Straddling Two Worlds: Immigrant Adolescents' Construction of Identities

Straddling Two Worlds: Immigrant Adolescents' Construction of Identities

Leila Kajee (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3448-9.ch009

Abstract

Education is a challenge confronting immigrants in a country where they are perceived as cultural and linguistic outsiders. School becomes, for immigrant youth, the next most important societal institution to family, given that it is a powerful indicator of the child's ongoing and future well-being. School also serves as a primary form of contact with mainstream society. However, schools of the majority culture become potential sites of dissent. This chapter derives from a larger project on “Immigrant Literacy Practices in and Out of School in South Africa.” The aim of this chapter is to explore, through their narratives, how adolescent immigrant youth interpret their subjective identities and position themselves in relation to the host country, South Africa.
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Challenges Around Immigration And Education

Education is a challenge confronting immigrants in a country where they are perceived as cultural and linguistic outsiders. School becomes, for immigrant youth, the next most important societal institution to family, given that it is a powerful indicator of the child’s ongoing and future well-being. School also serves as a primary form of contact with mainstream society. However, schools of the majority culture become potential sites of dissent (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez Orozco, 2009). This may be because the school is not a neutral objective arena, as it has the goal of shaping people’s values, skills, and knowledge bases (Heath, 1983; Giroux, 1992; Foucault, 1980; Freire, 1970). In such a school context, where institutional ideology serves to control social practice, education is a challenge for immigrant children, as their practices at school are prone to be “judged problematic or inadequate” or even “inferior attempts” (Sheridan, Street & Bloome, 2000, p. 81). Moreover, immigrants in majority schools can be defined as motivated or unmotivated, introverted or extroverted, inhibited or uninhibited, without reflecting on their cultural and linguistic backgrounds; such affective factors are often socially constructed in unequal relations of power (Norton, 2013; 2015; 2016). In other words, the cultural background to which the children belong serves to include or exclude them from access to privileged discourses. The schools themselves often construct these inequalities between majority and minority children by validating what is mainstream and rejecting the little stories in educational settings, which contributes to the challenge posed by education.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Postmodernism: Intellectual, philosophical, ideological stance that rejects the possibility of reliable knowledge, denies the existence of a universal, stable reality, generally suspicious of reason.

Ethnic Identity: Sense of belonging based on one’s heritage.

Social Identity: One’s self-concept derived from one’s membership.

Privileged Discourses: Discourses based on the privileged elite, those with access to social resources and power.

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