Rosa M. Jiménez is an Assistant Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include critical and culturally relevant pedagogies, social studies education, and immigration. She examines the education, alienation, and empowerment of working class students of color, with a focus on Latina/o immigrant students. Dr. Jiménez interrogates how educators can affirm, access and sustain Latina/o students’ everyday cultural practices, experiential knowledge, and family histories. Dr. Jiménez has over ten years of experience working in K-12 public schools as a social studies teacher, literacy coach and educational researcher.
For decades Latinas/os have been called ‘the sleeping giant’ because of their dormant collective political and economic promise. We saw a glimpse of this promise during the 2012 November elections as 71% of Latina/o voters helped re-elect President Obama, signaling to many that the giant had awakened (Pew Hispanic Research Center). The Republican Party was stunned and began to take notice of Latina/o political power. These events come on the heels of a nearly three-year firestorm of (post SB 1070) anti-immigrant legislation, racially hostile public discourse, record-breaking deportations and family separations, an unprecedented Executive Order granting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the historic civic action, protests, and mobilization of immigrant rights groups. In turn, these events have prompted a renewed national focus on immigration with the possibility of bi-partisan legislation on ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform. The national debate and possible ensuing policies are intrinsically linked to how educators think of Latina/o immigrant children and their education.
In order to re-imagine the education of Latina/o immigrant children we must rupture the construction of immigration as a problem, and one that lies within the immigrant herself. Lakoff and Ferguson (2006) provide alternative conceptions of immigration that transcend deficit frames of “the illegal,” “threats to national security,” and beyond “economic” and “demographic” imperatives. Instead, they turn the problem of immigration on its head by drawing attention to U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, neoliberalism, immigration as a humanitarian crisis, and immigrants as economic refugees. In other words, Lakoff and Ferguson shift the locus of the problem from the individual (the immigrant) to its underlying causes and economic beneficiaries (i.e., national/international policies, economic trade agreements, corrupt U.S. sponsored dictatorships in Latin America, economic and political despair, etc.). Additionally, immigrant rights groups have also reframed the discourse into a civil rights and human rights issue, all the while challenging the constructs of American citizenship. How might immigration reform be truly more comprehensive, humane, and just if the debate began with these alternative premises? Moreover, how might these perspectives inform our understandings of immigrant students and their education?
Deficit narratives about immigrants are deeply ingrained in the American psyche and play out in both immigration policies and schooling policies. Recent examples from Arizona illustrate the ways a student’s language and culture are ignored or disparaged in schools. The education of English learners in Arizona is arguably the most rigid in America, isolating them from mainstream students in 4-hour blocks of hyper-scripted Structured English Immersion (SEI) programs. Students’ home languages are seen as liabilities rather than assets. In addition, the passage of Arizona’s HB 2281 effectively targeted ethnic studies in K-12 education, dismantled Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, and resulted in banning literature, poetry, and history books. These kinds of policies are couched in arguments about students’ “right” to learn English and narrow constructs of American culture. The ideologies underpinning these policies are that Latina/o students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds have no place in education…no place in society. Like previous diasporas, Latino immigrants rupture dominant society’s layered yet established forms of social status and cultural/national identities; they disrupt monolithic notions of what it means to be an American. In response dominant society invokes policies that control and suppress alternative views.
The renewed national debate on immigration offers us as educators an opportunity to re-think our understandings of immigration, immigrant students, and their education. As the youngest, largest, and fastest growing ‘minority’ population in America, how we address these issues will determine Latina/o immigrant students’ cultural formation as well as their educational and life opportunities. In addition, it will have deep implications for the nation as a whole. Thus, it is increasingly vital for us to shape an equity-minded, socially just, anti-racist educational vision. This vision may include teaching immigrant (and non-immigrant) youth academic and critical literacies, the ability to analyze social and racial inequality as well as resistance and collective political power, and pedagogies that build upon and nurture students’ linguistic repertoires, cultural practices, immigrant histories, and knowledges. We have a unique opportunity to re-imagine Latina/o immigrants into an increasingly multicultural, multilingual, interconnected world. In this way, we can transform society (and schools) from deficit sites to those of possibilities.
Lakoff, G., & Ferguson, S. (2006). The framing of immigration. Berkeley, CA: Rockridge Institute.
Pew Hispanic Research Center. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/11/07/latino-voters-in-the-2012-election/
Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M. M. & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Valencia, R. (Ed.). (1997). The evolution of deficit thinking: Educational thought and practice London: Falmer Press.
**The opinions of our guest bloggers don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Equity Alliance, but they do raise important questions about educational equity. We invite participation and the exchange of ideas with these blogs.