Wednesday, February 6, 2008

immigrant song

my midweek mental musings...

living in florida my whole life made me almost blind to the immigrant experience. it was all around me, and perhaps i subconsciously blocked it out. i didn't know of the struggles that they had trying to assimilate. college was no better. i was surrounded by primarily privileged white students, especially in the college of ed. norman hall was a world like no other (perhaps nursing?)--filled with females mostly differentiated by the greek letters on their t-shirts or the color of their hair.

in and around the district, immigration is a hot button issue of late. several counties have closed day laborer centers where people could pick up day laborers in the morning, pay them under the table, and drop them off at night. some counties have mandated that citizenship checks be performed at traffic stops. there's a big uproar from advocacy groups and xenophobes alike. my neighborhood is largely hispanic. most people are very friendly to strangers, a quick smile and a nod hello. i really dig it.

this week, the struggles and worries of undocumented immigrants were brought home in my eyes. we're going on a field trip to the white house in 2 months. for background security, the secret service requested all kinds of information. it never occurred to me that some of this information might cause consternation among some parents. they worry that it will be cross-referenced with INS or homeland security, and their family will be torn apart for a school field trip. it's a touchy subject, as the school actually has no right to ask about citizenship status these days. we don't ask, they don't tell. these parents are among my most caring. they want a better life for their children and see school as the route to that life. they struggle with communicating with the school, culturally shocked into the american belief that education is a team effort. often, their culture dictates that teachers are almost revered. it's very hard to communicate our different expectations and the equal footing that we share in educating their child. whether or not they speak english is a moot point sometimes, as learning english isn't the same as speaking english. once you take away the context of face-to-face interactions, even a simple phone call about homework becomes an exercise in linguistics to make the conversation as comprehensible as possible. it's tricky and exhausting and ultimately satisfying when that rapport is built and the divide is reduced. short of learning a new language a year, i doubt i'll ever excel at it. just enough to be competent and show that i care is all some of these parents need.

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