Marjorie Faulstich Orellana: Learning Across Borders

“Immigrant Children in Transcultural Spaces” focuses on children’s perspectives on societal barriers and their movement across those barriers.

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana’s new book looks at the interactions between children of immigrants, who are mostly from Mexico, Central America, and the Philippines, and UCLA undergrads from diverse linguistic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds within the context of an urban play-based afterschool program. In “Immigrant Children in Transcultural Spaces: Language, Learning, and Love” (New York: Routledge. 2015), the UCLA professor of education reveals the way that children and young adults can play with linguistic and cultural diversity and cross symbolic borders to build greater transcultural understanding.

Professor Faulstich Orellana, who teaches in the Urban Schooling Division and Teacher Education Program (TEP) in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, established the afterschool program “B-Club,” to continue a program she inherited from Kris Gutierrez, UCLA professor emerita of education. With B-Club, Faulstich Orellana provides an opportunity for college undergraduates to learn about children and learning. She describes the mutual sharing that transcended language and culture in this context.

“We had a girl in the program whose family is from Bangladesh,”she says. “One day she and a friend were reading a book in Spanish and English and laughing hysterically. It turns out they were reading a bilingual book called ‘Gota a gota – drip drop, drip drop.’ But the Spanish word for ‘drop’ (gota) in Bengali means ‘pimple.’ So they read a whole new layer of humorous meaning in the text based on this trilingual knowledge.

“Sometimes kids would explain their cultural practices to others. One girl, whose family is from the Philippines, explained her favorite foods, for example, describing pancit palabok as a dish like Chinese noodles. They would use a variety of other cultural references to explain to each other about their own cultural practices.”

In addition to looking at how kids crossed linguistic and cultural borders in the context of play, Faulstich Orellana considers how researchers can learn to expand angles of vision by probing how different people see things in the social world.

“This involves seeing with our hearts as well as our minds, and being open to seeing things in ways we have never considered before,” she says.

Through extensive ethnographic data within the club context, as well as through Faulstich Orellana’s accumulated experiences in this community over the last 30 years, “Immigrant Children” addresses debates over education, immigration, multilingualism, and multiculturalism in today’s environment of real and symbolic borders. She hopes that the book can challenge the status quo in educational practice and decision making.

“The main thing we’re trying to do [with B-Club] is create a space where kids are empowered to imagine a different world, and to create that world within our little space,” Faulstich Orellana says. “We also help them to realize that our space is situated within a much bigger world, where they don’t have that power and control, and there are all these forces that are shaping them. But in this space, they get to imagine all sorts of possibilities and bring them to life. If kids can learn that and learn how to work together – to imagine what could be – then maybe we have a chance at creating a [different] world.”

Faulstich Orellana says that while some may find the book’s message a bit utopian, she has had a heartening response to its title.

“Lots of people have said to me, ‘I love that it has ‘love’ in the title,’” she notes. “The fact that they find that worth noting tells me that there’s a longing in education for a move away from strict accountability, Common Core standards, and student performance, to a return to what excites kids about learning; making school more humanistic, relational, and connected with the world around them.”

Professor Faulstich Orellana’s work examines the daily life experiences of the children of immigrants in urban schools and communities, with particular emphasis on children’s roles as language and culture brokers for their families. Her previous book, “Translating Childhoods: Immigrant Youth, Language and Culture” (Rutgers University Press 2009), explores the role that immigrant children play as language brokers at home, school, and in public places. Most recently, Faulstich Orellana contributed the chapter “Child Language Brokering” (co-written with Shu Sha Angie Guan) to “Transitions: The Development of Children and Immigrants” (Carola Suárez-Orozco, Mona M. Abo-Zena, and Amy K. Marks, Co-Eds. New York, NYU Press, 2015).

Faulstich Orellana’s interest in children, language, literacy, migration, and social justice began with her ten-year career as a bilingual third grade public school teacher in Los Angeles. Prior to joining UCLA Ed & IS in 2003, she served on the faculty of the School of Education & Social Policy at Northwestern University. A graduate of Brown University, Professor Faulstich Orellana completed her graduate studies and earned her Ph.D. at the University of Southern California.

A book signing for “Immigrant Children in Transcultural Spaces: Language, Learning, and Love” will take place on January 10, 2016, 3-5 p.m. at the UCLA Labor Center, located at 675 S Park View St, Los Angeles, CA 90057-3306. A brief presentation on the book will include photos and other visuals from B-Club.

Admission to this event is free. Donations will be accepted to support scholarships for seniors at UCLA Community School. Signed copies of Professor Faulstich Orellana’s book will be available for purchase.

To attend, RSVP by January 7 at this link. For more information, contact Scott Marden at (310) 206-0375 or