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Whose culture has capital?

Class, culture, migration and mothering

Bin Wu

In no previous generation have so many educated Chinese women with young children immigrated to western countries. Whereas most of the existing research literature in this field tends to study Chinese immigrants in general, this book focuses on a group of skilled female migrant mothers in New Zealand. It aims at understanding the dilemmas and ambiguities particularly concerning skilled female migration: although they belonged to a privileged group in their native land, these women become members of a visible minority in the new country. Middle-class professionals in their birth country, they experience downward social mobility when taking on unskilled jobs in their adopted land; besides having to shoulder heavier domestic workloads as the traditional support for childcare is no longer available in New Zealand. Centering on their mothering practices, this book provides detailed descriptions of how mothers deploy various strategies to maximise the benefits for their children’s education amidst changes and readjustments after migration.


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45 3 Transnationalism: what is it really? Bourdieu (1989) defines “field” as networks of social and power rela- tions with distinct sets of beliefs and values. The market values of vari- ous forms of capital depend on the field. It follows that China and New Zealand can be conceptualised as two fields where Chinese skilled mi- grant mothers’ lives are emplaced. This chapter describes and discusses how the participants’ personal experiences were situated and ingrained in the fields and the relation between fields. The first section “Big OE, but a different style” describes the participants’ reasons for migration. The second section, “Birds of a different feather?” examines the migrant families’ social circles and the social environment the families provided for children caught between two cultural fields. The third section, “Where do we belong?” investigates what transnationalism – crossing the two cultural fields, meant for these migrant families. Big OE, But a Different Style In New Zealand, the phenomenon of young people seeking overseas ex- perience is normally known as ‘the big OE’. Globally, in the year 2000, 200 million people lived in countries other than their birth countries (OECD, 2008a). Skilled Chinese migrants moving to New Zealand is a part of this global migration movement. The participants in this project exemplify this trend with their diverse personal experiences and reasons that were particularly ingrained with the localised socio-political and economic situation in both China and New Zealand, as well as in rela- tions between the two countries. In Mao’s China (1949-1976)...

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