Kids in the Middle: How Children of Immigrants Negotiate Community Interactions for Their Families

Kids in the Middle: How Children of Immigrants Negotiate Community Interactions for Their Families

Kids in the Middle: How Children of Immigrants Negotiate Community Interactions for Their Families

Kids in the Middle: How Children of Immigrants Negotiate Community Interactions for Their Families


Complicating the common view that immigrant incorporation is a top-down process, determined largely by parents, Vikki Katz explores how children actively broker connections that enable their families to become woven into the fabric of American life. Children's immersion in the U.S. school system and contact with mainstream popular culture enables them more quickly to become fluent in English and familiar with the conventions of everyday life in the United States. These skills become an important factor in how families interact with their local environments. Kids in the Middle explores children's contributions to the family strategies that improve communication between their parents and U.S. schools, healthcare facilities, and social services, from the perspectives of children, parents, and the English-speaking service providers that interact with these families via children's assistance. Katz also considers how children's brokering affects their developmental trajectories. While their help is critical to addressing short-term family needs, children's responsibilities can constrain their access to educational resources and have consequences for their long-term goals. Kids in the Middle explores the complicated interweaving of family responsibility and individual attainment in these immigrant families.

Through a unique interdisciplinary approach that combines elements of sociology and communication approaches, Katz investigates not only how immigrant children connect their families with local institutional networks, but also how they engage different media forms to bridge gaps between their homes and mainstream American culture. Drawing from extensive firsthand research, Katz takes us inside an urban community in Southern California and the experiences of a specific community of Latino immigrant families there. In addition to documenting the often-overlooked contributions that children of immigrants make to their families' community encounters, the book provides a critical set of recommendations for how service providers and local institutions might better assist these children in fulfilling their family responsibilities. The story told in Kids in the Middle reveals an essential part of the immigrant experience that transcends both geographic and ethnic boundaries.


Luis is eleven years old. He is soft spoken, with warm brown eyes partially hidden by long, thick hair he shyly retreats behind from time to time. Luis is the eldest of Ana and Felipe’s three US-born sons; both parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Felipe works in a clothing factory for an hourly wage as the family’s sole breadwinner; Ana hasn’t worked since her youngest son was born two years ago. Both parents have had limited employment options in part because of their unauthorized residency status, but also because they, like many of their contemporaries, cannot speak, read, or write proficiently in English.

The focus of this family is not the toddler tugging at Luis’s pant leg, angling for his big brother’s attention. Luis’s seven-year-old brother, Julio, is severely epileptic. His condition was initially misdiagnosed when he was an infant, resulting in two untreated, grand mal seizures that left him so brain damaged that he will never be able to speak.

So Luis speaks for Julio—and for their parents—when they go to the many doctor appointments that Julio needs. Luis, a straight-A student, routinely misses school or forgoes completing his homework to help his parents communicate with English-speaking staff at the emergency room, at scheduled doctor visits, and at Julio’s rehabilitation services, for which Luis helped his parents complete the required paperwork.

As the primary English speaker in his immigrant household, Luis uses his language proficiency, familiarity with us cultural norms, and ability to connect with content via various media formats to help his family access available community resources. Luis regularly makes phone calls and searches for local news and information in community newspapers and online, sometimes at his parents’ request and sometimes on his own initiative. He presents his findings to his parents so that together they can make decisions about locating and securing goods and services they need.

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