Schools of thought that help settle America's young arrivals

Children of Immigration
October 5, 2001

Analyses of migration have tended to focus on the experience of adults. Carola Suárez-Orozco and Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco have drawn on the results of the Harvard Immigration Project to produce an account of settlement based on the experience of children.

In the United States, children of immigrants make up 20 per cent of all youths and are in the majority in many inner-city schools. Although the countries of origin are different from those of most immigrants into the United Kingdom, there are strong parallels with the situations faced by children of immigration in Britain.

The strength of the book lies in the large scale of the research, in terms of numbers of children, their families and friends who have been observed and interviewed, and in the use of research staff from the same ethnic background as the subjects.

The study covers forced and voluntary migration, legal and illegal, and where children arrived with parents or separately. A multidisciplinary approach in data-collection methods and analysis results in a comprehensive overview.

The central theme of the book is how the children of immigrants are faring in American society. The answers are complex. The conclusions are that "adaptation to school is a significant predictor of a child's future wellbeing and contributions to society". This finding has major implications for the UK, which has a large number of refugee children without school places, and for the schools that are struggling with problems of integration of refugee children.

The authors start by exploring the diversity of immigration experience using case examples. In all cases, an important factor that shapes these experiences is what the authors call the "ethos of reception", the beliefs and attitudes of the receiving population with regard to immigration and immigrants. An overview of changing immigration patterns in the US and the environment of reception sets a useful context for the subsequent analysis of the project. The chapter on the psycho-social experience of immigration examines the costs of making the immigration journey, which is seen as "a transformative process".

The stresses are explored, including that of acculturation where new cultural rules and interpersonal expectations are learnt. It is children who face these stresses most intensely, as school is such a critical site for contact with the national and local culture and one with which their parents will be unfamiliar. School is also the environment in which identities may be remade with all the interplay between family culture and the opportunity structure of the external world. Models are presented for explaining and categorising children's decisions and their implications for behaviour and success within the system.

Children of immigrants enter school with high expectations and motivation. The negative and positive aspects of their experiences in school are explored in depth, as they are seen to have such a critical impact on children's adaptation and subsequent career paths.

The authors end with a plea to move the discussions in the US away from the focus on immigration policy to a recognition of the needs of those already in the country and the central importance of the children of immigration for the future wellbeing of the state. The analysis and arguments are equally applicable to western Europe.

This book will fit extremely well into social science courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level and is essential reading.

Patricia Ellis is senior lecturer in refugee studies, University of East London.

Children of Immigration

Author - Carola Suárez-Orozco and Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco
ISBN - 0 674 00492 2
Publisher - Harvard University Press
Price - £18.50
Pages - 206

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