Defining the problem
Face Of The Immigrant Shown In Language
Students of different national origins blend in easily until the language barrier reveals their immigrant faces. Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
By Michael Rehak
The immigrants in Queens often blend in, becoming just another person on the train, at the office, in line at the bank or next to you at school.
Often, though, it is when certain cultural differences pop up that we begin to take note of the dissimilarities between the varied people that make up this great borough – that we recognize a face as being different from our own.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference is in language – there are, after all, more than 100 spoken in households across the borough. With a large number of immigrant families not speaking English at home (more than half), parents are faced with numerous struggles raising their children.
Instances usually pop up in two forms: when dealing with straddling two sets of cultures and living up to expectations, according to Ruchika Bajaj, the Mental Health Policy and Program Coordinator of the Manhattan-based Coalition for Asian American Children and Families.
Bajaj said parents might have a particular process in mind when it comes to raising their children, but American culture may alter their children’s ability to carry out an unfamiliar lifestyle.
For many immigrants, their children’s future and education are the top factors in achieving “opportunity,” that elusive goal that parents seek for their children and grandchildren.
When it comes to schooling, though, language barriers may interfere with a parent’s ability to be involved with a Parent-Teacher Association, helping with homework or identifying learning disabilities.
Recent City Council legislation attempted to address the need to have school correspondences distributed to immigrant homes in different languages, but that thought was redirected into more funding and options for schools rather than citywide mandates.
Many immigrant groups have fought for years trying to rectify this concern. They say that language barriers prevent immigrants from fully participating in civic life.
According to a study conducted by the Milano Graduate School’s Center for New York City Affairs, nearly 160,000 students – a full 15 percent of the public school system – are considered “English Language Learners,” keeping the barriers in place, and making the face of the immigrant become more noticeable.