In the story, Mango Moon, by Diane de Anda and Sue Cornelison, we witnessed the tragic separation of an immigrant family of four in the United States. Maricela and Manuel are two young students who, on their way home from school, receive the news from their crying mother that their Papi was detained at work and taken away because of his undocumented status in the country. “Your Papi won’t be coming home for a while,” Maricela’s Mama explains to her children. We feel the impact of their father’s separation on the family in different places in the story. First, their Mama has to get another job and can’t pick her children up from their school anymore. Maricela and Manuel begin to ride the bus home and experience isolation when they are unable to play with their friends after school anymore. When Mama is unable to make enough money to pay for everything by herself, the family of three prepares to move in with Mama’s siblings and Maricela and Manuel have to say goodbye to their friends permanently. The children have to change schools. As the years go on, Maricela and Manuel feel the absence of their Papi in their lives in even more painful ways — the birthdays he isn’t there for or the goals Maricela scores on her soccer team that he can’t celebrate with her. “I don’t understand why they would send him so far away because of some papers,” Maricela laments.
Current Immigration in America
The story of immigration is a sensitive and complicated subject in our country. In one aspect, our country touts the strength of our nation as being the strength in our diversity. The diversity of our country adds to our capacity to innovate. A new podcast by the immigration advocacy group Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) documents how the undocumented immigrant, in our country simply to make a better life for themselves and their family, became an enemy to our country. According to the podcast it began with 9/11 and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. Prior to the tragic event of 9/11, President Bush (Republican) worked closely with Mexican President Vicente Fox on how to fix the US immigration system. There was even discussion around crafting a legalization program for 3 million undocumented Mexicans living in the US. After 9/11, the American public was so afraid of terrorists that they were willing to give up many personal rights and the rights of others, hence the Patriot Act. At that time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created with the simple mission to create a solid place for various agencies to communicate all intelligence information. Very quickly, DHS turned it’s sites on securing the southern border, creating the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), creating the rise of detention centers, run by private prisons, while the terrorists that were involved in 9/11 had visas and were documented guests within the country.
Although President Obama gave all the illusion of hope, it was a false hope for the immigrant community. Before President Bush left office, he put in place “Secure Communities” (S-COM) legislation for which The Obama Administration expanded. Obama’s way of being tough on immigration was to tie the criminal justice system to ICE. When a person was arrested and suspected of being undocumented, their fingerprints were sent to ICE to check their status. If the person arrested was undocumented, then they were immediately deported by ICE. The plan seemed to make sense at the time as then President Obama made a speech about how he specifically was focusing on the most dangerous immigrants by implementing S-COM within various states. Yes, this plan did catch many “criminal” immigrants, but it also turned the police force into ICE agents, deeming them the gatekeepers of determining who was a good versus a bad immigrant. States also expanded the law to include that anyone thought of as an immigrant could be stopped and fingerprinted. The new “agents” began running fingerprints on people who were pulled over for minor traffic stops and also those who were victims of violent crimes.
Many people who are in America to create a new life for themselves and their children are under much scrutiny. Many times, those who are victims of crimes do not want to go to the police due to such extreme deportation practices. Thus, in the midst of trying to fight against “bad immigrants” has again given way to another systemic binary in our society, leading to many in soft gray areas to be captured and deported without notice to families and loved ones. The Obama Administration deported over 2.2 million immigrants, more than any other prior president through the S-COM executive order and later the alternative Priority Enforcement Program and continued to expand the detention systems which laid the groundwork for President Trump’s continued policies of hate including family separation. In 2017, President Trump reinstated S-COM through an executive order and as of January 20, 2021, President Biden again reversed S-COM through executive order. For this matter, the rise of the sanctuary city became the norm to help protect families against such extreme measures of deportation. As one can imagine, the undocumented community in the United States has been on a continual roller-coaster for the past couple of decades. The constant fear of having a loved one slip into the deportation system is real. It is important that educators continually update themselves on the laws that surround undocumented families and student communities.
In Mango Moon, Maricela and Manuel were born in the United States. That means they weren’t facing the same risk of deportation that their parents were, although we see how living without their loved ones affected everything about their lives and made them sad. However, there are many students in our classrooms who, foreign-born, are considered Childhood Arrivals by the federal government. That means these students are at a great risk of being detained, and often separately, in inhumane immigration detention centers all around the country. The foreign-born population in the United States exceeds 44.8 million today. An estimated 10.5 million of these residents are undocumented immigrants. To put that in terms of our classroom environment, about one in thirty students in California’s public K-12 schools are undocumented students. While there was a program, referred to as DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which was meant to prevent the detention of youth this way, on July 16, 2021, Judge Andrew Hanen issued a ruling which found DACA unlawful and blocked the Department of Homeland Security from approving any new, first-time DACA applications. This recent ruling represents an incredible threat to the futures of millions of families from around the world in need of sanctuary.
To personalize this, during my first year as a teacher I taught a young girl from a Spanish-speaking country a lot like Maricela. She and her older brother were practically the smartest students in the school. Their parents spoke a small amount of English and I spoke minimal Spanish, but we were able to communicate through simple phrases, gestures, smiles, and making them as comfortable as possible. I tried to assure them that my classroom was a safe space for them and their daughter. Considerations for parents where English is a second language should include the following:
- Use visuals as much as possible.
This is a simple way of communicating student progress to parents. While working overseas, many times I created material that showed student successes and student needs through pictures. It can be smiley faces on school work or progress reports showing satisfaction or needs for improvement.
- Avoid educational jargon and acronyms.
Keep it simple. Math with a picture of number symbols, English with an ABC picture, Science with a picture of a microscope are all ways for parents who do not know English to keep aware of student progress.
- Use a translation app when communicating verbally with parents.
There are wonderful translation tools that can help with translation. Although the tools might not be a perfect translation, a teacher can definitely use them to convey messages. Microsoft translation tools have about 90% accuracy rate. A teacher may use their products for parent – teacher conferences and also while lecturing in class.
- If meeting virtually, use closed caption options as well as language translation options if possible.
Most meeting platforms have some type of closed caption option integrated into their system.
- Consider meeting at times that are more convenient to parent work schedules.
According to the OECD, the top two reasons parents were not involved in school functions was due to not being able to get off work and the times scheduled for parent conferences. Many schools have solved for lack of parent engagement through using virtual conferences. In the same report, they found that immigrant families who felt welcomed at their schools were more likely to be more involved in school, raising student achievement.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to abound in our media, often pushing dishonest and despicable narratives casting immigrant communities as criminal, burdensome, and undeserving of human rights. Unfortunately, this rhetoric finds its way into all corners of the classroom if we’re not accurately grounding ourselves in the experiences of these families. As educators, we must form the correct perspectives to understand that people in the classroom have made enormous sacrifices to migrate to the US and in most cases continue to face incredible challenges and hardships when they arrive. If they are not first-generation immigrants themselves, they may be the children of immigrants. It’s imperative to understand that immigrants are not in the US because they are criminals or want to be burdens to anyone. Many immigrants, from countries all across the world, have immigrated to the United States due to our own chaotic involvement in their home countries.
I spoke with Doctora Rivas Castro about culturally responsive teaching for educators and the importance of immigrant students and children of immigrants telling their own stories in the classroom. Castro urges us to encourage young children to reflect on their own experiences as migrants. They should be able to realize they have different backgrounds and situations than their parents — and it’s okay that they’re not the same! It’s important to counter the isolation that migrant students face at an early age when there isn’t a supportive community at school and empathy-building activities with workshops for educators and colleagues can be very effective foundations for bringing culturally responsive teaching into the classroom. One resource I recommend in order to be able to begin understanding the impact that the United States has on global immigration trends is the Homeland Insecurity podcast, which is hosted by Raices Texas.
In recent days, my home state of California and others are receiving students from Afghanistan. One teacher I recently spoke to discussed her new student’s first day as being frightening for him. The school had an unannounced fire drill and when the alarm rang, it sounded like an alarm in his home country alerting danger and he screamed a blood curdling scream. One cannot imagine the trauma that many of our new students might have coming to a new school, in a new country, without knowing how to speak the language. Teachers, prior to teaching anything, please make sure that you create a safe space for our new arrivals.
- Increase body movement for all.
Developed by John Asher, Total Physical Response (TPR) is not only great for students learning a second language, it is good for older students, adults, and elementary classes K-2. This strategy helps build language through direct actions and the simple use of using body language to convey meaning.
- Couple that with visuals and realia.
Again, using visuals and real items when talking increases student understanding and language acquisition.
- Allow for the active and meaningful participation of ALL students, regardless of language proficiency or academic achievement.
I have had students of all different backgrounds in my classes. I have always had the most success when I incorporated their culture and knowledge into our classroom. Students feel much more accepted and included. Creating this safe space allows students the ability to thrive. A safe space is a low anxiety space that supports all learners.
- Build on and enlarge both receptive and productive content area vocabulary and language structures.
Working in these two areas will help students to express themselves and improve their academic content knowledge. It will also build on and expand student’s background knowledge.
- Increase student interaction and decrease teacher talk.
Ask those open-ended questions and allow students to express themselves. One area that many teachers struggle with is being afraid of embracing the silence. There may not be an answer for everything. This is fine. On the opposite part of the spectrum we should allow students to work in pairs and groups.
During the recent spike in family separations I found myself watching the evening news after my daughter went to sleep. One evening, the audio tape of a small child crying out for her mother woke my daughter from her sleep. My daughter immediately walked over to the door, put her shoes on, and asked me to come with her to find that child’s mother. My daughter was three years old at the time. After this, I immediately cried and when I told my daughter that I did not know where the child’s mother was, I also promised that I was going to help somehow. My husband and I began to march outside of detention centers in California, Georgia, and Tennessee. Demanding justice through direct-action is not something we all have the privilege or ability to do. It is not only about learning, it is also about becoming active in the movement for immigrant justice as well! When we take a stand for human rights, we become shining examples charting a path for our children to follow.
Diane de Anda Website