This past March, when it was announced that schools would be temporarily closed, due to the increase of COVID-19 cases throughout California, there was minimal anticipation that the 2020-21 school year would begin with distance learning. As we enter the new school year, once again, the home will become the formal classroom, and parents will continue to be responsible for teaching and facilitating academic activities assigned to their children.
For Latinx immigrant families, the reality of distance learning highlights the continued injustice within the education system and the exclusion of BIPOC and immigrant parents from their children’s educational journey. Latinx immigrant parents are impacted by deficit framing, language barriers, and traditional notion of parent involvement, which have limited their ability to fully support their children, before and during the pandemic, due to systemic inequalities.
The experiences of Latinx immigrant parents is important to understand due to their large presence in California and the public education system. The 2019 United States Census Bureau’s population estimate revealed that the largest ethnic group in California identify as Latinx or Hispanic. The year prior, the American Immigration Council indicated that 27 percent of the population in California consisted of immigrants. Half of the immigrants living in California were born in a country that is part of Latin America. It is worth noting that between 2017-18, 4.2 million children had at least one immigrant parent, the majority of these children had parents that immigrated from Latin America. Data from this past school year revealed that Latinx children accounted for the largest percentage of students attending public schools in California. Recognizing the generational and demographic differences within the Latinx community, it is necessary to highlight the challenges immigrant families have confronted in attempting to support their children.
As an institution, the public school system is a representation of society’s culture and values that favor those in power. In the classroom context, this is depicted through a curriculum that centers whiteness through literature, histories, traditions, and language. Systemic inequalities are also evident in classroom dynamics. Students are judged and assigned potential based on their race, gender, culture, socioeconomic status, perceived English language “fluency,” and other intersectional identities. Practices like these uphold white supremacy, function to suppress and violate the civil rights of BIPOC students, and inform the interaction and relationship between the school, the home, and local communities.
Schools view Latinx parents through a deficit lens that is rooted in racist nativism. These perspectives often shape the dominant discourse around Latinx immigrant parents’ involvement in the school context, and the perceived value of education within the home. These views inform how Latinx immigrant parents are welcomed into their children’s educational journey. Latinx immigrant parents are often invited to school grounds as helpers or assistants. They are encouraged to attend parenting classes that focus on child-rearing skills or literature/reading practices that align with western culture and values. Latinx immigrant parents, like their children, are expected to leave behind their culture, traditions, values, language, and ways of knowing. The lack of systemic support has prevented Latinx immigrant parents from fully integrating into their children’s pre-K-12 educational journey.
These realities have negatively impacted Latinx families during the first period of distance learning.
This summer, I had the opportunity to conduct research that better understands the experiences of Latina immigrant mothers as they supported their children with the initial transition to distance learning, and throughout the end of the 2019-20 school year. Residing in Southern California, participants shared the challenges they endured when attempting to assist and teach their children. All participants cited language and technology as key contributors limiting their ability to best support their K-12 age students. While participants received school updates and flyers in Spanish, the homework and homework instructions were only accessible in English. This created difficulties for primary Spanish speakers as they were limited in their ability to support and guide their children. Participants described struggling with math due to the math procedures only being offered in English. During these instances, children had to explain the homework assignment to their parents or relied on older siblings or relatives to explain the content. As a result, participants endured the continuation of being pushed out of their children’s academic learning and were further positioned as helpers through the limited roles and restricted contributions to their children’s formal learning—further failing to position Latinx immigrant parents as producers and holders of valid knowledge.
As students return to a new school year via distance learning, intentional and conscious decisions need to be made to assure the support and integration of Latinx immigrant parents within the formal educational setting. The challenges being confronted within Latinx immigrant households are a continuation of exclusionary academic practices that further push-out Latinx immigrant parents from their children’s academic trajectory. It is especially necessary to properly support Latinx immigrant parents throughout the second period of distance learning to ensure that Latinx students do not continue to fall behind academically. Educators and school administrators must support the implementation of culturally relevant practices that genuinely values the perspectives, input, and the knowledge of Latinx immigrant parents, during and post distance learning.
Ruby Osoria, M.A., is currently a third-year P.D. student at the University of California, San Diego, in the Education Department. Her research interest focuses on the experiences of Latinx immigrant parents as they navigate and support their children throughout the educational pipeline.