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Aspirational Capital

kross825's picture

Growing up, I was exposed to immigrants in two distinct settings: my hometown's university and the workers in my neighborhood. Many of our family friends were professors or students at one of Missouri's state universities, and a majority of them were from India. As a child, I grew up with their customs and traditions. Dinner parties always consisted of traditional Indian food, and we went to most of the cultural events for our town. I understood that our family friends were immigrants, but that didn't mean much to me. They were some of the smartest and hard working individuals I have met. Around the time of middle school, I moved from the small college town to a bigger suburb of St. Louis with well manicured lawns and matching houses. Our neighborhood hired workers to trim the foliage, mow the lawn, and ensure everything looked "well kept." Almost all of the workers were immigrants from Mexico and spoke to each other in their native language. Living in a white, affluent neighborhood in a planned community with mostly immigrant workers made my family (primarily my mother) very uncomfortable. She formed relationships with the workers and quickly learned about their lives back in Mexico. Many of the workers were college professors, a handful were lawyers, and the rest were of other "well-respected" professions. Their degrees were not validated in the United States, and they were instead stuck doing work that did not accurately represent their background and knowledge. This helped me to understand from an early age not to judge another by their perceived ability, or life. 

As I read Huber's piece on racist nativist framing, I was reminded of my childhood and the various encounters that I had. I am never surprised (although deeply saddened) when I hear my peers make insensitive jokes about the "Mexicans that cut grass." Although this paper looks specifically at Chicana women in an undergraduate research program, it mentioned the connection between family (a specific example was given of a dad that works as a landscaper) and aspirational capital. Aspirational capital is a term that I have never heard before - most likely because it is capital that I do not need to be successful. Throughout the study, I noticed serious barriers that the women faced including financial aid and the likelihood of getting hired upon graduation. I deal with both of these barriers on a superficial level, but never one that would seriously prevent my success. 

After reading the definition of aspirational capital, I wondered if I had the "ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future despite real and perceived barriers" (Huber, p. 710). To me, it would be extremely difficult to continue striving for a future that was so dependent on outside factors. I found it very interesting to learn that aspirational capital is woven into the culture of many Chicana students, both with stories and the journeys of their parents. Learning of migration stories helps students with an undocumented immigrant statuts learn to push for success. The greatest barrier my parents seemed to face when going to college was choosing between parties or studying. When barriers get in my way, I usually try to find a way to avoid them or a new path to take. Rarely, do I try to overcome them. I was inspired by the use of aspirational capital in this study, and the strength shown by the Chicana students.

This post focuses on the positive aspects of the paper, and the benefits that Chicana students had while attending schools. My focus is not meant to dismiss the importance of changing our framing surrounding immigrant status and ability. No human should ever be considered "illegal" because of where they stand on this earth.