Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2019 Issue »

    Stratified Lives

    Family, Illegality, and the Rise of a New Educational Elite


    In this research article, Leah Schmalzbauer and Alelí Andrés examine the educational mobility of low-income US citizen and DACAmented youth who are members of mixed-status families. Drawing from thirty life history interviews with Latinx students attending a top-tier liberal arts college, and based on ethnographic case studies of eight of their families, they explore what it is like to experience an elite education as a member of a socially and legally marginalized family. They found that their research participants' lives were stratified. While most thrived academically and were primed for individual socioeconomic mobility, they continued to bear the heavy weight of their parents' deportability, a burden that was invisible to faculty, staff, and most student peers. The authors contend that the invisible burdens and responsibilities associated with family illegality block students' full integration into the elite educational strata and cause stress and anxiety.

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    Leah Schmalzbauer is William R. Kenan Professor of Sociology and American Studies and chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Amherst College. Her teaching and research are situated at the intersections of gender, family, and international migration between Latin America and the United States. In addition to many journal articles and book chapters, she is the author of three books: Striving and Surviving: A Daily Life Analysis of Honduran Transnational Families (Routledge, 2005), The Last Best Place? Gender, Family and Migration in the New West (Stanford University Press, 2014), and Immigrant Families (Polity, 2016), coauthored with Cecilia Menjívar and Leisy Abrego. Schmalzbauer is currently working on a life history project exploring the social mobility paths of low-income Latinx youth at elite colleges.

    Alelí Andrés graduated from Amherst College in 2017 with a major in sociology. Her thesis, "The Children of the Original Dreamers: Experiences and Mobility Paths of US Citizens in Mixed-Status Families," was awarded summa cum laude honors and won the Pitkin Prize from the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. In her research, she examines how illegality is understood and experienced within mixed-status families and how it impacts the well-being and mobility paths of US citizens with undocumented parents. She also focuses on the intersections of class, gender, ethnicity, and sibling order. Andres is currently a senior client relations coordinator at A Wider Circle, a nonprofit serving low-income individuals and families in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. In this role, she assists clients from diverse backgrounds, specifically serving as the point of contact for the Latinx immigrants who are underserved in the community.

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