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Getting by high school : identity formation and the educational achievements of Punjabi young men in Surrey, B.C. Frost, Heather Danielle


This thesis is concerned with the lives and educational achievements of young Indo-Canadians, specifically the high school aged sons of Punjabi parents who immigrated to Canada beginning in the 1970s, and who were born or who have had the majority of their schooling in Canada’s public school system. I examine how these young people develop and articulate a sense of who they are in the context of their parents’ immigration and the extent to which their identities are determined and conditioned by their everyday lives. I also grapple with the implications of identity formation for the educational achievements of second generation youth by addressing how the identity choices made by young Punjabi Canadian men influence their educational performances. Using data collected by the Ministry of Education of British Columbia, I develop a quantitative profile of the educational achievements of Punjabi students enrolled in public secondary schools in the Greater Vancouver Region. This profile indicates that while most Punjabi students are completing secondary school, many, particularly the young men, are graduating with grade point averages at the lower end of the continuum and are failing to meet provincial expectations in Foundation Skills Assessments. To understand the identities and educational experiences of young Punjabi men, I conducted semi-structured interviews with prominent community members, teachers, school administrators and young Punjabi men and women attending Getting By High School, a public secondary school in Surrey, B.C. I apply the theory of segmented assimilation as formulated by sociologists Portes and Rumbaut (2001a) and work with the concept of masculinities from critical men’s studies to describe the linkages between place, identity and educational achievements by evaluating the effects of school, family and community contexts on the lives and identities of the 15 young men I interviewed. I argue that for this group of young men, life in Surrey’s Indo-Canadian community has provided the conditions for the development of a “brown” identity which while protecting them from the pernicious “Jack” has translated into a lack of scholastic effort and academic mediocrity. I conclude by addressing the implications of my findings for the theory of segmented assimilation.

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