Children’s role as cultural brokers

maxresdefaultI met Vikki Katz before I ever knew her writing, but I would equally recommend her work if I didn’t know her. For someone who is interested in the way people see and talk about children (and specifically about children born to immigrant families), Katz’s writing is inspiring.

Katz’s most recent book, Kids in the Middle: How Children of Immigrants Negotiate Community Interactions for Their Familiesdocuments children’s roles as cultural brokers. She explains how children of immigrants in the US use their English language skills and knowledge of US institutions to help their largely Spanish monolingual parents navigate their new communities. One of the things I like most is the way in which she weaves in personal stories through methodic research. In this paragraph, Katz presents children’s rewards for acting as cultural brokers while illustrating the meaning behind their stories:

Brokering activities provided psychic rewards for children but were also a way for children to reward their parents. Child brokers often framed their assistance as a way to pay back the many sacrifices their parents had made for them by migrating. Children knew that their parents come to the United States motivated, at least in part, by a desire to provide their children with more opportunities. The costs to their parents were separation from their own families of origin and feeling humbled by their foreignness, limited language capabilities, and low-paid, low-status jobs, from which they often returned exhausted and still worried about paying their bills. Being able to ‘make things easier’ for parents…was part of how children gave back. Their parents’ gratitude motivated them to continue to enact these roles over time.

article-2683034-1F7175C600000578-395_634x431Katz also uses children’s own words to frame her analysis. By including quotes like “make things easier,” she incorporates children’s voices into her writing, offering a glimpse into the way children understand their own roles. In many ways, Katz’s writing is precise and fair, both to the people she writes about and her readers. She makes writing out of qualitative research seem easy. In fact, she even makes it seem fun. The following quote parallels children’s own words with Katz’s analysis. At the very end, she includes what I can only imagine as being a comic and revealing interaction with a twelve-year-old girl:

Children also encountered other constraints in brokering for their families. Sometimes, tasks were simply beyond a child’s capabilities. A number of children spontaneously referred to such material s as ‘grown-up stuff,’ reflecting that they recognized the limits of their capabilities and saw them as a function of age. Victoria (age twelve) told me that she could understand English and Spanish ‘no problem . . . but some of the people are old and they, like, talk ancient and stuff. . . . [H]ow can I understand that?’ Victoria highlighted the difference between the informal English she could speak and the formal or ‘ancient’ English spoken by ‘old’ people, or adults. When I asked her to explain who spoke ‘ancient,’ she referred to her teachers and to doctors. When I asked her if she thought I spoke ancient, she assessed me quite seriously and said, ‘Not right now, but you look like you could.’

Katz provides this last quote and quickly moves on to her analysis. She does not stop to comment on the charm of the girl’s response. It is as though, worrying about sharing it and not sharing it, she decided to do so discreetly. It goes without saying that I really hope more readers notice these hidden gems in her work.

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—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor

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To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.

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