Realities of the American dream: Vocational experiences and intersecting invisibility of low-income Chinese immigrant laborers

Ming Che Tu, Shangyun Zhou, Stephanie N. Wong, S. Okazaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Historically, aspirations for greater economic opportunities have been a core motivation of many immigrants. However, most low-income Chinese immigrant laborers in the U.S. endure harsh working conditions on the margin of the economy and society. The current study explores qualitatively the vocational lives of low-income Chinese immigrant laborers and the implications of their intersecting invisibility. Participants reported immigrating to the U.S. to better their children's lives as opposed to their own vocational or economic opportunities and experiencing similar or more strenuous working conditions in the U.S. than in China. They predominantly relied on co-ethnic networks to secure employment, but only a narrow range of employment options were available to them and many required arduous manual labor and long working hours. Consequently, participants emotionally detached from their work, viewing it solely as means of survival as opposed to a source of fulfillment or upward mobility. Finally, their intersectional invisibility also provided some advantages, such as protection against race-based workplace discrimination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-102
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Vocational Behavior
StatePublished - Aug 2019



  • Chinese immigrant
  • Consensual qualitative research
  • Immigration
  • Intersectional invisibility
  • Meaning of work
  • Work conditions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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