Bullying of Immigrants – Even in Research Literature
I’ve always believed that people usually live up to the expectations we place on them. Many children seem to succeed, often, based upon the support their parents and community give them. However, when the larger community around them closes ranks and lowers expectations,that, too, also seems to determine a great deal-both about what they will do, and how society perceives their successes or failures.
According to international migration information (Terrazas & Batalova, 2008) in 2007, 22.9% of school-age children had at least one immigrant parent, 47.5% of which reported their background to be Hispanic or Latino. In 35 years, white students will be a minority in every category of public education as it is conceived today, while the non-English proficient student population will expand exponentially (Garcia & Cuéllar, 2006). This reality is one that seems to scare many Americans, driving research into somewhat xenophobic territory, and reflecting an attitude of exclusion.
While government policies may often change, many Americans are leery of immigrants, and few of the schools in areas of new immigration (suburbs and rural areas) are able and/or willing to help children conquer economic and social obstacles posed by being an outsider (Wortham et al., 2002). These are difficulties wholly different and separate from their immigrant identities, but seem often to appear in research as assumed correlations. In other words, when we speak about ‘immigrants,’ it is often taken for granted that we are talking about those with less mastery of the English language, those who are ‘poor,’ ‘lazy,’ and less educated.
Little has been done to change this stigma toward today’s immigrants, but that is the direction research seemed to be moving. Some intrepid researchers (Dorner, Orellana, & Li-Grining, 2007), however, are attempting to conquer this negative drift. With growing numbers of immigrants in our schools, researchers like Rubin (2007) have set out to explore what it means to be a minority student, learning about civic engagement in school, and how the way we teach it tells us something about how society and educators especially view them as part of the community. Rubin (2007) claims that while students from diverse backgrounds are taught civics and civic engagement in school, most studies that investigate how civics are taught are carried out so in such a way as to examine the civic knowledge and participation of students from groups outside of the white, middle-class upbringing only from a deficit perspective. In other words, when addressing the needs of immigrants and children of immigrants, their background serves as a problem, serving only to hold them back.
I thought that studies like this, and the focus now on global citizenship (where everyone is seen as a citizen of the world, interdependent, with some valuable knowledge to contribute to the way we understand each other– www.globalcitizens.org) would indicate progress in terms of how we thought about immigrants. I thought it would move educators and researchers and possibly even our society to think about the benefits of having multiple cultures and languages represented in our schools and communities. After all, it cannot be denied that America is a nation of immigrants, with most of its citizens’ ancestors arriving here in the last 400 years or so. I was deeply disappointed this week, then, when I read Hernandez, Denton & Macartney’s (2009) article on immigrant children in schools. I had high hopes for the special edition of the Teachers College Record on immigrants, but, instead, I found a strong perpetuation of stereotypes, not even necessarily supported by their own census data.
As discussed by O’Connor, Lewis & Mueller (2007), it seems that when it comes to minority children, statistical data is given far more weight than it should. In other words, while we can show correlation, it’s not the same thing as causation-but is being interpreted that way.
For instance, Hernandez, Denton & Macartney focus in on the fact that 26% of the children in immigrant families have “limited proficiency in English,” they fail to realize within their own findings that this means MOST of the children are learning English rapidly–or come in with some understanding of English. They focus in on how many immigrant families from Central and South America as well as Mexico have parents with lower levels of education and often live in poverty in the US. Bradley Levinson and others insist that these immigrant parents were allowed limited schooling in their former homes to warrant such expectation that they would have very little ability to help the children with their homework and claim they have little resources to help them. However, they do make brief mention (somewhat obscurely) that many of these parents are interested in their children’s education, in the hopes of their betterment (pp.633-634).
The one light at the end of the tunnel here is that they DO focus on how bilingual education could enhance not only our school system, but provide immigrant children with the ability to compete in the global market (pp.629-630; 642), but then fail to highlight how many immigrants are already bilingual — and that it’s American children who are not asked to meet foreign language requirements until high school.
The perception of immigrant inadequacies in research rhetoric is constantly fed by the larger public rhetoric. Literally hours after I finished reading the Hernandez et al (2009), I heard about the shooting in Binghamton, NY. At first, news sources reported it was “A man believed to be in his 20s, just walked into an immigration office and just started shooting people.” Later, as I watched the story develop both in the British press and in the American press, I noticed two very analytic frameworks pursued in relation to this tragic event. When it was discovered that his name was Jiverly Wong and his sister was contacted, she immediately informed the press that he was a US citizen and had been living in the United States for nearly 30 years, after emigrating from Vietnam. The US press continued to refer to him as “a Vietnamese man,” and later went so far as to say that he was “of Chinese decent, but had immigrated from Vietnam.” The British press referred to him as “Vietnamese-American.” A small difference, but it had a huge impact in the public perception.
I was walking around the Botanical Gardens the next day, and overheard two women talking about the event and discussing their desire to keep “people like them from taking over our country,” and effectively believing that it was his background and perspective that led to this terrible incident. We may never know why he committed this crime, but some have said he’d just lost his job, and had been taunted for his accent and troubles in English pronunciation.
I honestly must wonder how Wong would have felt reading these reports-did he think of himself as “Vietnamese-American,” or “Vietnamese?” Did he feel as if he was constantly being identified as “Vietnamese” when he believed he was “Vietnamese-American?” To me, it seems, correlation of events has again led to assumed causation and educational research has done little to stop these stereotypes. I believe it’s time once again to remember that people are not statistics; it is time for research, especially in the area of exploring what it means to be an immigrant and minority in America, to focus more on assets children may bring with them to the class, rather than their struggles. Otherwise, we as educators are no better than the bullies standing at the fence, making fun of a child for their accent.
Dorner, L., Orellana, M., & Li-Grining, C. (May 2007). ” ‘I helped my mom,’ and it helped me: Translating the skills of language brokers into improved standardized test scores.” American Journal of Education. 113(3), pp. 451-478.
Garcia, E. & Cuéllar, D. (November 2006). “Who are these linguistically and culturally diverse students?” Teachers College Record. 108 (11),pp. 2220-2246.
Hernandez, D.J., Denton, N.A., & Macartney, S. (2009). “School-age children in immigrant families: Challenges and opportunities for America’s schools.” Teachers College Record 111(3), pp. 616-658.
O’Connor, C., Lewis, A., & Mueller, J. (December 2007). “Researching ‘Black’ educational experiences and outcomes: Theoretical and methodological considerations.” Educational Researcher. 36(9), pp. 541-552.
Rubin, B.C. (2007). “‘There’s still not justice’: Youth civic identity development amid distinct school and community contexts.” Teachers College Record, 109 (2), pp. 449-481.Retrieved from www.tcrecord.org on 2/25/2009
Terrazas, A. & Batalova, J. (2008, December). The most up-to-date frequently requested statistics on immigrants in the United States. Retrieved December 30, 2008 from www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/display.cfm?id=714
Wortham, S., Murillo Jr., E. G., & Hamann, E. T. (Eds.). (2002). Education in the new Latino diaspora: Policy and the politics of identity (Vol. 2). Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing.
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