Children of immigrants face tough challenges, lecturer says

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Dr. Su Yong Kim discusses the effects of acculturation and discrimination on children of immigrants in a open discussion with faculty and students, Friday afternoon. Kim focuses her research on Asian-American and Mexican-American families.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Children of immigrants living in America face separate language barrier and racism challenges than their parents did, a UT professor said last week.

Part of a seminar series in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, professor Su Yeong Kim talked about her research on first-generation Chinese-American and Mexican-American children living in America. Kim said a child who is born in the U.S. and learns English as well as his or her native tongue, may feel like the language broker. Constantly translating for parents who cannot speak English well can cause depression in children because they may come to feel overwhelmed.

“Children who help their parents translate feel proud to help, but at the same time feel a burden that they are needed to provide the income,” Kim said.

Sometimes children become trapped between staying in touch with their origins and fitting in with the current culture in which they live, she said.

“Immigrants’ children who become whitewashed or Americanized, can cause problems because the parents hold so tightly to their heritage,” Kim said. “They can become caught between the world of their parents and their peers; again, causing depression.”

Society, in most cases, assumes that children of immigrants are “foreign born” even though they may have lived in the U.S. for many generations, Kim said. At a young age, kids recognize that racist remarks from other members of the society are linked with their skin color or their accent, she said.

“It is hard for children to understand at first that they are part of an Asian or Latino race and they will be picked on and they realize there may be a connection,” Kim said.

Freshman Shaina Peng said her parents are from China and she faced racism in school growing up in the U.S.

“In middle school someone called me a ‘chink’ and I cried,” Peng said.

Anurag Banerjee, electrical engineering freshman, said his father is from Sudan and his mother is from Calcutta, India. Although his parents are well-educated, Banerjee said he has had to translate for them on occasions.

“My parents know basic English but get confused when it comes to higher grammar,” he said. “My mom cannot understand puns at all!”

Banerjee said he didn’t face too much racism while growing up in the U.S., but even if he did, he didn’t let it bother him.

“I didn’t find it that difficult to merge the cultures,” Banerjee said.

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Immigrant youth face burdens, racism