Macaulay Honors College Seminar 2, IDC 3001H

Author: Amanda Zhang

Education and Immigration

On Monday, we discussed Foner’s chapter on education and immigration as well as the NY Times article on the same topic.  This was understandably, a very difficult issue to broach.  There are so many things to consider and so many different viewpoints depending on what one’s role is in the education system.  The first question brought up was how should kids who first arrive to the U.S. speaking no English be taught?  I thought that this seemingly simple question is actually very hard to answer in a way that would benefit everyone.  It seems like in each answer, there’s always someone who will be giving up something or losing out on something.  Personally at first, I thought that it should’ve been that these foreign students should be placed into ESL classes, but still be taught the other subjects in their native language so they don’t fall behind in the curriculum.  This is important because we want these students to graduate on time and get a diploma.  For many immigrants, the main reason why they come to the U.S. is for a better education and job opportunities.  If these students aren’t able to graduate on time with their diplomas, it seems like their efforts in coming to a new country is wasted.  But, as the NY Times article pointed out, is it really better for the students in the long run to be isolated from the actual class just to push them towards graduation?  In reality and from stories that I’ve heard, many foreign students are just put into the regular class with everyone else and through that they’re forced to learn the language.  Even though they fall behind a little bit in the beginning because they don’t know the language, in the long run, it’s better for their English speaking abilities.  It’s similar to the idea when parents throw their children into the water to force them to learn how to swim.  This is a similar concept and these foreign students can only improve from that point onwards.  However, another problem arises.  The parents of the other students in the class might complain that that these immigrant children are pushing the class behind and that the teacher is devoting more time to those students and neglecting the others.  All of these are very plausible reasons and this just shows how there’s no single way of teaching foreign students that would make everyone satisfied.  It’s also important to determine if forcing these immigrant students to get a diploma on time is more beneficial in the long run or throwing them into a class and forcing them to adapt and learn the language in that way would be better for them.  It’s all very subjective and it just proves how difficult it is to agree on single way of implementing a teaching system for immigrant students.

Misrepresentation and Underrepresentation- The Lesser of Two Evils

On Monday in class, we were debriefing the class visit to the Museum of Chinese in America.  Our discussion of the Museum led to many topics relating to Chinese Americans as well as Asian Americans in the US.  The topic of discussion that I found particularly contentious and worthwhile examining was Asian people in Hollywood movies.  The problem with these movies is that there aren’t a lot of Asian actors acting in them.  To make matters even worse, there aren’t even Asian actors or actresses playing the parts of Asian characters in the movies.  As it was mentioned in class, Katherine Hepburn played an Asian character in a movie and wore makeup to look the part, something called “yellow face.”  Katherine Hepburn wasn’t the only actress of her time that wore a yellow face to portray these specific characters.  Professor Rosenberg mentioned how this wouldn’t very well pass by people today because it’s very demeaning and derogatory.  But, I find it funny how even though yellow face doesn’t occur as frequently today as it did before, there are still non-Asian actors and actresses who play Asian parts in Hollywood movies.  To some, it might seem trivial that this still happens today and that it doesn’t have to mean anything in the greater scheme of things.  But to think that would be ignorant to the fact that Asians are not only underrepresented in these movies, but misrepresented.  Why does this happen?  The only parts that Asian Americans are able to get are usually the stereotypical roles such as kung-fu or martial arts characters, especially with Chinese Americans.  I’m not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing since several Chinese actors, such as Jackie Chan, were able to take advantage of this gap that Hollywood badly wanted in their movies to be viewed as worthy in the movie industry.  But I think that in a nation with so much diversity, why don’t we see this diversity in the movies we watch?  Minority characters are so rarely seen in these films and usually they’re never the main lead as they’re usually the supporting characters at the most.  Personally, I don’t think that’s as bad as the idea that Asians are misrepresented.  I think once we fix the misrepresentation of Asian characters in Hollywood movies, we can focus on fixing the underrepresentation.

21st Century Immigrants

In class, we discussed how today’s immigrants differed significantly from old immigrants who came mainly from eastern Europe and Italy in the early 1900s.  But what was an interesting topic regarding a small minority of today’s immigrants is that they will do anything to get a green card for the United States.  Some are so desperate that they resort to conducting marriage fraud.  This topic was particularly interesting because I have heard stories about this fake marriage arrangement between people in China, usually women, and American men.  There was even a news scandal a few years back when a Chinese father and daughter ran a business in California arranging these marriages and charging exorbitant amounts of money on the Chinese and promising to pay a fee to the American.  It’s fascinating to see how people are able to turn anything into a business and take advantage of people’s complex situations.  I see how these businesses can benefit both parties in a marriage, with one person getting the green card he/she wants and the other person getting paid.  But, understanding how the whole process works and from the discussion in class, these supposedly married couples have to go through rigorous investigation and interviews to prove that their marriage is legitimate.  But is it really worth it on the part of the American to go through with all this just to get some money that could be attained through other means?  It especially wouldn’t be worth it if they’re caught by the government.  The consequences seem to weigh much heavier than the gains the American would have achieved if they are able to successfully prove their marriage.  In some instances, the marriage between an American man and Chinese women is legitimate and so the American would try to sponsor the wife into getting a green card.  However, others might question the women’s true intentions in marrying the American.  Nevertheless, marriage fraud still happens today with people trying to enter the US from various countries around the world.

Something else we mentioned in class with regards to today’s immigrants in comparison to old immigrants is that today’s immigrants are more educated and wealthy than their counterparts a hundred years ago.  This can be attributed to a phenomenon called the “brain drain” which was mentioned in Foner’s From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s Two Great Waves of Immigration.  There are people in other countries, usually in countries that are not as democratic or well off as our nation, who have college degrees or are skilled in some way, but don’t have jobs that match their intellect.  Whether their countries lack these opportunities or whether it’s due to their political or economic structure, they aren’t able to thrive there so they come to the United States knowing they’d be able to find the jobs that fit their education and skills.  I know that some people welcome these kinds of immigrants while some are hostile to them, and for understandable reasons.  Some appreciate the work they do and the contributions they make to our nation.  Others believe that they are taking away the potential jobs from native born Americans.  Either way, I find it fascinating how no matter what country they come from they all face this similar situation and most of them come to America looking for these opportunities.  It just further supports how America is a land of opportunities and freedom.