Su Yeong Kim

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

Strong family and ethnic identification can motivate students from Latino and Asian immigrant backgrounds to try to succeed academically despite many challenges, said Andrew Fuligni, a University of California, Los Angeles researcher, in a speech Monday. The Department of Human Development and Family Sciences sponsored the event because the Latino and Asian populations are growing in the U.S., said Su Yeong Kim, UT assistant professor in the department. The Latino population increased from 12.5 to 15.1 percent of the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2009, according to the American Community Survey. The Asian population increased from 3.6 to 4.4 percent in the same period. She said this trend is particularly relevant in Texas. “Texas is one of the top six destinations for new immigrants, so we’re definitely impacted by the issues he talked about,” she said. Fuligni said children from immigrant backgrounds face challenges including economic distress, substandard schools, health care, cultural differences and negative stereotypes. He said these challenges could harm these children psychologically and reduce their resources. “If you are feeling as if you are being excluded or devalued, that’s perhaps one of the most threatening consequential social stressors that has significant implications for physical health, mental health and one’s ability to engage productively in institutions,” he said. Fuligni said students from Chinese and Mexican backgrounds had a stronger identification with their ethnicity than their European-American counterparts across three generations. He said immigrants from Asian and Latin American backgrounds had stronger feelings of obligation to assist their families as adults and spent more time helping their families than their European-American counterparts, even when economic differences were controlled for. He said a high sense of family obligation was correlated with a stronger belief in the usefulness of education. However, strong family identification did not erase disparities in achievement and could create academic problems. He showed a diary entry from a 14-year-old Mexican-American student who had to watch her younger siblings and was forced to do her homework the morning before class. “She still is doing her homework,” Fuligni said. “She’s still trying to make it work, but the question is, can she do that, how long can she keep doing that?” Cyndy Karras, a UT graduate student in human development and family sciences, said she attended the talk because she knew the department was considering hiring Fuligni. She said his research reflected her experiences as a Mexican-American. “I can understand what it’s like to have to juggle both being Mexican and American and how to input those two identities together,” she said. “I think it’s important to understand how youth from these [immigrant] backgrounds can excel academically and personally in face of challenges.”