs available in the tourism and oil economy of southern Louisiana.

Latinos should be mindful that focusing exclusively on the importance of the family may create a difficult choice for young Latinos in the United States. Is the Latino family sending subtle, or not so subtle, hints that living close to abuelita is more important than a better job or higher education? Do young Latinos have enough acquaintances outside their families and beyond their local communities to feel comfortable among strangers? Are Latino parents sending a mixed message?

After reading this, I recalled a conversation that I had about a decade ago, while having dinner at a National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference. I was seated next to an older Latina who worked in television, and in our conversation, it came up that I'd recently passed up a very good out-of-state job offer. It was a dream job at the time, but I'd gotten cold feet.

There were reasons why I didn't move that went beyond my family: A solid community of friends, a growing love interest. But there had also been my otherwise supportive mother's words, "Ay mija, que bueno seria si no te tuvieras que ir." (Oh my daughter, how great it would be if you didn't have to leave.)

Ay, indeed. The older television woman told me how many times she had seen this, and how sad she thought it was. Young Latinos who had worked hard to finish college, kids whose parents had brought them to this country for the opportunities - and then balked when the opportunities threatened to divide the family. "You should have gone," she said. "It was what they brought you here for."

Years later, I'm glad I didn't go. The right opportunities presented themselves in time, allowing me to build a life that doesn't require buying airline tickets to see my family. But Rodriguez's post struck a nerve.

Can anyone who is reading this relate? Feel free to share your story below.