Doctoral Dissertation Defense: Kimvy Vu Calpito

Arthur Hernandez, Ph.D. (from left), Tanja Stampfl, Ph.D., Mary “Pattie” Davis, Ph.D., and Kimvy Vu Calpito


Kimvy Vu Calpito defended her dissertation “Learning about Two Immigrant Families’ Educational Experiences and Educational Needs for Cultural Transmission from Trigenerational Family Storytelling” on Dec. 12 in the Student Engagement Center. Her dissertation committee chair is Dr. Arthur Hernandez, and committee members include Dr. Tanja Stampfl, Dr. Mary “Pattie” Davis and the late Dr. Philip E. Lampe.



Learning about Two Immigrant Families’ Educational Experiences and Educational Needs for Cultural Transmission from Trigenerational Family Strorytelling

Kimvy Vu Calpito
University of the Incarnate Word, 2019

Research Focus. It is estimated that “by 2040, about one-third of U.S. children will be raised in immigrant families” (Feliciano & Lanuza, 2017, p. 211). Due to generational gaps and language mismatches from acculturation, immigrant families tend to “talk to one another infrequently, have little to talk about, and not fully understand what is said” (Buckingham & Brodsky, 2015; Ng, He, & Loong, 2004, p. 452; Simes & Pietka-Nykaza, 2015). The researcher experienced similar challenges growing up, which led to her interest in studying how cultural differences among family members impact their family dynamics. This research is important because it pertains to a large and growing group in our community as well as the researcher’s own understanding of her family relationships. In addition, this research can help immigrant families or professionals who work with this population by providing insight about two families’ experiences and what they deem important.

The purpose of this dissertation was to explore education and cultural transmission, or “the transmission of the cultural heritage to their offspring, and thus the preservation of culture”, from the perspectives of two immigrant families and their trigenerational family stories (Mchitarjan & Reisenzein, 2014, p. 183). This dissertation aimed to answer the following research questions:

  • What happens when two immigrant families participate in trigenerational family storytelling?
  • How does education and cultural transmission emerge in trigenerational family storytelling for two immigrant families?
  • How does the researcher reflect on these immigrant families’ stories of education and cultural transmission?

Research Methods. An autoethnographic comparative case study was implemented for this study. The two cases were “Family A,” a Vietnamese-Khmer-American family, and “Family B,” a Mexican-American family, during trigenerational family storytelling. The researcher conducted group observations and follow-up individual interviews to collect data. Then, thematic analysis was used to find themes within the two cases.

Research Results/Findings. The researcher used a combination of the participants’ stories, the participants’ interview responses, her stories of comparable experiences and the theory of cultural transmission in minorities to gather conclusions (Mchitarjan & Reisenzein, 2014). Education was the most discussed subject for both families, implying its importance to these two immigrant families. For example, Family A immigrated from Vietnam to give their future generations the opportunity to receive education. On the other hand, the opportunity for an education was taken away when Family B immigrated from Mexico. Family A used the activity of trigenerational family storytelling to catch up with the youngest participating family member about school, to remember loved ones, and to jokingly discuss their language barriers. Family B used the activity to gain understanding with one another as well as discuss the generational changes in their family and motherhood. Ultimately, trigenerational family storytelling was a method of cultural transmission for these two immigrant families. They shared information about their educational experiences, cultural-transmission motives and threats to cultural transmission (Mchitarjan & Reisenzein, 2014).

Conclusions from Research. The researcher reflected on this study in her roles as a researcher, educator, and an immigrant family member to make meaning of the findings in different perspectives as well as to make research appealing to multiple audiences, which included creating a children’s book (Adams & Manning, 2015). The researcher learned to consider cultural norms of participants during the research process, implementing family stories in the classroom to learn about students and their families, and the importance of spending trigenerational family time. These considerations can be useful when working with immigrant families or creating resources to support this population. In conclusion, the researcher encourages others to take the time to listen to family stories because the intergenerational learning outcomes may outweigh the cultural differences among family members.