Brazilian immigrants children’s identities between expectation and reality

by Minako Sanda

“On the sports festival day, Brazilians were gathered and forced to dance Brazilian Samba. I hated it. While I was trying my best to assimilate to Japanese friends, being forced to dance with Brazilians felt humiliating. We studied about many countries, but there was no class that featured me (Japanese-Brazilian), but if any, I kept distance from or deleted those memories. Until I got into Junior High, I didn’t like to be seen as a Brazilian, in High School I started to think I don’t care, then in University I began to like it” (From an interview with a Brazilian immigrant, Amano, 2013)

The author’s interview with his Japanese-Brazilian friend sounded familiar to me because I have a friend in similar circumstances as this interviewee. I remember she had a hard time reading textbooks and had extended classes after school.

Nonetheless, I have known only a little about her feelings as a Brazilian immigrant as we spent a few years together in Kobe. I never saw my friend as someone different, except for what she knew about the different country where she had lived, and according to her—she belonged there. As a child I didn’t think ‘belongingness’ was something to ponder; we were in Kobe and that was where we belonged, at least I thought so.

Indeed, the feeling of belongingness is simple for those who lived in a culture and places where people speak a common language. The formation of self identity went along with the cultural environment. But those who have moved from one culture they know well to a foreign one, and then return to their home culture after assimilating to another environment, trying to identify themselves in multiple cultures suddenly starts to make them feel like their feet are off the ground, as if they were indecisive people in-between here and there.

Throughout our class, we have learned how some can choose to take advantages of an in-between lifestyle, for instance I now understand that I benefit by choosing to study abroad, knowing cultural differences, and assigning such advantages as part of my identity. However, for people who did not have choice—in the following contexts, children of immigrants—and therefore have had to struggle to identify where to call their home, the feeling of belongingness is not so simple.

I imagine this struggle is vivid in the case of children in lower grades of elementary school. Moving to another place when they may have just began developing solid identities does not simply mean the struggle of language acquisition. There must be an entire reconstruction of personality and identity in order to gain comfort ‘standard’, in other words, to be treated just the same as everyone else in host country.

According to Amano (2013), who interviewed migrant children, the parents of the interviewee (in the beginning of this paper) had a strong will to put him in Japanese education. Likewise, many immigrants recognize Japanese schools have better education than those in Brazil. This interviewee came to Japan with his parents when he was in grade 3, and studied in Japanese school till he graduated university.

I think this expectation puts a great pressure on Brazilian children who not only need to catch up with language but also learn the ‘standard’ level of contents. This was a serious task for them because they have to fight against the stereotype which tends to be easily put on individuals as ‘lazy’, ‘not serious’ Brazilian, despite the lack of adequate language support that matches the on-going contents of other Japanese children are learning.

“Japanese public education envisions an egalitarian and communal notion of citizenship, in which students become equal members of the nation-state and part of tightly knit, cohesive social groups. To this end, teachers strive to provide students the necessary skills. However, in the space between the school’s ideals and reality, many immigrant children are left behind in the Amigos Room to idly complete worksheets and play, as the years until graduation pass them by” (Moorehead, 2013).

Is this a failure of Japanese education system not providing tailor-made support to immigrant children? Even if they are giving special support to immigrants. somehow it ends up segregating the children from the average Japanese children’s learning contents? Or is it their parents who are putting too-high expectations on the children? Or, could it be, children who are really just lazy?

As a result, children stand between their parents’ expectations and reality. Their parents expect their children to grow as ‘successful Brazilians who got educated in Japan’, whereas in reality they are failing to identify themselves in neither a fully Brazilian community nor as well-assimilated foreigners in Japan.

References

Amano, Masato. (2013). Study of the Actual Condition of the Foreign Student in Japan by Interview ―The Importance of The Degree of Expectation and The Identity―. インタビューを通した日本の外国人児童の実態に関する研究 ―期待度とアイデンティティの重要性について―, Departmental Bulletin Paper. Aichi:Japan.

Moorehead, Robert. (2013). Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project. The Asia-Pacific Journal 11(32):3. Retrieved July 26, 2014 at http://japanfocus.org/-Robert-Moorehead/3980

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How to Educate Foreign Children

by Yutaro Nishioka

Robert Moorehead‘s research, “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project,” addresses education for immigrant children in a Japanese elementary school. He examines the connection between the Japanese as a second language (JSL) classroom and the school’s homeroom classes, as well as the impact of the JSL class on immigrant children’s academic development.

The teachers of the elementary school claim that the JSL classrooms not only help the immigrant students to learn the Japanese language but also enable them to relax from challenging situations in an effort to adapt to the Japanese culture and language. The research reveals that although professional norms in Japanese education value equality, collectivity, and mutual interdependence, the JSL classrooms separate those immigrant children from the regular Japanese students in the homeroom class, by which the gap between the immigrant children and regular children never disappears.

Is this an effective way of educating the immigrant children? I don’t think so. In this blog post, I’d like to discuss the experiences of my friend (fully Japanese) who moved abroad and received education in a context outside Japan at the age of 7, and argue that the way the JSL program attempts to educate immigrant children is not effective.

My friend was born and raised in Japan until the age of 7, when she moved to Switzerland due to her mother’s job. Like a normal Japanese child, she had gone to a Japanese kindergarten and elementary school. Since she had had no previous English education, she initially had an extremely hard time learning English to understand her teachers. Unlike the immigrant children that learn Japanese outside their homeroom classes, she was in the ESL (English as a second language) class only for the first 3 months, and after the 3 months she was treated the same way as the other students. She also went to a Japanese school every Saturday to maintain and improve her Japanese.

The reason why she was in the ESL class only for the first 3 months is that the level of English used in the ESL class was not much different than that of other students because they were only 6-7 years old. She also reports that whenever she was pulled out of the class, she felt “embarrassed and isolated.” She doesn’t know whether the teachers sensed her feelings, but she is glad that she quit taking the ESL so that she stopped feeling uncomfortable any more. After leaving the ESL class, she learned English ‘naturally’ on her own just by studying with the other students without being isolated.

Those who believe in the effectiveness of the JSL program in educating immigrant children in Japan would have to say that she could not have learned English to reach the regular students’ standards. However, the fact is that she quickly learned English to the point where the others would not be able to tell she was not a native English speaker, and she was doing just as well as the other students whose native language was English. In fact, she says she now speaks English even better (or more comfortably) than her Japanese. She not only moved on to high school but also to a university in Canada. I have a few other friends that went through a similar situation as hers, and they all learned English without being isolated from the native students and brought their English to the native level.

Moorehead’s study mentions that while 97 percent of Japanese youths aged 15-18 are in high school, only 42 percent of Brazilians and less than 60 percent of Filipinos go to high school. In contrast, all of the friends of mine that went abroad and acquired English are now in university. This clearly implies the ineffectiveness of the present JSL program.

Reference

Moorehead, Robert. (2013). “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language    Classroom as an Ethnic Project.” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11(32):3.

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