(6 of 8)
The groups Chua and Rubenfeld and the other new racialists typically pick out as success stories are almost without fail examples of self-selection. Forty-two percent of Indians in the U.S. ages 25 and older have a postgraduate degree. But only about 20% of those they've left behind in the motherland even graduate from high school, and 26% of the population is illiterate. It's the same with Nigerians: the ones who are here represent a vastly richer and better-educated subset of the country's population as a whole.
Further, the authors pay almost no attention to the role of networking, which accounts for so much of the success of groups like Jews, Cubans and Indians. Part of the reason so many immigrant groups thrive is that when they arrive in the U.S., they already have an uncle who runs a store and cousins who are tutors, doctors or lawyers who can help them negotiate the new country.
When my family immigrated in 1977, we didn't do well because of delayed gratification or cultural superiority or a chip on our shoulder. We did well because my uncle in Detroit, an engineer, brought us over on the family-reunification bill, not in shackles or in steerage. When my father started his diamond business on 47th Street in Manhattan, there was a network of Indian diamond merchants who could show him the ropes. My sons, in turn, will benefit from my connections.
Much of The Triple Package focuses, naturally enough, on immigrants in New York City--then and now the immigrant capital of the country, if not the world. So you could profitably browse a gold mine of a book just put out by the NYC department of city planning, The Newest New Yorkers, a compendium of figures about the diverse groups that make up my hometown.
Chinese Americans in New York City, it turns out, earn less than other groups lacking the Triple Package. The median household income of Chinese in the city ($42,766) is lower than that of Ecuadoreans ($46,126), Haitians ($48,175) and Pakistanis ($50,912). The New York City group with the highest percentage of high school graduates isn't Chinese or Indians; it's Ukrainians (94.4%). But rarely are we treated to encomiums about the cultural superiority of the Borscht Mom.
America's Real Exceptionalism
The pity is that this book, and this entire line of argument, is taken seriously--among my relatives, for instance--when all the scholars I've consulted laugh at it. "Every one of the premises underlying the theory of the Triple Package is supported by a well-substantiated and relatively uncontroversial body of empirical evidence," the authors assert. "Give me a break," said Foner, who is one of the authorities cited in the endnotes. "There is a large body of literature showing that the most important factor predicting success among the children of immigrants is parents' human capital." That is: skills and education, from family to family and individual to individual.