De Paisano a Paisano: Mexican Immigrant Students and their Transnational Perceptions of U.S. Schools (Working Paper #119)

Carmina Brittain, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies

Introduction: Due in part to their demographic significance (Ruiz-de-Velasco & Fix, 2001), students of Mexican origin continue to warrant the attention of the American educational community. The experiences of Mexican students in the United States have been well-documented thoughtout the years, but the bulk of the studies have failed to recognize the importance of the sustained links some of these students have with Mexico. Most of the current research on immigrant students has focused on the experiences that are directly related to the cultural and linguistic discontinuities they experience with the American mainstream culture (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-
Orozco, 1995; Valdes, 1997; Olsen & Jaramillo, 2000). This article provides an alternative yet important view on the study of Mexican immigrants in American schools by taking into consideration transnational influences that can shape their academic and social participation in American schools.

The article proposes that the educational experiences of Mexican immigrant students are not only influenced by events related to their daily experiences in the United States, but also by experiences that link them with Mexico and that can be transnational in nature. While some of these experiences may be geographically localized in the United States, they are symbolically localized across borders, creating social spaces in the U.S. that link these immigrant students with Mexico. Further, the interaction of these Mexican students with more established Mexican immigrants prior to coming to the U.S. also influences their perceptions of life in the U.S.

The article is based on the data collected for my qualitative study entitled “Transnational Messages and the Role of Co-Nationals in the Experiences of Immigrant Children.” This studyaimed to document how immigrant children interacted with co-nationals1 and exchanged information about their experiences in American schools. The study conceptualized that the experiences of some immigrants in the United States were closely tied to their interactions with co-nationals who resided either in their country of origin or in the new locality in the United States. These interactions were considered to be transnational because they often brought individuals who lived in different nation-states together in a social exchange. Most of the current empirical investigations of transnationalism has addressed the participation of adults in labor markets, community advocacy, and the political arena, but has not significantly addressed the participation of children and its impact on education. My study aimed to also contribute to this gap in the transnational literature by investigating if first-generation immigrant children were also part of these transnational connections.

Working Paper #119»