One More Lesson

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In “One More Lesson” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, we are taken on a journey of discovery through the first hand experiences of an immigrant child. The narrator had to adjust from growing up in her native Puerto Rico to the totally strange environment in New Jersey, United States of America. The reader is taken through the steps as the author tries her best to fit into the American lifestyle in this straight forward narrative. Her family had to go through a lot just to get by in their adopted country. Being a child of school going age, she explains some of the challenges she experienced before she became fully conversant with the American school system.  The story maintains its focus on the narrator’s school life and how she struggled at the beginning. The whole story relates to the title as with each new experience she learns one more lesson on how challenging it is for an immigrant family to settle in the United States.

Her experiences can be compared to the experiences in “Always Running” by Luis J. Rodriguez. The two protagonists experience similar challenges in school but their social experiences were slightly different. The family in “One More Lesson” was more financially stable and enjoyed a more stable upbringing. On the other hand, “Always Running” describes a family with financial challenges and an unstable relationship between the parents. It seems like the protagonist and his family are always running from something. They ran from Mexico, ran to different places when they were evicted, ran from bullies who wanted to beat them and the narrator also ran from his brother to avoid getting hurt numerous times. Both stories nevertheless act as lenses through which the plight of the American immigrant child is highlighted.

The most obvious challenge faced by immigrant children is the language barrier. According to “One More Lesson,” on arriving in the United States, the narrator could only speak Spanish fluently. The same is exhibited by Luis Rodriguez in “Always Running.” The narrator was so poor in English that the teacher ignored him for most of the school year. Furthermore, his mother could not express herself adequately in English which means that she could not have been of assistance to the language needs of her children. Language is of course important as it determines whether the teacher and the student can communicate with each other. Where there is no communication very little learning takes place. Immigrant children have to put up with this challenge which really interferes with their acquisition of education.

Most immigrants are not well off. Actually, the main reasons why people immigrate into the United States is to seek better employment opportunities. Lack of money has been illustrated by Luis Rodriguez in his short story “Always Running.” The narrator’s father was a trained teacher but in Los Angeles no one would give him any kind of work except manual work. The situation of course impacts immigrant children’s education as they are not equipped to focus on learning. A child needs good food, a warm house, toys and school resources in order to feel satisfied enough to perform well in school. It goes without saying that without the above mentioned amenities children will find it hard to focus in school.

Immigrant families are also faced by the challenge of families splitting up. Due to the strain of trying to make a living in a new environment, parents will sometimes fight and it could lead to them divorcing. In “Always Running,” the parents almost split up with the mother advocating for a return to Mexico and the father insisting on them sticking it out no matter the difficulties. Even though they did not get through with it, it is a fact that many immigrant families have split within a few years of getting into the United States for various reasons. Before the parents get to such a point, they must have fought numerous times and the strain could have a detrimental impact on the children. It would be difficult for any child to focus in school if the parents are not in harmony.

Another challenge is finding a good house. Due to lack of money, most immigrants cannot afford good housing. Those that get good houses have to fight tooth and nail to secure the premises. In “One More Lesson,” the narrator says “Apparently, my father had convinced him and his brother, a lookalike of Mr. Schultz who helped in the store, that we were not the usual Puerto Rican family. (Mazer 14)” Even while at their house, they did not live freely as they had to have their socks on to avoid making noise for their neighbor downstairs. Luis Rodriguez also confirms this in his story because the narrator’s family could only afford cheap housing that lacked basic amenities like hot water and air conditioning. A child facing such problems is not best placed to exploit the education opportunities available in order to make a bright future for himself.

The immigrant children suffer from rejection by society from the time they set foot in the united states. As previously mentioned, the narrator’s father in “One More Lesson” had to go to great lengths to get a house in an area not populated by Puerto Ricans. They had to maintain uncharacteristic silence so as not to anger the landlord who had a stereotypical view that all Puerto Ricans are exceptionally noisy. A similar incidence occurs in “Always Running” when the narrator’s mother was evicted from a park bench for not being an American. The story says “Look, spic, you can’t sit there!” the American Woman yelled. “You don’t belong here! Understand? This is not your country! (Mazer 48)” The protagonist and his brother also get badly beaten up for crossing into South Gate which was a predominantly white community. Rejection leaves scars in immigrant children that take time to heal given that it is the instinct of every human being to socialize. The confidence of children in such situations is shattered and they cannot do well in school.

Immigrants also lack stability especially at the beginning of their stay in the United States. They keep relocating houses due to numerous reasons primary of which is lack of funds. In “Always Running,” the family moves several times including once to a nice neighborhood. The constant moving has an effect on the children as they lose their friends and sometimes even have to change schools. They then have to rebuild all over again which puts them through the same painful process numerous times. A child’s educational progress is markedly slower due to frequent relocation.

Immigrant children go through life in the United States with no one to protect them. In “Always Running,” the narrator’s mother is powerless in most situations to protect her children and her family when they are faced with an injustice. When they are evicted from a park bench, she is angry but has to leave as she cannot fight. She is also ripped off in markets but takes it in stride knowing very well that she cannot defend herself. The vulnerability of immigrant children due to lack of protection transfers itself to school. The children are not given priority in class and they are almost invisible. The fact that the parents don’t make an effort to confront the schools for their children’s benefit speaks volumes on just how unprotected the children are.

Teachers in school don’t make things easier for immigrant children. They are clearly not pleased to have to teach children who don’t speak English. The narrator in “One More Lesson” informs us that the teacher largely ignored her due to the diversity of the class. Furthermore, she gets hit by a teacher because she could not understand written instructions on the chalk board. In “Always Running,” the protagonist spends the better part of a year sitting by himself just building blocks. It is understandable for a teacher to be frustrated but the actions taken exhibit a complete lack of concern for immigrant children. Without the goodwill of the teachers, children have absolutely no chance of making any progress in their academics.

All the above problems are faced by immigrant children in their quest for education in the United states. Ideally, it would make sense if people didn’t have to move away from their homelands to protect children from being exposed to this kind of challenges. However, people have to move for various reasons e.g. look for employment opportunities, to escape violence and to be with their loved ones. Given that the United States is one of the most attractive destinations for immigrants across the world, it is important that measures be taken to ensure that immigrant children integrate as smoothly as possible into the education system of the country.

The most important of these measures is helping these children and their parents overcome the language barrier. To avoid what the children went through in the two stories, the government and the local communities should ensure that immigrants can communicate well with the rest of the country. There have been several advancements regarding this in several communities. For example, the Indianapolis Public Schools have developed a program where immigrant children with limited language skills in English can attend school to learn the language. Such programs are available in most places but would only be effective if adopted across the whole country.

The immigrants should also be protected from physical and psychological abuse by citizens. While the citizens may be frustrated by the influx of foreigners into their country, it should not lead to open exhibitions of racism. There are a lot of anti-immigration feelings in the United States especially in this era when even the president is clearly focused on reducing the number of legal immigrants. Such sentiments can lead to verbal and physical attacks on immigrants which can make them feel unsafe (Thomas 17). Children are also not spared and they also feel the impact of the abuse especially if they are old enough. Their education will be interfered with and they may end up not achieving their potential. Protecting immigrants therefore will surely promote learning in school by immigrant children.

Schools also need to be equipped to deal with immigrant children. Teachers should be conversant with the importance of making a child feel welcome. Schools have the responsibility of employing staff who are conversant with the language spoken by most immigrant children in order to offer as much support as possible (García 406). Similarly, children should be encouraged to interact with immigrant children so as to make them settle in quicker. Anti-immigrant rhetoric should be discouraged in schools in order to make sure that immigrant children stay safe. Immigrant children will have a genuine chance of gaining knowledge if the conditions in school are conducive.

Given that immigrants face a housing problem, there should be measures installed to mitigate this situation. In most cities and counties there are provisions in law that ensure that quality low cost houses are constructed as a percentage of the total development projects. It is a good measure although most cities don’t have laws that allocate such houses based on race. The result is the affordable houses end up being taken up by the dominant race of the area and the immigrants have to make do with low quality houses in bad neighborhoods (Irizarry and Tatyana 13). If action is taken to at least allocate part of the affordable housing to immigrants, children could live in good environments at home which could greatly improve their performance in school.

The society also plays an important role in the development of immigrant children. There should be a support mechanism among immigrant families that gives individuals the feeling of being back home (McBrien 344). Welfare organizations that could assist families financially or otherwise could help in reducing the effects of the challenges immigrants face. Citizens living in close proximity with immigrants should also do their part to support immigrants. They could welcome them to community events and even invite the children to play with the others. The quicker immigrant children settle in the United States, the easier it will be for them to attend schools and get quality education.

While it is important for external factors to be conducive for the children to get a quality education as stated above, most of the responsibility rests with the parents. For example, they should ensure that they expose themselves and their children to the English language as soon as they make the decision to move to the United States. English as a second language is offered as a course in most countries and parents can attend these classes to master basic command of the language. They should also find ways of teaching their children the language so that they are not shocked on their first day of school (Karoly and Gonzalez 8). Parents could employ private tutors or even friends who have mastered English to train their children. The learning process will be much quicker if the children already understand English.

Immigrant parents also have the responsibility of ensuring that their children are psychologically sound. As we have seen previously, children can develop anti-social behavior which can be an impediment to their learning process (Crosnoe 79). Any parent, immigrant or not, has the responsibility of ensuring that the home is a positive experience for their children. Immigrant parents should therefore be careful with how they handle their disagreements and also pay attention to their children to ensure that they don’t turn into social misfits. A well-mannered child will definitely find it easier to make new friends and communicate with teachers hence improving his chances of succeeding in learning.

Finally, immigrant parents should conduct a comprehensive research about the area they intend to settle in. While the primary factor that immigrants consider is a source of employment, parents should also factor in other issues like housing and the friendliness of the neighborhood. Additionally, the parents should select a school district which is conducive to their children due to measures put in place to cater for immigrants from their country of origin. Some school districts have a high number of immigrants of a certain ethnicity and have integrated such children into the system. If the parents do their homework right, some of the problems the children in the two stories faced will not be an issue at all.

The two stories have opened our eyes to the challenges that immigrants, both adults and children, face in their quest for a better life in the United States. While somehow we have always known that immigrants face a lot of hardships, the information is always presented to us as hard facts. The two stories have given a human element to the plight and we can at least relate better. The stories may have been written at an earlier time but are still relatable even today. It is the responsibility of each one of us to ensure that immigrants have a smooth transition into American life. Ranging from the government, the community and the immigrants themselves, we all have an important role to play to ease the pressure on immigrants. We also should consider the children first as they have no other protector except ourselves and if we fail them then they cannot be salvaged.

Works Cited

Crosnoe, Robert. "Health and the Education of Children from Racial/Ethnic Minority and Immigrant Families."Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 47, no. 1, 2006, pp. 77-93. Print.

Crosnoe used a sample of American kindergarteners from all walks including immigrants to study the effect of physical and mental health on the learning abilities of young children. In this paper, he examined the causes of mental issues among kindergarten children and what measures could be applied in order to ensure that the learning process of such children is not hindered by their health issues.

García, Eugene E. “Latino Education in the United States Immigration, Language, and Achievement.” Realizing the Potential of Immigrant Youth, edited by Ann S. Masten, Karmela Liebkind, and Donald J. Hernandez, Cambridge University Press, pp. 397–412. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139094696.020.

Garcia’s paper offers an insight into the lives of young Latino immigrants in the United States. The paper examines the challenges which these youths have to navigate in order to settle with a clear focus on economic, social and educational aspects of their lives.

Irizarry, Jason G. and Tatyana Kleyn. "Immigration and Education in the "Supposed Land of Opportunity": Youth Perspectives on Living and Learning in the United States."New Educator, vol. 7, no. 1, 2011, pp. 5-26.

The paper is about a study carried out on a sample of immigrant youth. The study was focused on their experiences in the United States focusing on challenges they faced both at home and in school. How the immigrant youths value education is also discussed in depth with proposals on how to make the learning experience for immigrants more successful.

Karoly, Lynn A., and Gabriella C. Gonzalez. "Early Care and Education for Children in Immigrant Families."The Future of Children, vol. 21, no. 1, 2011, pp. 71-101.

Karoly and Gonzalez examine the challenges facing immigrant families e.g. low income, language barriers and parents with minimal education. The paper examines how these factors may contribute to a delay in the starting of early childhood education for immigrant children and the solutions to counter the problems.

Mazer, Anne. Going Where I'm Coming from: Memoirs of American Youth. Persea Books, 1995.

The author compiled fourteen memoirs by different contributors highlighting their experiences while growing up in the United States. In this collection, the challenges faced by immigrants and how they went about overcoming them is highlighted in a more personal way.

McBrien, J L. "Educational Needs and Barriers for Refugee Students in the United States: A Review of the Literature."Review of Educational Research, vol. 75, no. 3, 2005, pp. 329-364. Print.

McBrien’s research paper published by the American Educational Research Association looks at how refugees in the United States navigate through the education system. The refugee situation is discussed wholesomely ranging from how teachers cope with refugees in class to how parents manage to integrate their children into American society.

Thomas, Ursula. The Effect of New Environments on Children’s Language Ability. IGI Global, 2014.

Thomas examines the effects of the change of environment on the language capabilities of immigrant children. The author also examines the contributions of the community and the school system in ensuring the learning of English happens successfully.

November 24, 2023



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