Understanding issues of immigration is critical to understanding the future of education in the United States. Yet, recent legislation and political events surrounding U.S. immigration often portray immigrants and their children as a national economic crisis and a burgeoning threat to national security. Though these issues have traveled through historical epochs in the United States, questions as to who and how many should be authorized to stay and work, and on what criteria these decisions should be made, have pervaded today’s policy climate, particularly following the economic recession.1
Sweeping legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070 has now passed in Georgia, Utah, Indiana, South Carolina, and Alabama, criminalizing the presence of undocumented immigrants in schools and communities. Alabama’s HB 56—the toughest enforcement measure to date—outlaws undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges, and requires K–12 public school teachers to verify their students’ legal status and report them to the state education board. The broader anti-immigration climate has further politicized the field of education, as seen in recent efforts to ban the teaching of ethnic or Latino studies in Arizona and elsewhere. Although the constitutionality of many of these laws and policies have been questioned, state legislatures are passing them within the usual legislative procedures and with the support of the majority of their electorates.
The media frenzy and political strife surrounding immigration stream from a dominant discourse that further attempts to identify effective measures to manage those being perceived as a societal burden while capitalizing on this group as an untapped resource for economic development and global competitiveness. In response to the prevailing notions surrounding immigrant populations, many scholars from multiple disciplinary traditions—economics, sociology, education, psychology, political science, public health, demography, and law—have proposed short-lived “solutions,” to ameliorate risk factors particularly relevant to children of immigrants2
or their costs to society.
Contrary to such ideological approaches, we summoned other immigrant stories left untold, and at times silenced. From more than 230 proposals in response to the open call, we invited 58 manuscripts of which we have selected 7 scholarly articles. In addition, we chose 8 youth narratives for inclusion in this volume after reviewing close to 200 essay submissions. Contributions featured in this issue directly respond to questions of urgency intensified by today’s political climate. In advancing the field of educational research, policy, and practice that promote excellence and equity, this special issue aims to build the collective understanding that must precede further policy measures, action, and evaluation. We believe all children deserve an accurate and fair exploration of their lives told by their own textured voices and experiences. Uncovering the multiplicity of experiences embedded in these developing contexts for immigrant children is important not only for generating groundbreaking theories and methodological advances but also for promoting backward mapping strategies for policy making and implementation science (Elmore, 1979–80). We believe effective practice builds on metis (Scott, 1998)—local expertise and contextualized knowledge—and that sound policy builds its agenda on actual needs and priorities for those it intends to serve. For all these reasons, this special issue presents rich portraits of diverse immigrant children who are too often characterized as “disadvantaged” and even “culturally deprived” (Fuller & Garcia Coll, 2010). Ultimately, we hope that a collection of these voices will celebrate the strengths and resilience, contributions and humanity of a population that historically has been the cornerstone of this nation.
Demographic Context and Conceptual Framing of the Issue
Our fall 2001 special issue, Immigration and Education
, examined the implications of new waves of large-scale immigration from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean for U.S. public schools. Much has changed in the United States in the last ten years, but immigration has continued to expand, in terms of both numbers and diversity within this group. From 2000 to 2007, the immigrant population in the country increased by seven million (Chaudry, Fortuny, & Jargowsky, 2010). Children of immigrants represent about 25 percent of all American children and are projected to make up one-third of the more than 100 million U.S. children by 2050 (Tienda & Haskins, 2011). In fact, children of immigrants account for nearly the entire growth in the U.S. child population in the last two decades (Cervantes & Hernandez, 2011; Fortuny, Hernandez, & Chaudry, 2010). While school-age immigrant students represent the majority in New York City public schools (60%) and near-majority in California’s public schools (49%), immigrant families in recent years have also fanned out from traditional gateways to new destinations in the Carolinas, Mountain West, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest regions.
Since children of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, and will inevitably transform U.S. educational and labor landscapes in the coming decades, a special forum is needed to advance new questions and areas of immigration scholarship. For example, how have new destination states without a history of immigrant settlement adjusted to the arrival and settlement of new populations? What immediate and lifelong consequences can current policies have on immigrant children and youth and America’s future? How do different immigrant groups learn from and support one another in an increasingly diverse society? How can schools and communities create spaces for learning and empowerment among diverse groups of immigrant students in spite of large-scale policy regulations and mandates that—intentionally and unintentionally—endanger their well-being? What can all American children learn from children of immigrants?
We aim to address these issues by orchestrating the voices of youth, parents, practitioners, and researchers across multiple disciplines and methodological approaches. We interweave contributions from emerging and eminent scholars that are further amplified and elaborated, authenticated and contested by the youth authors. The articles in this issue are conceptually arranged into two sections: “Documentation Status, Educational Journeys, and Pathways to Citizenship” and “Transculturation: Beyond Assimilation, Adaptation, and Acculturation.” We hope that new frameworks generated from these two pressing topics will serve as an intellectual platform for designing innovative studies and informed practice. While Section I covers the complex issue of legal authorization that has civic, social, psychological, educational, and economic effects on children growing up in undocumented or mixed-status homes, Section II explores the process and outcomes of the term transculturation
originally coined by Ortiz (1995). While more commonly used terms—acculturation
, and assimilation
—are often conceptualized as Americanization or cultural separation, transculturation refers to the complex process of multidirectional and simultaneous cultural navigation that promotes congruence across social contexts (Oh, 2011).
These two conceptual sections are prefaced by Alexandra Filindra, David Blanding, and Cynthia Garcia Coll’s article, “The Power of Context: State-Level Policies, Politics, and the Educational Performance of the Children of Immigrants in the United States.” Upon delineating demographic profiles of immigrant children across fifty states, the authors integrate multiple disciplinary perspectives to investigate whether macro-level factors such as political climate and state-level policies, even when not directed at schools, may affect the educational and social outcomes of immigrant students.
Section I: Documentation Status, Educational Journeys, and Pathways to Citizenship
Xenophobic rhetoric can unjustly characterize all immigrants as lawbreakers and criminals. Since the militarization of the border in 1993, death rates among border-crossers have tripled (Massey, 2011). The intense level of apprehension, manipulated by political agendas, has increased spending on surveillance technology, including border policing and immigration enforcement that are aided by watchtowers, seismic sensors, infrared cameras, and aerial drones (Jimenez & Lopez-Sanders, 2011). More than five million children now reside in households of mixed legal status, where one or both parents are unauthorized to live and work in the United States. Although nearly three-fourths of children who live with undocumented parents are citizens by birth, environmental risks and institutional barriers associated with their status as dependents of unauthorized residents continue to compromise their quality of life and well-being, particularly during the crucial formative years (Passel & Cohn, 2009). Compared to their U.S.-born counterparts, immigrant children—particularly undocumented children and those in mixed-status families—are more likely to live in poverty, experience neighborhood risks, and attend chronically low-performing schools; their parents forgo publicly funded programs and services such as health insurance/medical care, preschools, and parenting education out of fear of deportation or lack of information (Cervantes & Hernandez, 2011; Mather, 2009; Passel, 2011; Yoshikawa, 2011). These risk factors are not only associated with lower academic outcomes and economic mobility (Heckman, 2006), but they can portend greater social and economic inequality.
Carola Suárez-Orozco, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Robert T. Teranishi, and Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco begin Section I with “Growing Up in the Shadows: The Developmental Implications of Unauthorized Status,” in which they discuss the developmental consequences of documentation status on immigrant children and adolescents. The authors disrupt the rigidly binary perception of documentation status as “authorized” or “unauthorized” and incorporate a range of developmental outcomes beyond common school metrics in their framework that articulates how multiple systemic levels shape daily experiences from early childhood through emerging adulthood. Kriztyan Alberto Moreno, a former high school dropout and a current GED student in Arizona, narrates a moving account of how his documentation status has affected his sense of personal worth, educational goals, and employment. While depicting his educational journey as a process of relinquishing chains of legal and institutional barriers, Moreno provides an insightful reflection stressed by recent immigration scholars: “Borders don’t stop people from going places. They just make it harder for them to get back.”
Laura E. Enriquez then offers a ground-level view of how legal status affects individuals’ aspirations toward higher education and coming to terms with the toll of undocumentation. In “ ‘Because We Feel the Pressure and We Also Feel the Support’: Examining the Educational Success of Undocumented Immigrant Latina/o Students,” Enriquez describes how undocumented Latina/o students find and utilize social capital to navigate high school experiences and pursue higher education, a patchworking process influenced by a collectivist framework of empowerment and paying forward. Then, as participants of Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that supports low-income immigrant students, Ingrid Hernandez, Fermín Mendoza, Mario Lio, Jirayut Latthi, and Catherine Eusebio—college students and recent graduates who call themselves the DREAMers—echo the fear of living in the shadows while sharing intricate accounts of the lives of undocumented youth.
When educational research begins by problematizing the group to be studied and utilizes risks and deficits as the primary rationale for action, these assumptions limit the perspectives and paradigms employed as well as the probable outcomes of such investigation. Challenging the dominant narratives that speak of immigrants as a national problem, Aurora Chang concludes Section I with her counter-story, “Undocumented to Hyperdocumented: A Jornada of Protection, Papers, and PhD Status.” In this personal essay, Chang illuminates the pain and desperation tied to the hyperdocumentation of academic awards and degrees in her attempt to legitimize her humanity and citizenship to the world that proclaims her “illegal, illegitimate, inhuman.”
Section II: Transculturation—Beyond Assimilation, Adaptation, and Acculturation
The immigration literature often focuses on adaptation, educational outcomes, social processes, and the ecological factors that mediate developmental pathways. Less is known about how immigrant students, in spite of their struggles and obstacles, persist to become cultural and linguistic bridges despite the label “limited English proficiency” or how they support one another traversing across multiple social contexts through their complex identity development. While navigating geographic and linguistic borders and political and cultural boundaries, how do these young people contest, claim, and preserve their spaces of belonging?
In this special issue, we propose to replace the terms, assimilation, adaptation, and acculturation (Alba & Nee, 2003; Berry, 1980; Gordon, 1964; Padilla & Perez, 2003; Portes & Zhou, 1993; Redfield, Linton, & Herskovits, 1936; Social Science Research Council, 1954; Teske & Nelson, 1974) with the term, transculturation
, to capture the complex and dynamic process of navigating across multiple social contexts. Transculturation is a developmental process that portrays children of immigrants as actors of merging and converging cultures in multidirectional and synchronous ways (Hoerder, Hébert, & Schmitt, 2006; Oh, 2011). This phenomenon, as explored in Section II, depicts immigrant children and youth as agents, constructing new cultural pathways and traversals of intermingling and conflicting identities in favor of pluralism over homogenization. Unlike the punitive measures and broken regulatory systems that authorize and legitimize who they are in Section I, young people in Section II set out to define who they are according to their own terms, navigating uncharted spaces and pathways through which they embrace their multilingual, multicultural selves in their homeland.
In “Whose Deficit Is This Anyhow? Exploring Counter-Stories of Somali Bantu Refugees Experiences in Doing School,” Laura A. Roy and Kevin C. Roxas construct a counter-story that challenges educators’ deficit-based notions of Somali Bantu students and their families. Drawing on qualitative data from two Somali Bantu refugee populations in South Texas and Michigan, Roy and Roxas unpack deeply seated assumptions of practitioners that often go unchallenged and unquestioned—assumptions that jeopardize learning opportunities and academic engagement among Somali Bantu students. Then, an anonymous high school senior in New York City recounts his educational experiences in refugee camps after having experienced bloody diamond wars in Sierra Leone. He further reflects on his solo journey to the United States and challenges he had to overcome in pursuit of higher education. Another youth author, Vanessa Vallejos, a high school student in southern California, expresses anger at the racial discrimination and economic oppression among immigrants she witnesses in her neighborhood. Her critical inquiry challenges the very ideas on which the U.S. Constitution was founded—liberty and justice for all.
In “Toward a Pedagogy of Acompañamiento
: Mexican Migrant Youth Writing from the Underside of Modernity,” Enrique Sepúlveda III brings together poetry, writings, and testimonies of mostly undocumented, transmigrant Mexican students in northern California to illuminate the innovative pedagogy of acompañamiento
. Drawing on theological, anthropological, and critical literacy frameworks, Sepúlveda shares how other practitioners can also build trust and create authentic relationships with their students. Through critical examination of systems of power, the author empowers his students to liberate themselves from the process of marginalization, psychosocial rupture, and cultural uprootedness and instead construct collective narratives of citizenship and belonging.
Following this article on belonging spaces, two youth authors, M. Gutierrez from Mexico and Alma Herrera-Pazmino from Guatemala, recapture the pains of family separation, the enormous task of fitting in at school, and the process of constructing multiple “homes.” Amidst many challenges, they find hope through their faith in God and relive the etching words of their parents that fuel their educational aspirations. Their life stories resound with what sociologists and developmental psychologists have observed: family obligation can become an important source of academic motivation and psychological well-being for the children of immigrants, particularly during adolescence (Fuligni, 2001; Fuligni, Tseng, & Lam, 1999; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 1995; Zhou & Bankston, 1998). Furthermore, Gutierrez names public and private spheres of faith and spirituality where he seeks inner tranquility, purpose, and direction in life—an understudied dimension of child and youth development in immigrant families (Oh & Yoshikawa, in press).
Constructing a more complex portrait of immigrant children’s linguistic experiences and their facilitation of languages can illuminate how these young people define themselves and their belonging spaces through transculturation. Maria Kromidas envisions the future of American schools and playgrounds in her article “Elementary Forms of Cosmopolitanism: Blood, Birth, and Bodies in Immigrant New York City.” Through a rich discourse analysis of children’s conversations, Kromidas transports the readers to witness children’s adaptive construction of dynamically shifting and radically refigured selves. These elementary school students subvert and reframe notions of belonging to the nation by confronting and converging multiple forms of identity without rejecting their various ethnic identifications and cultural attachments.
Following this scholarly piece that depicts children as embodying cosmopolitanism, two youth authors, Carrie Huang and Mei-Hua Li, describe how their personal relationships to their respective Chinatowns, in Oakland and Boston, provide opportunities for enriching and expanding their cultural and linguistic identities. These young women highlight the importance of heritage language proficiency while challenging the notion of language brokering as chiefly a source of stress for children in immigrant families. Their multifaceted roles—as “foreigners at home” yet “connectors of family and community to the English World”—reveal that acquisition of both, if not multiple, languages empowers immigrant youth to actively participate in the process of transculturation in a globalized society. As spokespersons for families, cultural ambassadors and advocates for ethnic immigrant communities, and emerging leaders in the mainstream, these young people transform what once may have been burdensome into tools of empowerment and civic engagement.
Future Directions for Educational Practice and Policy
The faces and lives of immigrant children and youth represented on these pages are the bridges and pillars of our nation’s constitutional fabric. The articles in this special issue on immigration address both macro-level contexts related to policy and documentation and micro-level factors concerning belonging, identity, and crossing borders of multiple kinds—psychological, social, linguistic, political, institutional, legal, generational, and cultural. The findings and themes in these empirical studies and essays challenge conventional and often bifurcated notions of birthright, documentation status, home, identity, academic engagement, civic participation, and educational success. We also see evidence of collective struggles and missed opportunities, humiliation, and pain directed at injustice that demands systemic transformation. Furthermore, these many and varied voices stand not in isolation but build on our nation’s historical struggle for civil rights and ongoing attempts to address educational issues of serious consequence.
While the articles individually point out important directions for education policy and practice in the U.S., we highlight three crosscutting implications for education that emerge across scholarly and youth contributions. First, both thematic sections emphasize the developmental importance of intentionally constructing and protecting spaces of belonging for students of immigrant backgrounds. Scholars and youth in this issue have attested to the visible and invisible pain of marginalization and stigmatization associated with their documentation status, accent, parental (un)employment status, or lack of cultural familiarity in social settings. Schools, neighborhoods, and community organizations are important developing contexts for facilitating all students to critically question and expand social spaces. It is in schools that immigrant students forge new friendships and sustain social networks. How can educators identify aspects of instructional practice and school climate that result in safe and welcoming spaces for diverse immigrant students? How can school districts promote authentic school-family-community partnerships that explicitly support the transculturation process among students from multilingual, multicultural backgrounds? How can we prepare future generations of teachers to intentionally engage and empower students whose life stories differ from their own?
Secondly, supporting children’s acquisition of multiple languages and retention of heritage language seems critical not only for their process of transculturation but also for strengthening democratic engagement in a globalized world. How can schools and communities create learning opportunities for students to practice and retain their heritage languages? What can America learn from other parts of the world where young people maintain fluency in multiple languages, and consequently enhance their cultural understanding as global citizens? Furthermore, identifying specific program goals and characteristics, types of services offered and modes of delivery, levels of targeting and intensity that best serve children and youth, are policy-relevant questions in designing effective and enriching ethnic studies and heritage language programs.
Lastly, this special issue further illuminates rich learning experiences—academic, linguistic, cultural—that accumulate outside of traditionally defined “educational” contexts: Chinatowns, refugee camps, extracurricular and youth leadership programs, parental work conditions, playgrounds, religious institutions, government offices, public transportation systems and more. How might schools equip all students to teach one another to integrate lessons learned from unconventional contexts in everyday classrooms to understand the complexities surrounding the insider-outsider, native-foreigner, citizen-alien boundaries? Pedagogical practices and instructional leadership that draw on the multiplicity of life experiences of all students will create transformative learning communities. Implementation of such practices can further benefit from sustaining collaborative partnerships between schools and other organizations that share a commitment to empowering children and youth in immigrant families. These overall efforts would likely enhance the educational experiences of non-immigrant children as well.
The immigrant stories of children and youth awaken in us possibilities for profound personal transformations and social imagination, but they also ask of our critical vigilance as the experiences of immigrant families are inextricably tied to race, power, systems of oppression, and inequitable distribution of resources. Their stories in this issue examine broader contexts within which their lives are embedded and transformed. The implications for research, policy, and practice are important but we share these immigrant stories precisely because they are also American stories. Their stories, like those of previous generations, add to this country’s founding, and continuing, legacy of immigration.
Soojin S. Oh and North Cooc
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Special Issue Editors
1. State lawmakers introduced 1,539 bills related to immigration in the first quarter of 2011, and 141 measures in 26 states passed into law—an unprecedented record according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
2. Children of immigrants
refers to both first-generation immigrant children born outside of the United States as well as second-generation children born in the United States with at least one foreign-born parent.
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We express our sincerest gratitude for the tremendous contributions of the members of the Special Issue Commission—Candice Bocala, Rachel Currie-Rubin, and Paul Kuttner—and HER
staff assistant, Laura Clos, for the publication of this issue. We wish to acknowledge the concerted level of commitment and constructive feedback from the HER
Editorial Board that made this collaborative work possible. We also thank Dr. Hirokazu Yoshikawa for providing helpful comments on the earlier draft. Additionally, we express our gratitude to Douglas Clayton, Jeffrey Perkins, Marcy Barnes, Sheila Walsh, and Sumita Mukherji of the Harvard Education Publishing Group, whose work has ensured the timely production and broad publicity of this issue.