Re-imagining Migration: The Negativity That Immigrant Students Hear

Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Adam Strom publish commentary on lack of civility in classrooms.

Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, UCLA Professor of Education Carola Suárez-Orozco, and Adam Strom have published a commentary in Kappan Online titled, “A Lesson in Civility: The Negativity That Immigrant Students Hear.” The Suárez-Orozcos, who are co-directors of the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education at UCLA, shared their findings from a study they began in 2012 of newcomer children in American schools. When asked how they thought they were viewed in their new society, the students’ responses depicted negative perceptions.

“One of many questions we asked was a simple fill-in-the-blank: ‘Most Americans think that most [people from the respondent’s birthplace] are _________,'”  the Suárez-Orozcos state. “Sixty-five percent of children filled in the blank with a negative term. The most frequent word was ‘bad,’ though many children wrote in more elaborate responses: ‘Most Americans think that Mexicans are lazy, gangsters, drug addicts that only come to take their jobs away,’ one 14-year-old boy wrote. Not only did many respondents choose words associated with criminality but many also chose terms related to contamination (‘We are garbage,’ another 14-year-old boy said) and incompetence (‘We can’t do the same things as them in school or at work,’ said a 10-year-old girl).  

“We repeated the task annually for five years, and these percentages changed little. Young people’s perceptions of other Americans’ negative attitudes about them remain linked to their immigration status.”

Strom and the Suárez-Orozcos write that the American tradition includes “the obligation of every school … to foster a democratic ethos where immigrant children come to feel they are full members in the community.”

“As John Dewey once argued, schools are places where democratic ideals come to life,” the co-authors write. “In the broadest sense, citizenship is about our responsibilities to each other, the rights and rules of engagement, and the public good. Research has shown that immigrant youth themselves describe citizenship as a shared obligation to society, a responsibility to give back, and above all to be kind. These are lofty but essential goals, and they are more necessary than ever in our uncivil times. At a time when it seems everyone is screaming, the classroom must be a place for listening.”

Strom, the former Director of Scholarship and Innovation at Facing History and Ourselves, and the Suárez-Orozcos have recently co-founded Re-Imagining Migration, a new organization created to foster understanding and the successful inclusion of immigrant youth across the globe, with resources and training that will equip educators to engage the children of migration and their peers to learn from one another in reflective learning environments and to empower all students to become ethical and active participants in an interconnected world.

To read, “A Lesson in Civility: The Negativity That Immigrant Students Hear,” click here.