“If there is one characteristic of the uprooting experience that appears to be shared by all immigrant children irrespective of nationality, economic status, family stability or any other factor, it is the silent stage when the children experience the school culture as different from their own and when their inability to communicate with their peers is cause by a language or cultural difference.”
- Christina Igoa in The Inner World of the Immigrant Child
The Inner World of the Immigrant Child by Christina Igoa tells the story of one teacher's journey to understand the inner workings of immigrant children, and to create an educational environment which is responsive to these students' needs. Christina Igoa, a second language/bilingual educator, helps the reader understand that academic achievement can not be divorced from the child’s context. The book captures the voices and artwork of many immigrant children, and portrays the immigrant experience of uprooting, culture shock, and adjustment to a new world. The author chronicles cultural, academic, and psychological interventions that facilitated learning as her immigrant students made the transition to a new language and culture.
This book is especially useful because it deals with multicultural and bilingual education, foundations of education, and literacy curriculum and instruction. It is highly relevant to anyone who works in today's school environment. Igoa speaks from experience as she lays out the stories of her students, “Immigrant children long to blend in… emotions, fears hold them back…[so] an immigrant child adopts the mechanism of silence. In that silence they develop listening skills… They do not take language for granted… and experience the sheer joy of breaking that silence.”
Igoa defines “culture shock” to be anxiety from losing all familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. “Every culture has subtle signs by which people evaluate what they say and do. Losing these cues produces strain, uneasiness, and even emotional maladjustment if the person is received badly, because there is no longer a familiar foundation on which to stand.” Her statement was right on target in describing my experience of relocating to Hyderabad, India at the end of tenth grade in 1981 from the northeastern US where I had spent all my school years.
Igoa speaks prophetically, by saying that “one should stay connected to one’s own culture and also learn the cues of the new culture – a ‘both/and’ experience, not ‘or.’” This approach is critical to having a world view that is more accepting, moving beyond tolerance, and remembering that we all live together on one planet.
Igoa defines the uprooting stages where a child feels: 1) mixed emotions; 2) excitement/fear in adventure of new journey; 3) curiosity; 4) culture shock – depression and confusion; and 5) a need to assimilate/acculturate into the mainstream. She speaks to the cultural gap between the two cultures of the children she teaches, who often could not find support at home, and were left with a feeling of personal inadequacy. There are many differences in the experiences of immigrant children, but she shares many stories and reconnects with them in closure. She qualifies the students into three groups – those whose inner world is unintegrated, those whose inner world is culturally split and those who have an integrated inner world. Igoa explains that the students whose world is culturally split often close off their cultural selves and reawaken to them later – and begin a process of “regaining what had been lost… like a wound wanting to heal.” One point to be remembered is that a child maybe outwardly successful, but inwardly secure. Whatever the category, these children are all in need of support and counseling from the community in which they live and learn, as they struggle to find a balance and find a place at the table.