Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Philip Kasinitz

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies | Education | Sociology


Childhood, Chinese Immigrants, Cultural Capital, Immigrant Community, Music Education, Social Mobility


This study examines the determinants of upward mobility among children of Chinese immigrants. While most studies emphasize ethnic cultural capital as a primary determinant of Chinese upward mobility, this study proposes three new concepts to illuminate understudied processes promoting mobility. Specifically, this study argues that Chinese immigrants' interactions with classical music schools in the Chinese community help generate globalized cultural capital (resources from immigrants' participation in transnational networks), navigational capital (the ability to connect social networks together to facilitate community navigation through higher-status educational institutions) and aspirational capital (the ability of parents to acknowledge the barriers to upward mobility). These music schools offer parents highly valued Western cultural capital in the form of difficult-to-acquire competence in classical music, which parents are promised will help their children gain access to higher-status educational institutions. Parents internalize this valorizing of classical music and believe it will help their children. In addition, Western classical music as a component of Chinese American identity is also reconstructed and blurred through family cultural practice in the local context. Moreover, the competition to climb the educational ladder in the new land encourages Chinese immigrant families to create ethnic identities of hybrid cultural components. This more instrumental acquisition of highly valued cultural capital is a qualitatively different (though not incommensurate) explanation of Chinese upward mobility, which usually centers on Confucian values, retention of Chinese language, and obedience. This study seeks here not to attack the Chinese-values argument, but to argue that institutional factors outside the family are also crucial to understanding Chinese upward mobility.