Part of the Children of Immigrants series
Recently, Arizona passed three measures that have offended many Hispanic Americans and minorities of various ethnic backgrounds. In April, Governor Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070, which allows police officers and agencies to ask people they are suspicious of for proof they are legally in this country. In May, the Arizona Department of Education told schools they would lose funding if they kept their Ethnic studies courses or had teachers with accents teaching English. Passing all these measures within a month sends a strong message to minorities and their children. If they aren’t Americanized, then they are not welcomed in the country. I find this message extremely damaging to English language learners and those of various ethnic backgrounds. Also, this is quite ironic considering America was founded by immigrants.
However, these laws are not a first for many American states. In this guest post for Ken Wilson’s blog, Children of Immigrants, I wrote about the continuous struggles children of immigrants face as they try to balance both cultures and assimilate. This subject is very dear to me, because I am Mexican American. My grandparents were born in Mexico and my maiden name is Shelly Mendez Luna Sanchez. I have been writing this blog for nearly a year now. I celebrate my one year birthday on May 26, in just one week. To commemorate I want to share my personal experiences and Master’s research on this important subject. Therefore, I have decided to start a new series entitled, Children of Immigrants. In this series I hope to shed some light on the various struggles children of immigrants face worldwide. My experiences are limited to the United States and Germany where I have lived and taught. Currently, I reside in Germany and have experienced the present challenges with immigration and its impact on education. Due to my limited experience, I welcome you to share your experiences also, either through comments or guest posts.
Why Should We Care?
Several of us will teach children of immigrants. Often their struggles with the language and assimilation will warrant a certain understanding, skill set, and pedagogy from educational stakeholders. In my experience, many school officials and educators lack the skills to help these children. For this reason, many of these children are part of the wide achievement gap. This means these children are left to struggle with poverty the rest of their lives. For many immigrants, this poverty cycle lasts several years. In my family, this cycle still exists. My four sisters and I are the first ones of our generation to graduate from college. However, this is not the reality for our aunts, uncles, cousins, and their children. Many of them still live with their parents and so do many of my friends. I graduated from a public high school of over 2000 students. Teenage pregnancy was the norm. Texas at the time was ranked as having the 2nd highest teenage pregnancy rate in the United States. In my school, the majority of the population was Hispanic.
During my Master’s research, I came across these heartbreaking findings. In 2005, more than one million immigrants, ages 16 to 24, were reported to be out of school and had not earned a high school diploma or equivalent (Laird, DeBell, Kienzl, & Chapman, 2007). In addition, 83% of Hispanics, between the ages of 18 to 24, who were born in the US, completed high school, whereas, only 56.8% of foreign-born Hispanics, in the same age group, completed high school. Minorities continue to be a vast majority of the students who are not achieving academically, failing standardized tests, dropping out of high school, on welfare, and in prisons. Students without documentation cannot receive any scholarships no matter how well they do in school. Many English language learners are required to stay in an ESL program for many years until they pass the standardized tests in every subject. Even if they excel in one subject, they are still not allowed to advance. For many, this means they will not receive the credits they need to attend college. Millions of immigrants enter the US each year. In January 2009, the Department of Homeland Security reported there were 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US with 62 % coming from Mexico. Our school systems are failing these children. It is ludicrous for states to believe that the solution lies in shipping millions of children and their parents out of the country. In reality, this issue has many gray areas. We continue to take away the tools these children need to exceed. We continue to allow ignorant politicians to pass laws that bar millions of children from achieving academically. If they are not given a chance to graduate from college, then how can we expect them to break the poverty cycle?
I am taking a stand against this social injustice and trying to find solutions that make sense. I will share with you how my parents managed to help my sisters and I break the poverty cycle. We struggled with poverty, learning proper English, ridding ourselves of accents, stereotypes, assimilation, peer pressure, and more. This is the reality for minority children of various ethnic backgrounds and skin color. I hope this series will open our eyes and help us find a solution.
I would like to thank Ken Wilson who listened to my story in Paris and encouraged me to blog about it.
Laird, J., DeBell, M., Kienzl, G., and Chapman, C. (2007). Dropout Rates in the United States: 2005 (NCES 2007-059). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC:National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch
Read the rest of the poem, Yo Soy Joaquín.
Share your experiences and struggles about this issue and let’s collaborate on a solution.
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What specific struggles do you face as an educator teaching children of immigrants?