Academic journal article High School Journal

Transnational Messages: What Teachers Can Learn from Understanding Students' Lives in Transnational Social Spaces

Academic journal article High School Journal

Transnational Messages: What Teachers Can Learn from Understanding Students' Lives in Transnational Social Spaces

Article excerpt

This study investigates how comments that Mexican nationals made about U.S. schools influenced Mexican immigrant adolescents' perceptions of and experiences in U.S. schools. I investigated the diffusion of this information at three specific points in time--prior to immigration, upon entry to the U.S., and after a few years of living in the U.S. and attending schools here. By sharing information across borders, these Mexican immigrant students and their co-nationals formed a transnational social space, where immigrant children established and maintained productive ties between their country of origin and their receiving country. The themes that these transnational messages revealed included issues of cost of education, concerns with academic quality, value of the English language, social struggles, and racial confrontations in U.S. schools. This article also addresses how U.S. teachers can develop a teaching agenda that addresses the concerns revealed by these transnational messages.

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Mexican students are an ever growing force within U.S. public schools (Ruiz de Velasco & Fix, 2000). The last census (Guzman, 2000) established Latinos as the fastest growing minority in the United States and among this group, the Mexican origin population was the largest. Due in part to their demographic significance, students of Mexican origin continue to warrant attention in the educational community.

Based on the data collected from my qualitative study entitled, Transnational Messages: Experiences of Chinese and Mexican Immigrants in American Schools (Brittain, 2002), I discuss how the information exchanged by Mexican co-nationals can help teachers to understand and better serve their immigrant students. The study aimed to document how immigrant adolescents from Mexico received information about U.S. schools from co-nationals (individuals born in their countries of origin but who resided either in the U.S. or in the country of origin). By sharing information across borders, these Mexican immigrant students and their co-nationals socialized in a transnational social space (Portes, 1996; Smith & Guarnizo, 1998).

Contrary to the assimilation model that claims that immigrants leave their ties to their country of origin once they migrate, the notion of transnational social spaces proposes that immigrants create social spaces that allow them to establish and maintain productive ties between their country of origin and their receiving country (Besserer, 1998).

Findings from the Transnational Messages study showed how perceptions of U.S. schools were constructed in part based on these transnational exchanges. These perceptions reflected specific values or expectations of Mexican immigrant adolescents with respect to U.S. schooling. Issues of cost of education, concerns with academic quality, value of the English language, social struggles, and racial confrontations were themes that these transnational messages revealed. These themes continued to be shared over time from more established immigrants to newcomers. Teachers and other educational professionals could benefit from understanding these transnational messages, which in turn have implications for instruction and educational policy.

Transnational Social Spaces: A Foundation for Educational Research

Most immigration after 1945 has increased ethnic diversity in most receiving countries (Castles & Miller, 1998). Transportation and communication advances contributed to the formation of a new global economic order, where inter-cultural and international encounters were more prevalent than before (Appadurai, 1996). These changes in diversity, technology, and communication contributed to the globalization of migration, "the tendency for more and more countries to be affected by migration movements at the same time" (Castles & Miller, 1998, p. 8). Transnational theory recognizes that some immigrant groups continue to have strong ties with their countries of origin once they reside in their receiving community (Smith & Guarnizo, 1998). …

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