The Immigrant Child: Past, Present, and Future.
Article Type: Conference notes
Subject: Immigrant children (Forecasts and trends)
Immigrant children (Conferences, meetings and seminars)
Author: Janka, Laura
Pub Date: 11/01/2008
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: Nov, 2008 Source Volume: 36 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 010 Forecasts, trends, outlooks Computer Subject: Market trend/market analysis
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 231021638
Full Text: "The notion of the American dream means that it is attainable; for all," said Sharon Sassler, associate professor of policy analysis and management, during a plenary session for the conference "The Immigrant Child: Past, Present, and Future."

Whether the American dream is within reach of today's immigrant children was a focus of one panel at the October conference on campus in Ithaca. The conference addressed such immigrant issues as health care, undocumented immigrants, bilingualism, and how to improve the conditions for immigrant children in New York State and the United States.

In the panel discussion, each speaker talked about what it meant to live the American dream and whether this notion was plausible for historical and contemporary immigrant families.

"The conference was unique because it was so interdisciplinary and it was organized around the idea that-history matters--that there is a relationship between the contemporary experience of 'new immigrants' and those who came in the late 19th and early 20th century," said conference organizer and Cornell professor emerita Joan Brumberg. Each session was organized to provoke dialogue among scholars, service providers, educators, and concerned citizens and was framed by a historian, followed by practitioners and researchers. Over 40 educational institutions were represented at the conference, as well as more than 20 organizations serving immigrant children and families.

Noted Sassler during the panel discussion: "There is a continuity in some of the challenges that immigrants historically faced and that contemporary immigrants face that are complicated by our more sophisticated lifestyle." She wondered whether contemporary immigrants would have the same opportunity to assimilate that prior generations had, especially as more undocumented immigrants are denied political representation.

Panelists Pilar Parra, senior lecturer in nutritional sciences, and Sofia Villenas, associate professor of education and Latino studies education, discussed schools as a tool for immigrant children's assimilation into American culture. Parra stressed parent participation in such programs as the PTA, and said that this familial support in education leads to economic and political betterment. Villenas explained that a personal relationship between parents and teachers allows immigrant students' needs to be known and met.

Panelist Shelley Wong, associate professor of English and Asian American studies, asked, "What is the difference between assimilating something and assimilating into something?" Raised in a Chinese-speaking household, Wong told a story of once asking for chopsticks when she meant Chapstick to illustrate that "language acquisition or facility or fluency in a language certainly does not guarantee by any means a particular kind of belonging."

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Echoing the importance of English as a means to obtaining health care, education, and career opportunities, Wong noted, however, how the native tongue is a cultural comfort for immigrants, which should not be lost in monolingual-nationalistic attitudes.

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Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, associate professor of development sociology and a native of South Africa, noted that his own teenage daughter faces difficulties of assimilation and how society wants immigrant children to be "cultural chameleons." Unlike past generations, he said, today's immigrant children are expected to represent a multicultural American society as well as their native nation.

Panelist Sivilay Somchanhmavong, coordinator of multicultural recruitment in Cornell's Office of Admissions, also shared his personal story. As a successful English as a Second Language student, he reinforced the importance of strong primary education as a step toward secondary education opportunities. Of Laotian descent, Somchanhmavong spoke passionately of the need to increase representation of Southeast Asian minorities at both the high school and university levels.

The conference was hosted by Cornell's Family Life Development Center and supported in part by the New York Council for the Humanities.
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