The Expectations And Aspirations Of Career Mexican-Americans

Table of Content

A well-known core value in Hispanic culture is familism, which implies that Hispanics have strong bonds with their family members whether they are close or extended relatives. Through these close bonds, they develop intradependence within their families which serves as a protective factor as they settle in the new country (Sabogal et al. 1987). Familism has mostly been studied as a protective factor, however, there are also barriers associated with it.

Keefe, Padilla, and Carlos (1979) compared the differences between Mexican-American and Anglo-American family structures and their overall reliance on kin for emotional support in three southern California cities. The sample consisted of 381 Mexican-Americans and 163 Anglo Americans. They found that the majority of Mexican-Americans live in interconnected kinships made up of extended family of three or more generations. When asked about who they seek counsel from regarding emotional problems, they reported that they mostly confided in their kin whether or not they live nearby, whereas Anglos only showed preference for their kin when their friends did not live nearby. The results imply that Mexican-Americans consider their kin to be their primary source for emotional support. These findings highlight the Hispanic sentiment of familial obligation to help one another and remain together (Keefe et al. 1979).

In another study, Sabogal et al. (1987) examined how different acculturation levels and sociodemographics affect attitudinal and behavioral familism. Attitudinal familism is the belief that the family’s well-being comes before the individual and the beliefs and attitudes shared are feelings of loyalty, solidarity, and reciprocity. Behavioral familism describes the behaviors that are associated with these feelings and attitudes such as calling or wanting to live in close proximity to family members. The participants consisted of 452 Hispanics and 227 non-Hispanic whites surveyed from several schools, colleges, and places of employment. Within the Hispanic sample, 36% were Mexican-Americans, 22% were Cuban Americans, 32% were Central Americans, and 10% were Puerto Ricans or South Americans. A 16-page questionnaire included items on familism, acculturation, and general demographics. Bardis’ attitudinal familism scale was used along with a behavioral acculturation scale that was developed to include language proficiency, language preference, and other demographics.

The common familism factors identified were familial obligations, support from the family, and family as referents. The relationship between familism and acculturation was examined using a one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA). They found that levels of acculturation does not affect Hispanics’ level of perceived familial support. Alternatively, familial obligations coincided with the acculturation levels. The lower their acculturation levels, the higher their familial obligations were. Finally, even Hispanics with high levels of acculturation showed higher levels of familism than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. The sentiment is that as Hispanics become more acculturated to the American culture, they become more independent and individualistic and less concentrated on providing their family with material and emotional support. However, no matter the level of acculturation, they will still rely on their family for help and support when facing problems (Sabogal et al. 1987).

Conversely, Desmond and Turley (2009) focused on whether Hispanic students’ high levels of familism would make them prefer to live at home during college and how that would affect their college selections. The data for study was acquired from the Texas Higher Education Opportunity Project which included 96 Texas public high schools. The participants included 13,803 seniors from which 36% were Hispanic, 42% were White, and 22% were of other races. Students completed self-administered surveys during class. They found 74% of Hispanic students claimed that living at home was important in comparison to 58% of African Americans and 46% of Whites. There was also a negative correlation between wanting to stay at home and not applying to college at all. Out of the students who found it important to stay at home during college, only 53% were likely to apply to college compared to the 76% who did not find it important to stay at home. In this case, familism could be seen as a barrier to educational attainment or aspirations as Hispanics are limiting themselves to their surrounding universities, if they even choose to go to college.

Peer Influence

Espinoza et al. (2013) explored how positive and negative friendship networks influence Mexican-American students’ school adjustment. The purpose of this study was to test whether students’ friend associations (negative and positive) would affect school adjustment and focused on 412 Mexican adolescents in two Los Angeles public high schools (ages 14 to 16) and one of their caregivers. Students were given questionnaires and asked to keep daily diaries for 14 days. Intercorrelations and analyses of variance (ANOVA) tests were used to examine friend support, friend affiliations, and school adjustment. They found that friend support was negatively correlated with deviant friends and positive correlated with achievement-oriented friends. Having achievement-oriented friends and high levels of friend support indicated high levels of educational attainment and aspirations. On the other hand, students who reported having deviant friends and high levels of friend support were found to have higher academic problems. These findings highlight the importance of friendship in educational attainment and aspirations (Espinoza et al. 2013).

Similarly, Vaquera (2009) paid close attention to the role of peer social ties as it relates to school belonging. The purpose of this study was to find out whether friendship status and location of the best friend had an impact on the educational well-being of the adolescents. The data for study was acquired from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The sample consisted of 90,000 adolescents in 134 U.S. schools who self-identified as Hispanic or white between 7th and 12th grade. School engagement was calculated by measuring concentration and effort to learn. The number of years (1-6) the student attended school was used since the longer they are in the school system the more likely they are to make friends. Vaquera (2009) found that 88% of white students reported having a best friend and 66% said their best friend attended their school.

Also, 76% of Mexicans reported having a best friend and 55% of them reported their best friend attended their school. Overall, students whose best friend did not attend the same school had lower levels of school belonging. However, while white students reported higher engagement when their best friend attended the same school, Hispanics were found to have higher engagement problems. Vaquera (2009) suggests that the reason for these findings is that Hispanics having their friends attend the same school is problematic because they share a negative sentiment towards the American culture and act out against authority for trying to take away their Hispanic identity (Vaquera 2009).


Chavira, Cooper, and Vasquez-Salgado (2016) studied how career and educational aspirations/expectations affect career and educational attainment. Aspiration was defined as the hopes and dreams students had for their future. Expectations was defined as the realistic view or their future achievements. Twenty-four middle schoolers with Mexican-descent and their parents were interviewed in Central California. Students were asked questions about their career aspirations and expectations and their parents were asked about their aspirations and expectations for their children. They found that 78% of students reported that they wanted to become professionals. Additionally, 12 of those students reported aspirations of becoming executives. The other 22% wanted to become technicians, semi-professionals, or athletes. Furthermore, 75% of their parents reported that it was their child’s choice to choose what career they would want to pursue.

Despite this first answer, when asked if they could choose their children’s career, their answer changed. It was reported that 70% of the parents reported careers that required college degrees, 20% that required vocational training, and 10% that required high school education. Although students aspired to get a 4-year college education, their aspirations were found to be much higher than their educational expectations. The authors linked this gap to the students dreaming of obtaining the social mobility that their parents were not able to accomplish themselves through hard work in manual labor.

In another study, St-Hilaire (2002) analyzed 728 Hispanic-descent students’ values and differences as far as educational aspirations and attainment. The participants were 8th and 9th grade students of Mexican-descent who were randomly selected from a 1992 survey in San Diego. The researchers found that 90% of the students believed that education was the most important factor in obtaining success in the United States. In fact, while 99% wanted to finish high school, 88% wanted to finish at least some college and 50% wanted to finish graduate school. However, as far as realistic attainment, 99% still believed they would finish high school, 80% believed they would pursue college, and 30% believed they would get to graduate school. The findings reveal that Hispanic students do value education but also, when it comes to realizing their dreams, they tend to lower their aspirations. As Hispanic students acculturate to the American culture, it is important to take into account their environment. Hispanic students whose parents had low SES had lower attainment and aspirations over time. These findings could be attributed to them living in poor neighborhoods and not attending good public schools which would be barriers to their educational attainment and future dreams.

Finally, Ojeda et al. (2011) examined whether acculturation and enculturation would predict self-efficacy in terms of career decision. Acculturation is the process that takes place as an individual or group adapts to a host culture. Enculturation is essentially when an individual or group keep their origin culture’s beliefs and values while living in the host culture. The study examined 338 Latino seventh graders in an urban city in central Texas made up of 46% boys and 54% girls. In order to measure acculturation and enculturation, 12 out of the 30 items in the Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans-II (ARSMA-II) was used. A one-way multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA) revealed the differences in enculturation and acculturation between genders. A hierarchical regression revealed that as far as career decision self-efficacy, the only significant predictor for boys was ethnic identity. On the other hand, both ethnic identity and acculturation were significant predictors for girls. The findings suggest that Latina girls are more bicultural than boys and because they are more secure in their identity, it would be easier for them to make career decisions (Ojeda et al. 2011).


The research on acculturation and familism as it relates to educational or career aspirations is limited. This is the direct result of its inability to standardize common themes within these two dimensions. The outcome can be observed in this study as each literature examined presented these themes with different measurements. These inconsistencies in definition and measurement are important because they make it challenging for future researchers to compare results or notice patterns.

For example, Ojeda et al. (2011) defined acculturation as the process that takes place as an individual or group adapts to a host culture. He used 12 out of the 30 items on the Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans-II (ARSMA-II). This suggests that he missed essential components that contribute to the viability of the scale. Meanwhile, St-Hilaire (2002) used length of residency in the United States as the sole measure of acculturation. Unfortunately, length of residency only tells one part of the story in an immigrants’ process of acculturation.

The same problem emerged with familism. Sabogal et al. (1987), for example, used items to measure both behavioral and attitudinal familism. However, he admitted that he did not include some aspects of behavioral familism that would have affected attitudinal familism differently. Desmond and Turley (2009) oversimplified familism by exclusively looking at it as one’s desire to stay home for college which may in part relate to behavioral familism. Finally, Keefe et al. (1979) used a single factor of Attitudinal Familism known as familial support to describe the concept of familism. Moreover, he also did not talk about whether the kinship changed or remained the same overtime as the individuals became more acculturated. In summary, the empirical examinations of these relationships are limited in terms of measurement.


The studies exploring acculturation and aspirations often lack a theoretical perspective and only make a record of the effects without trying to explain them. Acculturation has been defined as the dynamic process of adopting a new culture. This process is bidirectional meaning that when two different cultures come in contact, they are both affected (Teske and Nelson 1974). In addition, Schumann (1986) has stated that acquiring a new language is one of the most important parts of the general process of acculturation. While Schumann’s Acculturation Theory examines the process of acquiring a second language as the primary means of acculturation, the components in his theory can be applied to other aspects of acculturation (Ellis 2015).

Acculturation is significantly related to educational and career aspirations. An individual of a foreign background can become frustrated when their values conflict with the culture of the host country. As a result, finding a sense of belonging is hard to achieve in educational settings (López 2010). Merely the lack of knowing the English language in America is enough to limit one’s career aspirations. The jobs readily available for foreign speakers are largely low-skilled jobs (Kossoudji 1988).

This theory is one of the few that investigates acculturation at the individual level. It focuses on sociocultural factors and how they influence language learners. The main concept of the theory is that the greater the social distance, the harder it will be for the English Language Learner (ELL). Furthermore, Schumann’s Acculturation Theory incorporates three essential components of social distance that begin to explain the complexities of acculturation: Integration Pattern, Cohesiveness, and Attitude (Schumann 1986).

Integration Pattern consists of three acculturation strategies: assimilation, preservation, and adaptation. The assimilation strategy requires the ELL to give up their native group’s lifestyle and values in order to adopt those that belong to the host group. The preservation strategy involves the ELL keeping their native group’s lifestyle and values and completely rejecting those that belong to the host group. Finally, the adaptation strategy includes the ELL maintaining the lifestyle and values of the native group while also adapting to the lifestyle and values of the host group (Schumann 1986).

Cohesiveness is another social factor that states if the ELL’s native group is highly cohesive, the ELL will not try to interact with the host group and they will instead isolate themselves. Therefore, the more interconnected the ELL is with the native group, the less likely they will learn the language of the host group, much less assimilate to its lifestyle or culture (Schumann 1986).

Attitude claims that if the ELL has positive attitudes towards the host group and vice versa, it would promote more exposure to each other’s lifestyles and cultures as well as the learning of the target language to improve communication (Schumann 1986).

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